Reflections of “Daddy’s Home”—Arts Programming Within the Walls
October 23, 2012 | Angie Marie Espinoza, Intern, NCCD
Angie Marie Espinoza earned her BA degree in 2011 from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Majoring in community studies, Espinoza minored in education with an emphasis in social justice. At UCSC, she was inspired to pursue acting by the work of Rainbow Theatre, the only multicultural theatre troupe within the UC system. With the troupe, she found her voice and a desire to use theatre and acting as a form of social change.
Angie Marie Espinoza earned her BA degree in 2011 from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Majoring in community studies, Espinoza minored in education with an emphasis in social justice. At UCSC, she was inspired to pursue acting by the work of Rainbow Theatre, the only multicultural theatre troupe within the UC system. With the troupe, she found her voice and a desire to use theatre and acting as a form of social change. She plans to continue her education by earning a master of arts degree in counseling psychology and drama therapy. Espinoza served as an intern at NCCD in the summer of 2011, supporting the national study of LGBT and non-conforming youth within the juvenile justice system with Dr. Angela Irvine.
How do you reach the heart of a father?
Is it whole? Is there room to console?
A father who is distant from his child?
With a distance that destroys, a distance that invisibilizes, a distance—for life?
A father caught in the madness of prison—a daily reality of routines, violence, and loss of hope?
One can’t, but the stories and thoughts of a father and child retold through the performing arts is medicine, a healing power for the human spirit behind the walls.
Performing—actions, words, and movement— creates a space for dialogue and reconnection to events and choices made in an individual’s past. Our past has the ability to control today’s emotions and actions; to dictate how we live in the present. Living with pain, a pain not explored, leads to violence—violence in choices, violence of oneself, and a violence toward one’s community. Confronting these choices, reflecting, then reevaluating the conditions in which inmates find themselves is the beginning of the process of rehabilitation through the arts.
Two years ago, California had 33 arts coordinators—one in each state prison. Today, only two programs remain in the state.
On May 15, 2010, Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI) in Tracy, CA, experienced its first, and possibly last, theater arts performance in collaboration with the community organization Barrios Unidos. “Daddy’s Home” by Daniel ‘Nane’ Alejandrez, Valentin Pena, and myself is a play written for inmates as a tool for family reunification, personal growth, and restoring hope. Higher education, civic responsibility, and positive change in general are topics also touched upon in the play. Based on the life of Valentin Pena, “Daddy’s Home” speaks of the impact prisons have on children, families, and communities plagued by unjust policy. Restricted family visits, a life sentence, a parole date revoked, and lack of rehabilitative programming are all part of Pena’s experience as a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) inmate. Pena, presented with many obstacles while incarcerated, did not and has not altered his path of positive change.
Many outsiders are not informed about the realities of prison life and how conditions of incarceration influence an inmate’s overall being. Through theater arts programming, inmates participate in activities that call for self-reflection and engagement with new individuals and communities. A Mayan concept I learned in a Chicano Teatro course, in lak’ech—in Spanish tu eres mi otro yo, in English, you are my other self—teaches us that we are all connected as human beings. When we look past race, gender, sexual orientation, and other differences, we give ourselves the opportunity to build community as we discover commonalities among the human race. With this in mind, I am an inmate’s daughter, sister, and niece; a caring spirit who reaches out with no judgment, fear, or neglect. In the end, we are one.
My own lack of relationships with my biological father and stepfather led me to disrespect myself as a young woman. My self-image was broken by the many detrimental experiences I had with males. I began to accept this type of violence as natural. Even though I did not lose a father to incarceration like the daughter in the play, I am aware that a relationship reflecting the guidance of a father figure is vital in a child’s life.
My participation in this production as both playwright and actress was very valuable to my experience as an activist for humanity. “Daddy’s Home” gave me the opportunity to reflect on time periods that rooted my anger, self-hatred, and distrust of others. Accepting and understanding the origins of these emotions has allowed me to look in the direction of forgiveness. Never in my life would I have thought to forgive those who caused me pain; but if I take this step, I allow myself to be free, heal, grow. As time has gone by, my inner self has transformed. Everyone possesses this capacity and, with the opportunity to do so, people can change. Whether one is a performer or audience member, themes of a play transcend personal barriers, reaching out to those who want to listen. “Our art, in whatever form, tells us, our families, fellow inmates, and society that we, too, are still valuable.” Let them reclaim their identities, reclaim their present, and prepare for the future.
During the performance of the play at DVI, the men were able to connect and reconnect with feelings that had been sealed and written off long ago. The notion of “Daddy” was a fragile topic as the story unfolded. Daddies in that room could not help but tap into that lost reality. Whether inmates had a daughter, niece, sister, or any lost relationship, the characters “hit home” and were able to create and send a message of hope. Making connections to their personal lives gave meaning to the play and a positive exchange. At the end of the play, the chow hall was full of a new and transcendent energy. This energy created space for individuals to feel and express emotions usually hidden. As the men looked around, they were able to capture shared experiences and a communal sense of family, loss, and courage.
Tears, a very special gift from the audience of inmates, reflected the spirit of healing and the opportunity for change.
 A Qualitative Study Of The California Arts-In-Corrections Program, Larry Brewster, Ph.D., 21 Sept. 2011