A story about the resilience of the human spirit—and its limits—this play leaves us with a glimmer of hope for the possibility of real transformation, even under the harshest and most horrifying conditions in U.S. prisons today.
Journalist and playwright Sarah Shourd survived 410 days of solitary confinement while imprisoned as a political hostage by the Iranian government from 2009 to 2010. Since her release, Sarah has traveled across the U.S.—driving through snowstorms and snaking through Redwood forests in order to interview dozens of people in the isolation units of our country’s most remote and forbidding prisons. Sarah wove these stories into a play, The Box, about the rare but intimate bonds forged behind walls and the ultimate sacrifice of three exceptional men willing to die if necessary for the simple things the rest of us often take for granted.
The necessity for me was to find artistic expression of an experience that threatened my sanity, my dignity and my future.
– Sarah Shourd
The Box begins with the arrival of a young prisoner, Rocky, in an isolation pod that has long been occupied by three veteran prisoners: a white-supremacist jailhouse lawyer, a Mexican gang leader and a 75-year-old Black Panther. The young man starts out in solitary confinement acting tough but he quickly begins to unravel, and a story of bravery, terror, loss and collective resistance unfolds. The narrative is driven by relationships—between a prisoner and a guard, a father and his teenage daughter—and the characters grow and change as the plot unfolds: from racist to revolutionary, from tough-guy to suicide victim, from giant teacher to frightened, lost soul.
Maybe the story I’ve been telling myself all these years—that no one cares and we’re all just selfish beasts—maybe that’s their story, the people that believe in places like this—that build them, run them and just want to see more and more of them.
– Victor Santiago, character from The Box
Lines are blurred as audience members are led into the theater by “guards” who address them as “visitors” to the facility. Later we watch as prisoners are chained, strip searched, brutalized—effectively breaking the theatrical “fourth wall” to offer a visceral, lived experience.
After seeing this play many will find it hard to go back to the illusion that what happens behind prison walls stays behind prison walls. We see prisoners as human beings deserving of justice in spite of the crimes they’ve committed.
-Steven Jones, Artistic Director of Lorraine Hansberry Theatre