A familiar sight greeted many prisoners who have participated in group processing as they entered the Protestant Chapel on Nov. 20 to watch the show Faultline at San Quentin State Prison. The group circles were made up of prisoners and free people, but most notably the actress Helen Hunt.
Each circle was made up of 11 individuals and resembled an everyday occurrence in San Quentin, a place where people talk about their problems and process the traumas of their lives. All one would have to do is take a walk around the Education Building on a weekday afternoon and they would see the real thing taking place.
Hunt was invited to the prison late last year by Insight Prison Project (IPP) Executive Director Billie Mizell to observe the restorative justice program and Victims Offender Education Group (VOEG).
“Helen is researching restorative justice for a project she’s working on,” Mizell said. “I had been working with her and found her to be incredibly sincere and humble. So, I suggested while she was here at San Quentin, to witness a VOEG group session, that she should also stay to see the annual artistic ensemble performance.”
Hunt said seeing the IPP programs was humbling and the experience helped her better connect with her humanity.
After the audience began to settle down, the actors stood up and the free people took seats in the audience, leaving the men in blue to perform.
Faultline is the second production of the performance art group The Artistic Ensemble. This performance resembled the previous performance, Waterline, put on last year and incorporating spoken word, dance, movement and monologues.
Actual rocks from the prison yard were incorporated into this year’s show and served as a visual representation of the granite walls that encase the actors and their lives. At one point, the actors spelled out the words “WE ARE HERE,” a poignant reminder that individuals live lives behind the walls of prison every day, but are rarely seen.
“Just like water wears a rock down, so does time wear a man down,” said actor Richie Morris, when asked about the meaning of the rocks.
“The concept is that we are here and do not want to be forgotten,” actor JulianGlenn Padgett added.
One performer asked Hunt what she got out of the performance and how she’d describe it to the outside world.
“I’m trying to do something with restorative justice,” she said.
Hunt acknowledged that the public sees a Hollywood version of what is really happening in prison and that she wants to use social media to get the word out about what she saw during her time here. “What should I say? Hashtag Prison Renaissance. I want to show other people in the world and invite them here to see the real, not the fake, Orange is the New Black.”
The dance of Anouthinh “Choy” Pangthong and Antwan “Banks” Williams shined during the event. A blindfolded Williams articulated the concept of blindness as he danced around the stage with a sheet tied around his face. “Dance speaks to the soul. I do what I feel is right. In prison there are so many things we must abide by, so when given the chance to do something like dance, I love to do this. I am who I am. I’m a man in its entirety,” said Williams after the show.
Pangthong soared high in the air as he climbed a pyramid of bodies and fell to the waiting arms of the other actors. “I really love this medium. Growing up I didn’t know how to articulate myself, but with dance movement, I can express how I feel. It really is a privilege and honor to convey my feelings with these guys.”
For most of the show, a white board stood behind the actors on stage with a list of numbers. The numbers equated to the amount of time each man in blue on the stage has spent in prison. The striking figure of the actors’ time totaled to 334 years.
The performance closed to a standing ovation by the audience.
The Artistic Ensemble is sponsored by the Insight Prison Project, a nonprofit that is “Committed to transforming the lives of those impacted by incarceration through programs that inspire reflection, compassion and accountability,” according to a statement in the program for Faultline.
The Faultline cast includes Adnan Khan, Anouthinh “Choy” Pangthong, Antwan “Banks” Williams, Belize Villafranco, Chris Marshall Sr., Erick Lowery AKA Mike Lowery, Gary Harrell, Gino Sevacos, Ira Perry, JulianGlenn Padgett, Juancito, Lawrence Pela, Le’Mar “Maverick” Harrison, Maurice “Reese” Reed, Richie Morris, Rodney (RC) Capell, Rauch Draper, and Upumoni Ama. Stephen Pascascio operated soundboard, and outside directors are Amie Dowling, Freddy Gutierrez, Tatiana Chaterji and Sebastian Alvarez.