By the time I got to Minimum Security I had over a decade in prison and written screenplays, a novel, self-help guide, poetry, raps, short stories… I was only missing a play. Eventually all the ingredients came together and I wrote House of Death, named after Fyodor Dostoevski’s book about his life in the Russian gulag. It is now available, in full, to watch online. Rap battles and all.
After release I collaborated with members of Direct Action for Rights & Equality, and poet Christopher Johnson, to produce Voice of the Voiceless, a reading of prisoners’ writings. The spine of the work comes from my self-help book, NewJack’s Guide to the Big House. We used it as an organizing tool and saw considerable success. I later took it to a full stage production on several college campuses. This is where 1000 lbs. Guerilla was born.
Dan Schleifer was the Field Director of our constitutional campaign to restore voting rights for people on probation and parole in Rhode Island. I was the organizer of our volunteers. One night he says: “If we win this thing, I will be stage manager for your next play- for free.”
After winning the right to vote, I took Dan up on the offer and brought back my tech crew, Inphynit, and Amos Hamrick from Voice of the Voiceless. Austin Campion came to an audition after earning his M.FA in acting. I called up an emcee I met in Providence (Big Scythe), who in turn brought a guy I knew from prison: Erick Betancourt. When I was told there is a dearth of Asian actors in Providence, I set out to look for an Asian performer and found Sokeo Ros, a hip-hop dance instructor.
House of Death enjoyed a tremendous run at The Perishable Theatre in Providence. That success opened the door to produce The Exonerated. Although law school has gotten in the way of my arts production quite a bit, I still spit at an open mic on occasion- including regular appearances with the RAE (Resurrection After Exoneration) House “Open Mic All-Stars.” This weekend I will enter the 48 Hour Film Festival. Last time, we won Best Original Song with “You Need Help.”
I’ve written a lot about voting, housing, and employment discrimination lately. But I give you House of Death, because this is the writing I want you to hear. And go figure: Erick went on to study theatre and is getting an M.FA at the prestigious Actor’s Studio in NYC.