Shakespeare in Prison program empowers inmates at women's correctional facility

Full stage production performed for prison audience

YPSILANTI, Mich. – William Shakespeare's plays have been seen on both stage and screen, making its newest Michigan venue and actors more intriguing.

Frannie Shepherd-Bates developed the Shakespeare in Prison program to empower inmates at the Women's Correctional Facility in Huron Valley.

"People don't need to be defined by the worst decision or mistake that they ever made," Shepherd-Bates said. "Shakespeare can provide a transformative opportunity to gain new perspectives on ourselves and the world around us."

The idea is to think creatively, examine their lives and build skills that the inmates can use both in and out of prison.

The ensemble works with volunteers like Sarah Winkler on perfecting their best Othello or Juliet.

"One of the most incredible things about this program is how much each of those ensemble members supports the other," Winkler said.

After nine months, they perform a full stage production for a prison audience.

"What do you find challenging about doing this all with women?" Mitch Albom asked.

"We point out to them that in Shakespeare's time men played all of the roles, and we are just reversing that a little bit," Winkler said.

It's a feminist twist that helps the ensemble members work toward a common goal.

"We work through things as artists and as people and learn to support each other," Shepherd-Bates said.

"Somebody was sitting in the audience and asked an inmate sitting next to them why she comes to Shakespeare in Prison, and she said, 'It is one of the few places I can come in prison where I know I can see something beautiful,'" Winkler said.

It's a beauty that is life-changing. Shepherd-Bates and the Shakespeare in Prison program are proving that "All the World's a Stage" in the heart of Detroit.