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In 2020, the authorities at the Louisiana State Penitentiary (better known as Angola, for the former plantation on which it stands) shut down a play in the middle of a performance. What happened in that audience of incarcerated men that got guards so concerned? That’s the subject of “Angola Do You Hear Us? Voices From a Plantation Prison,” a new MTV documentary directed and edited by Cinque Northern (My Name is Pauli Murray) and produced by Catherine Gund. Award-winning actress and writer, Liza Jessie Peterson, (HBO’s Def Poetry, Ava Duvernay’s 13th), whose one-woman show was shut down that day, and Norris Henderson, a former inmate who’d worked with her to bring the show, join Laura to reflect on the intersection of art and politics, incarceration and economics, and the work of VOTE, the criminal justice reform group Henderson founded upon his release. What difference can a play make? Watch and see.
“That moment when she started telling that story, people started reconciling with their own situations. Like, ‘Oh, she’s talking about me. That was similar to my circumstance.’ The bigger picture of the prison industrial complex, they got it. That this is a plantation by every definition of a plantation, you’re working the field from sun up to sun down.” – Norris Henderson
“The time I spent with the incarcerated adolescent boys at Rikers Island really ignited something in me . . . I couldn’t understand why more artists were not ringing the alarm and screaming about this human rights crisis.” – Liza Jessie Peterson
- Norris Henderson: Founder & Executive Director, VOTE (Voice of the Experienced)
- Liza Jessie Peterson: Writer, Actress, Poet, Educator; Playwright & Performer, The Peculiar Patriot
Portions of this interview are featured in our episode “Ask Angola Prison: What Difference Can a Play Make?.”