Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard

Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard

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by Laura Bates
     
 

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"A powerful testament to how Shakespeare continues to speak to contemporary readers in all sorts of circumstances."—Booklist

"The work that Laura Bates has been doing for years with prison inmates and Shakespeare is of extraordinary importance. It has a kind of beauty and symmetry all its own."—David Bevington, Shakespeare scholar, University

Overview

"A powerful testament to how Shakespeare continues to speak to contemporary readers in all sorts of circumstances."—Booklist

"The work that Laura Bates has been doing for years with prison inmates and Shakespeare is of extraordinary importance. It has a kind of beauty and symmetry all its own."—David Bevington, Shakespeare scholar, University of Chicago

"An eye-opening study reiterating the perennial power of books, self-discipline, and the Bard of Avon."—Kirkus

While He Was Breaking Out of Prison, She Was Trying to Break In.

Shakespeare professor and prison volunteer Laura Bates thought she had seen it all. That is, until she decided to teach Shakespeare in a place the bard had never been before — supermax solitary confinement. In this unwelcoming place, surrounded by inmates known as the worst of the worst, is Larry Newton. A convicted murderer with several escape attempts under his belt and a brilliantly agile mind on his shoulders, Larry was trying to break out of prison at the same time Laura was fighting to get her program started behind bars.

Thus begins the most unlikely of friendships, one bonded by Shakespeare and lasting years—a friendship that, in the end, would save more than one life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Indiana State literature professor Bates details her remarkable work teaching Shakespeare to inmates, an experience that proved momentous for both teacher and students. Invoking lessons from previous volunteer work at prisons in her native Chicago, Bates transported Shakespeare into solitary-confinement lock-up (Secured Housing Unit, aka "supermax") at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, Indiana, and there met Larry Newton, her most engaged student and focus of this work. A convicted killer incarcerated since he was a juvenile—often in solitary confinement or on death row—Newton, despite his grade-school education, takes naturally to Shakespeare; starting with Richard II, he displays startling moments of empathy with the characters and latches on to many parallels of verisimilitude. Each week, toiling on their knees over homework assignments Bates passes through the "cuff port", forced to communicate through the bunker-like doors, chosen inmates in supermax discuss and dissect themes of revenge, criminality, honor, and love—from Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Othello, among others. Opening the mind's prison proves enormously gratifying, not to mention effective, for Bates as she offers the prisoners an alternative to frustrated violence. Her brave, groundbreaking work continues to be closely watched and modeled. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"Wonderful... well written, easy to follow, and hard to put down. My hope is that this book will make people understand that education can change lives." - Sue Jones, Auntie's Bookstore, Spokane, WA

"This is an amazing story, beautifully told...I'm still reeling from the power of the ending." - Anne McMahon, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee WI

"A transformative journey for students and teacher alike. ... An eye-opening study reiterating the perennial power of books, self-discipline and the Bard of Avon." - Kirkus

"Shakespeare Saved My Life touches on the search for meaning in life, the struggles that complicate the path to triumph and the salvation that can be found in literature's great works ... An inspiring account.
" - Shelf Awareness

"Readers will find much to be inspired by and optimistic about in Bates's book" - PopMatters

"You don't have to be a William Shakespeare fan, a prisoner, or a prison reformer to appreciate this uplifting book. "Shakespeare Saved My Life" also reveals many important truths ... about the meaning of empathy in our dealings with others" - Finger Lakes Times

Kirkus Reviews
The unorthodox bonding of a Shakespeare instructor and a convicted murderer. Beginning in 2003, English professor Bates (Indiana State Univ.) began an inaugural group-study program in a solitary confinement prison space, much to the chagrin of the university department chairperson, who found the foray into criminal education a risky venture. The author's history with prison education extends back to 1983, when she volunteered at Chicago's Cook County jail while studying for her doctorate. She then taught English classes and Shakespeare studies at Indiana's supermax Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, an institution housing her home state's most dangerous criminals. There, she taught an inmate who became the first to seriously frighten her, even after many years boldly volunteering in solitary confinement. The prisoner was "caged beast" Larry Newton, a nefarious yet intellectually sharp murderer serving a life sentence without parole for crimes committed as a teenager. Bates inherited her mother's "mix of fearlessness and fearfulness," which fostered the way into the maximum security penitentiary to host an intellectual discussion on Shakespeare's plays. The author emerges as a selfless tutor dedicated to education without reservation, and she fought hard to educate Newton and other surprisingly charismatic inmates, whom she profiles with a dignified mixture of pride and humanitarianism. The 10 years spent in supermax became a transformative journey for students and teacher alike. An eye-opening study reiterating the perennial power of books, self-discipline and the Bard of Avon.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781402273148
Publisher:
Sourcebooks
Publication date:
04/02/2013
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
117,294
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Favorite Freakin’ Shakespeare

Oh, man, this is my favorite freakin’ quote!”

What professor wouldn’t like to hear a student enthuse so much over a Shakespeare play—a Shakespeare history play, no less! And then to be able to flip open the two-thousand-page Complete Works of Shakespeare and find the quote immediately: “When that this body did contain a spirit, a kingdom for it was too small a bound”!

He smacks the book as he finishes reading. Meanwhile, I’m still scrambling to find the quote somewhere in Henry the Fourth, Part One.

“Act uh…?”

“Act 5, scene 4,” my student informs me, again smacking the page with his enthusiastic fist. “Oh, man, that is crazy!”

Yes, this is crazy: I am sitting side-by-side with a prisoner who has just recently been allowed to join the general prison population after more than ten years in solitary confinement. We met three years prior, in 2003, when I created the first-ever Shakespeare program in a solitary confinement unit, and we spent three years working together in that unit. Now we have received unprecedented permission to work together, alone, unsupervised, to create a series of Shakespeare workbooks for prisoners. Newton is gesticulating so animatedly that it draws the attention of an officer walking by our little classroom. He pops his head inside.

“Everything okay in here?” he asks.

“Just reading Shakespeare,” I reply.

He shakes his head and walks on.

“That is crazy!” Newton repeats, his head still in the book.

A record ten and a half consecutive years in solitary confinement, and he’s not crazy, he’s not dangerous—he’s reading Shakespeare.

And maybe, just maybe, it is because he’s reading Shakespeare that he is not crazy, or dangerous.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Wonderful... well written, easy to follow, and hard to put down. My hope is that this book will make people understand that education can change lives." - Sue Jones, Auntie's Bookstore, Spokane, WA

"This is an amazing story, beautifully told...I'm still reeling from the power of the ending." - Anne McMahon, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee WI

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Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
[FTC disclaimer: I won this book from Sourcebooks via Goodreads. All comments are my own, sourcebooks a/o Goodreads have not influenced my review in any way.] This memoir is about real people in real situations with real ideas. Dr.Laura Bates writes about introducing a group of long term incarcerated men to a 400 year old author and how these guys, one in particular, Larry Newton, with the bare equililant of a fifth grade education, critcally disseminates some of Shakespeare's hardest works. Dr. Bates teaches Shakespeare at Indiana University. She begins volunteering in the prisons even before she completes her doctorate. Then, like many of us in teaching fields,her real education begins as she is witness to how education can change lives. And, the concepts and ideas that Larry intuits allow him to realize that he is more than what he is percieved to be. And that is how William Shakespeare saved his life, and changed Laura Bates'. Great book
ElfieLM More than 1 year ago
I loved this book.  Who knew a bargain bin special would draw me into Larry's prison.  I felt his pain, injustice, fear and strength.  My greatest wish is that he was able to read this book and get his Shakespeare copy back.  My message to him and the author, "Stay strong!"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I served on a state Board of Parole for 8 years, and found this book very insightful. I am recommending it to several who work within a prison system. It was a great read!
nolagras More than 1 year ago
I recommend this book without reservation. I wish that people who prefer retribution and punishment over rehabilitation would read it. I wish people who think that education in prisons is a waste of time and money would read it. I wish I had known about this book in time to assign it to the first-year college students to whom I teach English composition (critical reading, thinking, and writing). It is remarkable!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a truly interesting and inspiring book. The supermax prisoner Larry Newton had some of the most poignant insights on Shakespeare that I have ever heard
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Truly inspiring...I read it in one sitting! Makes you think hard about how we look at literatur and how it can impact our lives. Especially if those who were not previously given the opportunity to read, process, AND express their opinion in an open, accepting educational environment. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow - Amazing story. This is one of those good ideas that works and should be implemented! Read it - you'll be amazed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago