Remembering pp 19-43 | Cite as

Trying To Be Good: Lessons in Oral History and Performance

  • Alicia J. Rouverol
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Oral History book series (PSOH)


Since 1998, I have been at work on the Brown Creek Life Review Project at Brown Creek Correctional Institution, an all-male, medium-security facility that houses more than 800 inmates in Anson County, North Carolina. The project involved groups of inmates in “life review” storytelling sessions; formal interviews with me; and a performance project based on the stories of their lives for audiences of at-risk youth. More than twenty men participated in the project—Anglo, African American, and Hispanic—ranging in age from mid-20s to early-70s. I recorded their stories and collaborated with them on a script, titled “Leaves of Magnolia,” that eight men performed at the prison in the spring of 1999 and again in 2001. The results were electrifying. The inmates had struggled to understand the events that had shaped their lives and led them to Brown Creek. They wrote letters home to address issues of abuse, which we later incorporated into the performance; some came forward wanting to make restitution for their crimes. At-risk youth from rural and urban settings in North Carolina who witnessed the performances were similarly affected. The youth wrote letters to the inmates, and spoke out to judges and program coordinators in the juvenile system about the lessons they had learned at the prison. In a taped session held a few weeks after the performance, these young people acknowledged their own life circumstances and challenged themselves and one another to steer clear of a place like Brown Creek.


Young People Final Performance Performance Project Oral History Drug Court 
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    The performance project, In a House of Open Passage, was developed by Della Pollock and her students in the spring of 1997. It was based on the SOHP’s Women’s Leadership and Grassroots Activism Project, an oral history initiative codirected by SOHP Director Jacquelyn Hall and myself. Della and I coordinated the series of public performances that took place in four different locations in the greater Triangle area. Participating in Della’s project and witnessing audience response to students telling the lives of regional activists and leaders in a montage style designed to provoke conversation with audience members inspired my work on the Brown Creek Life Review Project. Della went on to serve as a consultant on my project, reviewing early drafts of the script and urging me to take ownership of performance as a vehicle for the inmates’ stories. I am indebted to her for her support and encouragement throughout the project. My work at Brown Creek was also inspired by folklorist Bruce Jackson and theatre activist Augusto Boal. See Bruce Jackson, In the Life: Versions of the Criminal Experience (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Wilson, 1972);Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Della Pollock 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alicia J. Rouverol

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