My passion for humans and the fact of our unity is the main driving force of my expression in acting and writing. Stories are vitally important. The mission to help in prisons was inspired over 30 years ago because of a story—- a play, “Getting Out” by Marsha Norman, I was one of the lead actors playing the role of someone in prison. Because of the depth to which our director led us, my eyes were opened in a way I could never shut to injustice again.
Organically over the decades, my artistic work often seemed to blend with my humanitarian work—- Living in Nairobi, Kenya for nearly two years I worked as the only mzungu (white person) on a popular soap opera all in Swahili. As actors we hold that human unity, our sameness, our oneness, in our bodies, in our bones, no matter the colors, tones, customs, which differentiate us, we are one teeming ball of life. During this time I also worked in South Sudan for World Food Program and then across sub-Saharan Africa helping refugees with their paperwork. My volunteer work was at the AIDS orphanage in Karen, Kenya.
Moving to Harlem, New York after Africa to help refugees get work, there was another eye opener- to the stunning ability for the human to rise above the injustices and suffering to help each other and that is the way we heal. Serendipity, synchronicity, always lends the hand that leads me and I found myself deeper in the work in prisons, teaching at Riker’s, visiting SingSing, working to help ex inmates get work. I was teaching ex incarcerated men in mid-town Manhattan on September 11, 2001 when the city was attacked, it was my lessons from Africa which gave me the strength, the courage, to keep moving, one foot in front of the other, keep living, don’t stop. Don’t even pause.
Throughout these decades, as with all of us, I encountered death. Holding the hand of my best friend as she took her last breath made me realize, not only that all of my most important decisions would be based from my death bed perspective, it also made me realize that it is the moment, the most powerful, the accumulation of all we are and can be is in that very last breath, and to hold the hand or simply sit silently by those going through this transition is profoundly transformational.
In 2007 I began inquiring how people are dying in our prisons, “badly” was the response. It has been a long and winding process but today, with two of the most deeply impressive people I could ever have dreamed to encounter, we have created Humane Prison Hospice Project to implement end of life care in prisons to benefit the dying incarcerated by training the living incarcerated to be their caregivers which in fact may not only more greatly benefit the caregivers, but our communities as a whole on the inside and outside of prison as well. All the prison walls in the world cannot compete with the undeniable unity of us.