Eve Ensler, the enigmatic playwright of the transgressive, revolutionary, iconic play The Vagina Monologues, famously said if you end violence against women, you will end violence, period.
The global V-Day movement is devoted to materializing this mission. Acting troupes generally perform Ensler's play to benefit rape crisis centers and shelters for women. But, one group, Mightee Shero Productions, recently ventured into another form of shelters for both women and men: prisons.
One performer, Sharon Richardson, spent 20 years in prison after she was convicted of arranging the murder of her abusive boyfriend. Therefore, The Vagina Monologues was written, injected into the public conscience and crystallized as a cornerstone of feminist thought all while she was behind bars.
As she saw women on the outside empowering themselves to tell their stories, Richardson saw inmates had no power to create or control their own narratives. She began writing and directing plays while at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility and says her creative drive hoisted her up at her darkest points of detention.
You're either gonna sit here and die, and just, woe is me, or you're gonna create.
Since her release in 2010, Richardson has devoted her life to helping women who have suffered domestic violence and spent time in prison rebuild their lives upon release.
Last year, she was offered the opportunity to perform The Vagina Monologues in a prison she served in, alongside actors and a few of her formerly incarcerated peers. That was when the synthesis of her story and the artistry and mission of V-Day became overwhelmingly clear.
This year, she was joined by actors from the Netflix show Orange Is the New Black, which offers a deep dive into life in a female prison.
In conversation with Lin Tucci, who plays an inmate named Anita DeMarco on the show, Sharon expressed, despite its entertainment value, much of the show does not ring true to her experience in prison. Though the show is based on a formerly incarcerated woman's story, Richardson has her qualms with its execution.
For the actors, on the other hand, actually going into prisons for the first time and performing this provocative piece gave them a chance to engage with incarcerated women and men in new, intimate and transformative ways.
For those currently incarcerated, all wearing the same green jumpsuit, the performance is meant to widen the scope of possibility and help them reclaim their individualities.
One incarcerated woman named Katelyn told Elite Daily,
You are what you're convinced that you are. And seeing things like this, just convinces people that they can do more, and they can be more.