Dr Laura Bates was rehabilitating prisoners in a maximum security state prison; she requested the inmates an assignment about Shakespeare’s woks. The other inmates submitted short responses however Newton gave a one-page answer, earning him a place in her program, “Shakespeare in Shackles.” Dr Bates was definitely taken by Newton’s response and his prowess in verbal and written communication. His response was thoughtful and proved that he used to be capable of having different interpretations of the text. On leaving the room where the application was carried out, Dr Bates asked the inmates what Shakespeare had done for them. Larry Newton told Dr Bates that Shakespeare saved his life both literally and figuratively. In the literal sense, Newton had been self-destructive for many years. He felt that he was on the edge of the razor every day. Newton also stated that if it were not for Shakespeare’s work there was a high probability of doing something sudden and ending up on Death Row. He then proceeded to say that there was also a possibility of committing suicide.
In the figurative sense, he stated that Shakespeare introduced him to new perspectives of thinking by reading his plays. He also admitted to being curious as to why Macbeth wanted her husband to do something that he was against by targeting his ego. He quoted, “What are you soft? Ain’t you man enough to do it?” he therefore decided to question the motivations behind his actions. He realized that he was not authentic since his actions had the purpose of impressing the people around him, that the choices were not truly his own. He said that as much as the realization sounds bad, it was his most liberating experience since he realized that he had never been in control of his own life. He was free to be whoever he wanted to be. He no longer had to be fake so that he could impress his friends. He was still in seclusion, but he viewed himself differently. Before he started reading Shakespeare’s works he felt miserable. He said that individuals perpetuate their own misery. Shakespeare’s literature made him feel free.
Dr Bates took notes on the day to day lives of the prisoners and discussed literature which has words such as prison and prisoner in order to rehabilitate the prisoners. Dr Bates utilizes speeches from Shakespeare’s plays such as King Richard the Second, Act 5:5 “I have been studying how I may compare / This prison where I live unto the worlds” and Hamlet Act 2:2 where Hamlet speaks of Denmark as a prison. He says that Denmark has many wards, dungeons and confines. The play Macbeth was used often since there are a lot of instances where Macbeth realises that killing innocent people due to one’s ambitions is wrong. At the beginning of the play, Macbeth was an honourable man who was tempted by external influences, or in simpler terms peer pressure. Macbeth also claimed that there were witches who were putting ideas in his head. When studying this play, Newton constantly asked himself why Macbeth was doing the wrong things with full knowledge that it was not the right thing to do. The character Macbeth was very relatable to Newton and his fellow inmates since they could understand his inner struggle. The inmates questioned and analysed Macbeth’s motives, therefore analysing their own decisions in life.
In his ten years in the program, Newton was very active and even became a leader in it. He assisted other inmates in understanding the plays and reflecting on them. The program changed his behaviour and perspective. The moment newton joined Dr Bates’ program, he did not record any violent incidents. Larry still continued to be a good influence on his fellow inmates at the end of the program. Larry also realised that the more he studied the literature and the characters, he developed more insight into his character.
Dr Bates is of the opinion that Shakespeare can educate murderers and help them meditate on the reasons why they were convicted. The use of the plays where the individuals think about their actions and why they feel like they are in prison is her main strategy in achieving her goal. She stated that the program was so successful that some prisoners had better insights about the plays were better and showed more understanding of the texts than renown scholars of Shakespeare’s works.
Bates, Laura. Shakespeare Saved My Life. Sourcebooks, Inc., 2013.