Rickie (pictured left with playwright Mac Rogers) is a founding member of the playwriting program at Northpoint Training Center, a male medium security prison near Danville, Kentucky. His plays Reflections From Behind The Wire and 12 Minutes have been presented by Voices Inside/Out. He was released from prison earlier this month and wrote about why Voices Inside/Out is important.
“Someone once said, ‘Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.’ As one of the original founding members of the Voices Inside playwriting program at the Northpoint Training Center, a medium security prison in Burgin, Kentucky, I learned that principle from the Voices Inside team. Not only did I learn it from them, I actually experienced it firsthand when I helped save the lives of two female Correctional Officers who were being brutally assaulted by another inmate at that facility. Would those women be alive today had it not been for Voices Inside and Voices Inside/Out? Would I have helped the women had I not been enrolled in the Voices Inside program? It’s doubtful. Robby Henson, Liz Orndorff, Holly Henson, Noelia Antweiler, Synge Mayer, Curt Tofteland, Lanie Zipoy and all the others that came barreling through the doors of Northpoint insisted on one thing, “Speak the truth”. Robby told me at one point that genuine art is when you peel back layer after layer much like an onion until the only thing left standing is the truth.
When I ran to help those women, I knew intuitively that I did so at great peril to myself. Female or not, the prison code mandates that you not assist those wearing a badge. To do so sets one at great risk of being murdered and/or ostracized from general population. There were attempts on my life after I helped those women, and I certainly was ostracized from general population. I was thirty feet from them when the assault began, and as I told the Voices Inside Team via a letter later on, ‘I wanted to tell you personally that even though I feel I would have gone to their aid eventually, the fact is because of the writing program that you guys brought to this facility, it enabled me to help these good people with a noble heart and a clear mind. You tell us constantly to ‘speak the truth.’ Many times our actions speak for us. Thank you again.’
Let me ask those that read this, would you risk your life to help two complete strangers, knowing that as you did you risked being assaulted or murdered for having done so? Voices Inside/Out allowed me to run to those women’s aid, not crawl, not walk, but to run. I am a living testimony to the power of that program, just as those women are a recipient of that power.
Barbara Janice Kielhofer, in her excellent article titled, Can Art Change Your Life, alludes to the power of the writing program. “Voices Inside/Out was founded to support Voices Inside, the playwriting and theater arts program at Northpoint Training Center, a medium security prison in Burgin, Kentucky. The goal of Voices Inside/Out is artistic exchange between prisoner-playwrights at Northpoint and professional playwrights. We believe everyone can benefit and expand their worldviews from this program. We accomplish our mission in two ways: presenting the inmates’ plays in New York City to a wide audience and supporting a playwriting residency for an accomplished playwright each summer at Northpoint.”
I had two plays presented in New York thanks to Lanie Zipoy and Synge Mayer of the Voices Inside/ Out program. Reflections From Behind The Wire, was my first; 12 Minutes, my next. Robby Henson, Liz Orndorff, and Curt Tofteland are solely responsible for 12 Minutes. I was told that I needed to bear down, to write about the dismal things that had occurred in my life. Though initially I was reluctant to touch some of the issues, through their gentle persistence, I looked, for the first time, at the death of my son and all the pain that was involved in that episode.
I learned of my son’s death sitting in a prison cell in Western Kentucky. While skimming through television channels on a 13-inch television set, I stumbled across a breaking news story about a small house burning. As I watched I realized the house that was burning was the house of my son and his mother. I watched from fifty miles away as my son drew his last breath in this world surrounded by fireman and EMTs. I was unable to lift a finger to help him. The pain of seeing that was etched deep in my psyche. The guilt of being incarcerated as opposed to being there was overwhelming. It crushed the very life out of me. The entire episode was seared into my conscience. Upon my release in 2005, I turned to substance abuse to alleviate the pain from the loss of my son and the death of my mother. I was subsequently returned to prison for technical parole violations. Until I started writing because of Voices Inside and Voices Inside/Out, I never understood why I did the things I did. Though I was away for 62 months, it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.
After serving 62 months for a technical parole violation, I was released from prison on March 1, 2013. As I told a dear friend recently, because of the Voices Inside/Out program, I ran to the nearest library, to the nearest church, to the nearest N.A./A.A. meeting upon my release. I ran to family gatherings as opposed to running with my old crew. I utilize the internet to stay in touch with my playwriting friends, to research, and to write, as opposed to using it as a dating tool. I no longer cringe when I encounter a police vehicle. When I leave home in the mornings my thoughts are on whom I may possibly help this day. Voices Inside/Out is responsible for the change in me. I reside with an Evangelist as opposed to a drug dealer. Two of my best friends are a school teacher and a secretary for a principal of a middle school, sterling members of their communities. I try to speak to my nieces, brother, cousins, nephews, and other family members every night. I was asked to come share my story with a good group of people recently. Later I was reminded by a lady named Regina that I had an obligation, a holy obligation, to do something good in this world with my life. I spend four hours every Tuesday with four women and two men determined to make a difference in this world. Before Voices Inside/Out, that would have never occurred. Does Voices Inside/Out matter? It did for me.”