Why I Wrote “Day Room Window”

Guest Blog by Playwright Bonnie Cohen on her new play – based on true experience – about girls incarcerated in adult prison opens at The New Hazlett Theater (Pittsburgh, PA) October 16 – 25, 2014

In 1989, after ten years as a theatre professor and twenty years as an actor and director, I became a certified addiction counselor. Drawing on techniques I learnt and developed as an actor and acting teacher, I created a program of drama therapy that I used successfully with youth in juvenile detention in Seattle.  In 1999, based on that experience, the state of Washington asked me to go into the Washington Corrections Center for Women to work with teenage girls sentenced to adult prison. The conditions I found for the girls in adult prison were intolerable as the adult facility was not equipped to house them. The girls were confined to two small rooms and their individual cells with no age appropriate educational, social or psychological programs. Twelve teenage girls who had committed criminal acts were locked in a room with nothing more than a TV, radio, two decks of cards and board games. They were at each other constantly with no attempt on the prison’s part at rehabilitation.  In many and in most of the significant ways, these girls were no different from the kids I had worked with at the juvenile detention facility but the nature of their confinement only exacerbated their criminal thinking and mean spirited behavior. The resources available to them for rehabilitation were non-existent as was the recognition that their adolescence was a period of personal development unique to youth and different from adults in general and certainly those in prison.  I knew these girls had committed serious crimes and in a very few cases I thought there was little or no hope for rehabilitation.  But I was able to see, and with some, reach and draw out their inner, kinder, loving selves and work with them to begin to realize their individual gifts.  Unfortunately, the prison administration was unable or unwilling to make any changes.  Moved by this experience – by the injustice, courage and hope I saw – and by the need to give these girls a voice to be heard and the issue a platform to be presented, I wrote Day Room Window .

Theatre has among its many virtues the power to reveal injustice in a dramatically engrossing way. From Waiting for Lefty (labor unions) in the 1930’s to The Laramie Project (gay & lesbian rights) and The Exonerated (capital punishment) today, theatre has played an important role in raising awareness and speaking truth to power. My aim in writing Day Room Window was to do that.

Assisting as an advisor on the play is Jeff Shook, Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh with an affiliated appointment in the School of Law. Jeff will lead post-play discussions following the October 16, 17, 22, 23, 24 performances.

For tickets, call ShowClix at 1-888-718-4253 or online at showclix.com. Tickets also at the door.

I hope you’ll come to the theatre and give witness to these girls and to the thousands like them in prison


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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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