Prisoners Empowered Through Shakespeare.


Shakespeare in Prison is facilitated by Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company at Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti, Michigan. It empowers inmates through theatre exercises and Shakespearean text to think creatively, re-examine decisions they’ve made, become more in touch with their emotions, and develop crucial life skills to be used both in and out of prison.

Inmates who volunteer for the Shakespeare in Prison program form a tight ensemble and work for nine months with the option of performing a fully staged work by Shakespeare at the culmination of the session. The 2013-14 ensemble worked with “Romeo and Juliet” and shared with inmate audiences three times this June.


Magenta Giraffe's program is modeled after Shakespeare Behind Bars, the oldest program of its kind in North America. The founder and artistic director of that program, Curt Tofteland, has been advising the project's founder and lead facilitator, Frannie Shepherd-Bates. Participants in Shakespeare Behind Bars have had only a 6% recidivism rate, as contrasted with the national rate of 67%, and Magenta Giraffe hopes to continue that trend with its own program.

Participants have been very vocal about the positive effect their work in the program has had. Though the program is still young, participants who have completed Shakespeare in Prison and have been paroled have a recidivism rate of 0%.


Many women who are incarcerated have been "beaten down" over time, made to feel worthless, labeled as being "bad," "criminals," or worse. Within the prison system, they most often go by their last names and identification numbers. Many incarcerated women have not had opportunities in their lives to develop confidence, self esteem and the ability to be an empowered individual.

Shakespeare in Prison helps to change all of that for its participants. The women gain skills such as the ability to speak confidently in front of an audience and see their reading skills improved, but, perhaps more importantly, they experience many things for the first time that most people take for granted:

They learn to work as a team toward a common goal;
They attain that goal;
They express their opinions, which are heard and valued;
They learn to trust the group enough to express deep emotion;
They find comradeship and sisterhood in a place where it is severely lacking;
They develop as leaders and learn to give constructive criticism, becoming able to argue a point without verbally attacking people with whom they disagree.

Working specifically with Shakespeare gives them an opportunity to take on what seems like an enormous challenge and prove to themselves and others in their lives that they are very capable of doing this seemingly impossible task.

With the development of these skills comes increased confidence in all areas of the participants' lives. Several of the women who completed the program and moved on did so with eagerness to try new things while incarcerated and with greater confidence in what they will be able to accomplish when they are released into the community.

The development of all these skills helps the participants constructively reintegrate back into society, making them less likely to re-offend.


There is no state funding for this program - funding is entirely depending on grants and donations from generous organization and individuals. Shakespeare in Prison recently completed a successful Indiegogo campaign to raise urgently needed funds, but the program still requires aid to be sustained and grow in the future.

Your donation of any amount will make you an active participant in a program that provides a place for members of our community to rediscover their humanity and learn to gain empathy for all people. This is a boon to everyone when the participants leave the facility and return home.

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