Sarah Glady (’11) On Teaching Shakespeare in Arizona’s Prison System


Sarah Glady (’11) is a graduate student currently working with contemporary South Asian literature and postcolonial studies at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. She enjoys running, cooking, genealogy, and teaching Sunday school but was recently kicked out of her colloquium’s Dungeons and Dragons league for lack of commitment. She found this hurtful.


This fall marks the start of year two as a Whitworth alumnus, which is turning out to be a nifty phase of life. I’m attending graduate school at Arizona State University (where the English department is the same size as Whitworth), finishing up my M.A. in literature. Some highlights so far have been learning German, a seminar on Darwin and Victorian Literature, speaking at the Southwest/Texas Popular/American Culture Association Conference, and finalizing my committee and thesis topic. In addition to selling my soul to academia, in the past eighteen months I’ve moonlighted as a literacy clinician, hiker, wedding attendant, traveler, runner, church intern, freelance editor, ESL tutor, and voice actress. I know nonbelievers dispute this, but a degree in English will pay all of your bills and then some. Shun the nonbelievers.


Many people have written about the difficulties in transitioning out of college, (or the Whitworth womb as my parents call it), and for me that process took (and continues to take) a solid amount of time actively seeking out and establishing a new community in Arizona. Family, friends, church, and work have all been excellent building blocks for community and adult life.


A wonderful surprise aspect of that community has been my recent involvement with prison education. Every Friday I get up at 6:30 in the morning and drive an hour and a half into the desert. After passing hundreds of cacti and several mobile home parks (my favorite has a two story flaming Kachina with a sombrero holding a sign: ADULT LIVING POOL COMMUNITY), we get to Florence, AZ, which contains seven state prisons. Mine is the North Yard, home to just over one thousand adult male inmates. Eight to fifteen students crowd into our tiny education trailer, and we read, talk about, and act out Shakespeare.

Prison is a strange place, and I’m not sure even where to start, but a few details come to mind. The first is the climate. The prison grounds look like a hokey western town; there’s a general store, a post office, dormitories where the saloon should be, and posts with water where golf carts are chained as if the vehicles shared the same needs as a horse.  The resemblance is shallow, however, because unlike some old ghost town, Florence is full of razor wire, white noise from radios, towers containing snipers and heavy artillery, and reminders of poverty and pain in every direction.

My class, unlike the prison exterior, is very similar to other Shakespeare classes but with some additional challenges. Many of my students are struggling with language barriers or literacy, and the language in Shakespeare can seem impossible.  Other students have some higher education experiences or connect immediately with the text and are quick to relate Hamlet and Twelfth Night to current events or their own experiences.

Last week after acting out Henry IV Part One, we had an intense discussion about parenting and leadership; many had watched the presidential debates and saw connections with Hotspur and Prince Hal. Others shared fears over their own relationships with their children. A lighter moment occurred another week when everyone lost sympathy for Malvolio for whining about being in a dungeon for three days. To paraphrase one of my students, Malvolio doesn’t know “much” about doing hard time. Working with inmates is similar to travelling to another culture. It is both alienating and uncomfortable, but as with any exchange, it has proven to be haunting and valuable.

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