‘Someone shot, but the clock didn’t stop’: Learning Shakespeare and writing sonnets in youth prison

Madeline Buckley:

The program, put on by a Michigan-based organization, Shakespeare Behind Bars, will end with a performance on Dec. 22 that will incorporate scenes from Shakespeare works as well as the detainees’ own original work.

The students were evaluated before the program, with some in the class shown to have a reading level of about third grade, according to Curt Tofteland, founder of Shakespeare Behind Bars. None of the students interviewed by the Tribune reported having read any Shakespeare in high school classes. The Tribune does not name juvenile detainees.

Tofteland knows the program comes with challenges. The National Endowment for the Arts wants the program to generate empirical data as part of the grant. But the progress of the program is sometimes hard to measure in those terms, he said. He views the voluntary program as a success when the teens walk in the door.