Commentary by guest writer Dave Murray
“A Day in the Life of Junebug Jenkins” won’t be showing off-Broadway anytime soon. You won’t see it anywhere unless you are serving time at Kinross Correctional Facility in Kincheloe, Michigan.
“Don’t critique us too hard,” said one of the men in the play. “If we were better actors, we wouldn’t be here.”
The costumes were pretty much the same for all the actors, all males of course. One actor, the lead, was allowed a little change of costume; he took his blue shirt with orange stripes on the shoulders and ubiquitous stenciled number on back off. Of course, the audience was dressed the same as well. Probably something to do with wanting to relate to the celebrities on stage. The more affluent hoi polloi were not in attendance this opening night.
The stage within the gray cinder-blocked auditorium was non-descript, purposely. Prison is like that. Not only the things and buildings but the general population is also non-descript. Uniformity, conformity is the norm. Obviously, prison does not reflect the real world. Is it ironic that uniformity and conformity is imprisoning? A means of punishment? The only differences are in the stenciling where the numbers are arranged differently for each person. Props were identified by hand-written sheets of paper attached: Hot Water, Inmate Toilet, Sink.
“A Day in the Life of Junebug Jenkins,” written by Troy Chapman, serving a 60 to 80 year sentence for second degree manslaughter, is in part a morality play (although Troy himself might object to that designation), and part promotion for the group called The Ethics Project, which Chapman started in 2006. The story reveals an individual’s plight of making a choice amidst a series of unconnected irritating events: am I a victim or can I choose to be someone, i.e. myself? The lead character, Junebug Jenkins, awakes one morning, wearing a sign that says “Victim,” and encounters a number of seemingly unrelated frustrations: someone jumps into the shower before he does, someone rips off his shower gear, the hot water for coffee is used up, the sink is dirty. When he’s at his wits end, he becomes conscious of the movie crew around. When he asks who they are, the director orders the stage crew to take a break and then sits down with Junebug to explain what is happening.
“Everything that happened is a response to the role you chose for yourself this morning,” the director said. “Your first thought was ‘Another day in this stink hole,’ and so we gave you a dirty sink. And then, ‘I hate this place. I have to get ahead of these scumbags,’ and someone else beat you to the shower.
“You are free to choose the role you want.”
Then, the movie crew placed several paper bags in front of Junebug with various labels: loser, winner, creator, peace-maker, convict, etc.
Junebug thinks for a moment. “If I choose to be a free man can I walk out of prison?”
“Not so fast Einstein,” the director replies. “Getting out of prison does not make you a free man. Freedom comes from within, from letting go of your addictions, your attitudes. You have to choose.”
Junebug now faces a dilemma. He’s been playing the role of a victim so long, he doesn’t know anything else. “Can you help me with this?”
A group of consultants are called in. They explore some options. Junebug is given another opportunity. He can go back to bed and reawake to his new choices.
Junebug does just that. When he reappears on stage he is still wearing his victim sign. “I’ve been miserable so long; it goes against everything I believe in to change.”
Following the production, a panel of men involved in the Ethics Project sit on stage to discuss with the audience the ideas and plot of the play. Grant Glover, a lifer, is the moderator and opens the discussion with, “Why ethics? Ask yourself: do you deserve better treatment at your own hands? We decide our own fate. Are you ready for a change? It’s free.”
The Q & A goes on for about 45 minutes. References are made about other prisoners who changed the world around them by their choices, men like Nelson Mandela or Adolph Hitler.
“Ethics is about doing what increases wholeness in yourself and in the world,” Glover said. “This isn’t about an easy life, but a meaningful life.”
The Ethics Project meets each week to discuss wholeness; right relationships; about relationships with one’s self, nature, others, and the Transcendent; about making choices in daily living; about cultivating reverence, good will and justice; it talks about simple things like saying thank you to others, listening to others, picking up trash, keeping units clean, providing services to others or sharing your skills with others to help them grow. While the Ethic Project is basically a 12-week program, it is an ongoing conversation as the men involved are urged to talk with the fellow prisoners in the yard and at the dinner tables.
But it is not proselytizing or evangelizing. Rather, the chief goal is to encourage and enable each man to make their own choice, to choose from their perspective a holistic path, that each man must come to their own conclusion and cannot be coerced into freedom.
The project has been recognized by the Michigan Department of Corrections as an approved project for use in the prisons. The project is also seeking funding to train men in conflict resolution and community mediation skills.
You can read more of Troy Chapman’s writing and thoughts at www.sacredmatters.blogspot.com.