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Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard

by Laura Bates

Pub Date: April 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4022-7314-8
Publisher: Sourcebooks

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.