I started drinking coffee at OSP. I never liked it before, but one of the students in Ellen Scott’s 2011 Sociology class arranged for coffee during our break each week. And as a guest, I would not turn down coffee from a gracious host. Now I can’t get enough, and never drink a cup without thinking of those February afternoons discussing education and the myth of the American Dream. Last Tuesday I had an experience which brought me back to those coffee breaks with astounding clarity.
I have begun to work with the Educational Shakespeare Company: a Belfast organization that does art, education, and empowerment work with at-risk communities, inmates, and ex-prisoners. They are a great group of folks, largely staffed by ex-prisoners and driven by a commitment to the power of dialogue and literature to change lives. They even produced a feature-length adaptation of Macbeth, called Mickey B, filmed in the prison and with inmate actors. They are innovative and bold and profoundly inspiring.
And they serve me tea when I walk in the door. It is really something to be welcomed as a guest and a colleague, as a participant and witness. I feel the same sense here at the ESC as I did at OSP: that I have a purpose in simply being present, and offering my thoughts and, when possible, help with their work.
I am still learning my way around, but here’s an obvious overlap and cool idea for Inside-Out activities, with more potential to come. They hold a reading group with ex-prisoners. The project coordinator comes each week with a short story and a poem, which she reads aloud with pauses for discussion. If the participants feel so moved, they interrupt with ideas or to take their own turn to read aloud. And that’s that: the simplest of ideas, but which allows for a profound entry into dialogue and expression. Last week we talked through the story and, in so doing, talked about our lives and our childhoods, our view of the world and our appreciation of storytelling and fiction. The poem was beautiful and evocative, leading us to discuss the delicacy of life and the importance of recognizing that we are only here for a short time.
And that was just my first week in the group! I can’t wait to see what next week’s reading will bring.
I hope to build links between Inside-Out and the ESC. They’ve done some incredible work with youth, and with using arts on the inside. And they are excited to learn about Inside-Out, and to see what we’ve built both in Oregon and across the country.
The lessons I learned in Inside-Out are serving me well in Belfast, and in concrete ways. I think of OSP and Sister Helen and Serbu every single day.
So how else can we use our experiences? Any suggestions from you folks? From other alumni—how can we build networks and new ideas from our projects?
Seriously, friends, we’ve got ideas worth building on. Just share a cup of tea or coffee, and offer your presence.
UO Inside-Out Alumna