Shakespeare Behind Bars


After watching the movie, Shakespeare Behind Bars, I attended this forum with Curt Tofteland this past January at the University of Richmond (  Curt is the founder of “Shakespeare Behind Bars,” a program that started 18 years ago in a state correctional facility in Kentucky.  More recently, the program has expanded to a facility in Michigan and juvenile detention centers.  I like the analogy he made through the use of a poem that he shared in his opening remarks.  The poem was about the two wolves that are inside every person; one wolf leads to incarceration while the other leads to a life of freedom.  He went on to talk about the role empathy has in determining which road a person will choose; acknowledging that empathy is both genetic and learned behavior.  His belief is that people who have empathy are less likely to create crimes.  I personally agree with this theory.

Curt uses theater as a tool to assist the members discover who they were and why it put them on the road to prison.  The program aims to change theater member’s heart by learning to take responsibility for the crime they committed, feel remorse, compassion, empathy, and embrace atonement for their previous behavior.  Participants look hard at themselves in order for restoration to occur.

Participants of the program work each day to answer these four questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. What do I love?
  3. How will I live my life knowing I will die?
  4. What is my gift to human kind?

He informed us that 97% of the incarcerated population is released back into the community.  The recidivism rate for his “Shakespeare Behind Bars” program in the state of Kentucky is less than 6%.  Who do you want to be your neighbor?  Think about how the implementation of this program in more prisons would change CORRECTions throughout America.


3 thoughts on “Shakespeare Behind Bars

  1. Very impressed with this program! Sounds like some rehabilitation is taking place in Kentucky. I would love to be a part of this shift in the perception of what treatment in prisons could really afford society. We could all use a little “Shakespeare Behind Bars”.

  2. This seems like a really cool program. I’m going to have to take some time and watch that entire video. Glad to hear there is something that is working!

    • I have a five minute promo video link under “Media”…take a look at that. Although it was great to be at the forum, you can’t hear the questions asked by audience members and it makes the Youtube version hard to follow. The promo video is moving. Enjoy!

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