Earlier this month I went to Mitchellville to attend one of the most extraordinary theater performances I've ever experienced. Along with First Lady Christie Vilsack, former Lt. Governor Joy Corning, I was part of an audience at the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women, watching inmates give a heartrending production of "Steel Magnolias," a story of friendship among several strong, southern women.
The theater program at Mitchellville is the brainchild of Marti Sivi of Des Moines. Marti, who has a degree in criminal justice, has been involved in local theater for 20 years. She first visited the correctional facility with an interfaith forum a few years ago.
"We wanted to do something that would help improve the emotional climate among the inmates," she said. Many of the women were depressed and many were having behavior problems. "I proposed a play-reading class for the inmates who were interested thinking that would be a positive creative outlet."
After a year, Marti had convinced the authorities at Mitchellville to allow her to teach the class. "The first play they read was a female version of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple," she said. "Once the women had read the play in the class, they wanted to perform it."
It took Marti and the women eight months to stage the production. The women performed that first play for the other inmates. "It was the most fantastic experience," Marti said. "Here were women who'd not only not been on stage before, but who had had very few positive experiences in their lives. They were wonderful - it was an emotional performance."
Read the rest of this article in the 10/31 Pilot Tribune.