And Still We Rise Productions, a theater company for actors affected by the prison system, performed and told their stories at Brandeis on Feb. 2, as part of the 2018 ’DEIS Impact festival of social justice. Their performances explore the impact of prison on the incarcerated and their families. Specific stories from their performance at Brandeis touched on trauma from law enforcement, cruel nature of guards, arbitrary and inhumane rules and restrictions and effects of incarceration on loved ones and friends. The performers who told their stories and produced their performances were all formerly incarcerated. Dev Luthra, the artistic director of And Still We Rise Productions, directed the performance.
One of the actors told about the time when her son was taken away by law enforcement on the same day he was released. Without allowing her time to reunite with her son or process the sudden change, law enforcement treated both her and her son with disrespect and “treated [them] as animals.” She mentioned that while the moment is passing, the emotional trauma and memories never fade away.
Another actor shared her stories of restoring broken family relationships as a result of her incarceration. She expressed the sorrow, grief and unspoken sadness that she felt and saw among her siblings.
After the performances, actors began a discussion about how they found the courage to share their stories. For most of the actors, this collaborative project helped heal their trauma by providing a platform to share their experiences and to impact social justice.
“I’m allowing someone know what I’m going through, so I don’t feel closed in,” said one of the actors when asked why she joined the team.
Dev Luthra, artistic director since the founding of the company, believes that the real experiences of the actors and the authenticity of their voices help compel participants and audiences toward action.
“Pain shared is pain lessened,” said Luthra in an interview. “You have people who are present and living the story of injustice and telling the story. It helps make the issue a little more real. It helps bring the human impact to the issues we are all debating and struggling with. It’s not an expert or activist. It’s the people who are actually living the story. That’s the difference we bring.”
Tanashya Batra ’21, student coordinator for ’DEIS Impact, served as liaison for this event. She discussed the importance of the performers’ stories, calling it a “humbling” experience. “I think this event was a deep reflection of the social constructions of poverty and prison incarceration. This particular event for me was an indication of the immense privilege I have in terms of my education and socioeconomic status,” she said in an interview.
“’DEIS Impact is just the beginning and you can choose to take it anywhere from there. I think as Brandeis students we have the incredible opportunity to go attend these events with experts in the field and network, take social justice classes or even create newer clubs at Brandeis,” said Batra.
Luthra commented on the impact of the theater company’s performances on campus. “It’s important to educate yourself on the issue. Make a proactive effort to search out people who are living the issue you are concerned about. You have to leave your campus to do something. A campus is a wonderful thing, but it’s like its own universe … its own world. It complements the bubble to go out into the world and to visit the people who are living the things you are concerned about.”