Directed by John Malpede and Henriëtte Brouwers and written / improvised by the LAPD performers.

State of Incarceration-in progress performances began in June 2010 at the Central City Community Church and  Los Angeles Community Action Network in Skid Row.

Additional performances:
August 12, 2010: Behavioral Systems SW Inc.,van Nuys
August 14, 2010: Jonahproject, Skid Row
August 21, 2010: AMITY Foundation Re-entry Program, Los Angeles
December 17, 2010: Chuco’s Justice High School, Inglewood
November 6-20, 2010: a gallery installation, and performances @ The Box Gallery, Chinatown
January 28 + 29 & February 4+5, 2011: Highways Performance Space, Santa Monica
June 15 – 18, 2011: RADAR LA Festival, at LA Theater Center, Los Angeles
January 31 & February 1, 2014: Queens Museum, New York

About the Project

LAPD’s History of Incarceration project combines theater, installation and public education to examine the personal and social costs of incarceration in the US. The performance and installation’s creative material is developed in workshops and brings together the first hand personal experience of performers including their inside understanding of how the prison system functions.  The trajectory of the performance State of Incarceration extends from entering prison through incarceration, to release and the challenges of re-integration after prison.  The piece is not character based, but is a litany of experiences suffered under similar conditions, contributed by and recognizable to all the performers.  In that sense State of Incarceration performs the ritual of incarceration. The performance is a communal quest to understand, communicate and recover from the experience of incarceration: by making peace with yourself and others who have made you suffer. There’s personal responsibility and there’s societal responsibility. Getting your life back means accepting personal responsibility and understanding societal responsibility. The two come together in recovery from incarceration, by understanding that it’s part of your individual responsibility, as a recovering convict, to work together collectively to change the societal stigma and current judicial approaches to rehabilitation.

Project History

This project has many goals.  One is that it will enable the public to visually and viscerally understand the conditions created by public policies that have led California to have the largest prison population in the US.  The second is to create an opportunity for former prisoners to share their lived expertise, about the prison experience, the state of incarceration and how to survive it.  And the ultimate goal of the project is to create a moment of exchange and reflection on how they and we, the people of California, as a state can recover from living in a state of incarceration.

State of Incarceration explores the consequence of incarceration on people, families and communities. LAPD, a theater company of people living and working in Skid Row Los Angeles, is in a strategic place for undertaking this exploration.  Many of the creators / performers in State of Incarceration have been incarcerated.

Skid Row Los Angeles is a special place and vortex for a number of thorny social issues that confront the entire nation. The US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. California has the greatest number of prisoners in the U.S. When released from state penitentiaries with $200 gate money, parolees are directed to Skid Row with the largest concentration of low cost housing in LA County.  33% of parolees released to the Los Angeles area settle in the 52 square block neighborhood of Skid Row.

Due to the aggressive policing of Skid Row, virtually all Skid Row citizens have first hand knowledge of the criminal justice system. For a lot of people on Skid Row their experience comes through minor infractions such as jaywalking.  50 percent of the jaywalking tickets written in the entire city of Los Angeles are written in the 52 square blocks of Skid Row. And because many people cannot afford to pay the $100 fines, if they don’t pay, the jaywalking ticket becomes an arrest warrant, and the next time they are stopped they get sent to LA County jail.

In 2010, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that out-of-control overcrowding in California state prisons prevents minimally humane medical and mental health care. Ex-Governor Schwarzenegger appealed the decision. On May 23, 2011 the Supreme Court endorsed a court order requiring California to cut its prison population by tens of thousands of inmates to improve health care for those who remain behind bars. Click here for more information on the ruling.

According to law enforcement officials and others, the reforms have created public safety concerns that need to be addressed.  But, we would like to return the focus to the needs of the people who are coming out of the criminal justice system.

Building the Project

The Box Gallery 2010November 6 – 20, 2010 – gallery installation & performances @ The Box Gallery.
The main floor gallery was installed wall to wall with 30 prison bunk beds, same as in over crowded California State Prisons— where gymnasiums and cafeterias have been turned into dormitories housing 3 and 4 hundred prisoners. Video elements were installed on the beds. The basement gallery included images charting the expansion of the prison population and new prison construction in California over the past 3 decades and the 21-year-and-counting-history of the lawsuit challenging the quality of the health services available to inmates in the state’s over-crowded prisons.  In 2010 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that these conditions amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment.” Governor Schwarzenegger appealed this ruling.
The exhibition included 5 performance events – each one different – all took place within the prison bunk-bed installation. Each performance was an experiment in which the performers, the audience, and the performance material, developed in LAPD workshops, were inserted into this restrictive prison architecture.

In 2010/2011 LAPD created an 8 hour film of 184 Californians reading the entire 184 page decision of 9th. Circuit Court.  After the performances, visitors were asked to read one page from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, that the health services and over-crowded conditions in California’s State prisons are in violation of the US constitution and constitute “Cruel and unusual punishment”. These readings were videoed. A 3 hour long edit of this movie was exhibited at Occidental College in April 2012; at the UC Riverside exhibit by Catherine Gudis & Molly McGarry ‘Geographies of Detention’ in July 2013; and as part of the ‘Inside/Outside‘ exhibition at the Wignall Museum of Contemporary Art in he fall of 2015.

SOI_2010_filmingPages read by Californians at previous project locations were projected as part of the exhibition in conjunction with the performance at Highways Performance Space, Santa Monica on Jan. 28 & 29 and Feb. 4 & 5, 2011. LAPD created an exhibition in the gallery that included images charting the expansion of the prison population and prison construction in California over the past 3 decades. The exhibition also included elements from the prison poster collection of The Center for the Study of Political Graphics. In a skype interview with Michael Bien, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the case, and with introductions by lawyers from ACLU we informed the audience about the case before the performance started.

Radar_L.A._logo_CMYK_02June 15 – 18, 2011 – RADAR LA
“Scared Straight! has nothing on this often compelling piece of political theater.” —LA Weekly.
In a performance space filled wall-to-wall with prison bunk beds, performers and audience share overcrowded conditions akin to a California state prison for the latest work from Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD). One-third of the state’s parolees settle in the 55 square blocks of Los Angeles known as Skid Row, and State of Incarceration—developed collaboratively by LAPD’s Skid Row artists and in dialogue with organizers and recent parolees—powerfully examines the consequences of California’s penal system on individuals, families and communities. Outlining a ritual of incarceration from entry to release and re-integration, State of Incarceration constructs a complex challenge to the societal perceptions and fear-based policies of a nation with the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

Video performance excerpts were part of the Police and Thieves exhibition, curated by Karla Diaz and Mario Ybarra Jr. at the Hyde Park ArtCenter in Chicago, from February 13 – May 29, 2011. Performance photographs are part of a traveling exhibition Site Unseen: Incarceration, guest curated by Sheila Pinkel, at the Los Angeles Valley Art College Gallery  from March- June 2015.

HOI_QM January 31 & February 1, 2014 – the Queens Museum, New York.
LAPD’s State of Incarceration was the centerpiece of the retrospective exhibition. State of Incarceration’s 60 prison bunk-beds are installed in 1200 feet of gallery space along with video excerpts for the 4 month duration of the exhibition. LAPD’s large State of Incarceration cast came to NYC for a week of performances and residency activities, which included public conversations and workshops on reforming the criminal justice system.

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May 2010

Parole Reform Shakeout: Who Wins and Who Loses? The Effects of California’s Parole Reform on Parolees, People Getting Out and Transitional Programs Downtown.
PANEL to discuss the effects of the state’s parole reform on people living downtown: current parolees, transitional programs and people who will be released under the provisions of the parole reform.

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The Spread

The performances were structured around the making and serving of a communal meal—prison style, which was served and shared with our audience at the end of the performance. Prisoners come together and combine the foodstuffs they each have in their cells to make “THE SPREAD”.

Click read more for the recipe of the spread.

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The Cast

SOI_IMG_4181Performers and contributors 1st cast: ‘History of Incarceration Song’ and ‘Making the Spread’ text by Riccarlo Porter with Debra Anderson, Celestine Williams, Vinson Fuller, Charles Jackson, Austin Hines, Bill Grant, Jimmy Johnson, Daniel Meza, Ibrahim Saba, Henriëtte Brouwers, Jennifer Campbell, Richard Butts, Sista Mary, Michael Coleman, Jesse Buenrostro, Wylie and ‘CO – Prisoner’ texts by John Malpede, ‘The Slave Boat’ by KevinMicahel Key, ‘Jumping Jacks’ by Anthony Taylor, ‘Buck Rogers Time’ by Ronnie Walker, ‘Predatory Prisoner’ by Diop Ababacar, ‘My First Job’ by Elona Williams and more!

Performers 2nd cast: Henriëtte Brouwers, Mary Davis “Sista Mary”, Walter Fears, Linda Harris, Austin Hines, Chas Jackson, Jimmie Marlon Johnson, JoDyRaY, Ari Kadin, Kevin Michael Key, John Malpede, Riccarlo Porter, Ibrahim Saba, Adrian Turnage, Carmen Vega, Ronald Walker, Celestine Williams.

Project Funders

State of Incarceration is a project of Creative Capital, which currently receives funding from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, The TOBY Fund, The James Irvine Foundation, The Nathan Cummings Foundation, and more than 150 other individuals and institutional donors. The project was developed with support from National Endowment for the Arts-Theater and the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and The Creation Fund of the National Performance Network. “State of Incarceration” is a National Performance Network (NPN) Creation Fund Project co-commissioned by Highways Performance Space in partnership with Tucson-Pima Arts Council], VSA Arts of New Mexico, The Queens Museum and NPN. The Creation Fund is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Ford Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts (a federal agency). For more information: LAPD would like to thank The Box Gallery and United Coalition East Prevention Project for the space to create and The Bold and The Beautiful for their donation of 30 bunk beds.