Prisoners are finding freedom behind bars

Many inmates at Donovan State Prison will never leave those four walls – yet still, they want to make something of themselves.


CW6’s Jenny Day went beyond the barbed wire to give us a look at the “Playwrights Project” – a program that’s allowing prisoners to express themselves on paper and on stage.


For the prisoners, their days are predictable, but their list of activities are short.  Wake up, eat, work out; but now, some inmates at this maximum security prison are writing plays that will be performed at San Diego State.


The Playwrights Project has been successful at Donovan State Prison for three years now.


“To write something and be heard, it means the world to me,” Barney Mills said.


Inmates with good behavior get a chance to tell their stories and put some of their time, to good use.


“For 21 years, I’ve been told where to go, what to eat, who to do it with; this group has given me a voice.”


The play will be performed by San Diego State students, but the script comes from inside – often real life stories about how these men got there.


“Most people have remorse, mostly because they got caught. I have it because I hurt someone and I deal with that every day,” Mills said.


Barney Mills has served eleven years with two still to go for armed robbery. He says this program is giving him something to look forward to when he gets back outside.


“Every day we’re learning to be patient, work hard, be humble and get away from the old lifestyle. I use my brain in a positive way. Prison isn’t conducive for me anymore,” he added.


Most of the men in there are using pen and paper for redemption.


“Writing is an outlet for me that nothing else provides for me,” James Johnson said.


Johnson is one of the lead writers. He’s serving two life sentences for murder but doesn’t want that to be all that defines him.


“Being connected to the outside world, knowing I’m having a positive impact – I really love that,” Johnson said.


Their play focuses on the cycle of addiction. The inmates say they truly feel this program is having an impact on them.


“Working with guys in the yard – seeing the change in them; being able to articulate better, communicate and problem solve,” Mills said.


Cecilia Kouma is the executive director of the Playwrights Project and believes in second chances.


“Some people make bad choices, but we can’t give up on them. There’s something beautiful within each of us and we have to nurture that.”


You can see this play in real life, Thursday through Sunday at San Diego State. Tickets are free and afterwards there will be a discussion with experts, including the prison warden and the acting U.S. Attorney.


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