Liza Jessie Peterson finds “Peculiar” similarities between slavery and prisons
Poet-playwright-performer takes time from her performing schedule to discuss social justice with Watertown High students
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“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
That is the 13th Amendment of the United States of America, and if you didn’t notice the part about punishment for crime, most people don’t. Another interesting fact, more than 2.2 million people are incarcerated in the United States.
As I sat down in the Lecture Hall at Watertown High, Liza Jessie Peterson was introduced, and what immediately struck me about her was her air of calmness. She began by addressing her show, “The Peculiar Patriot,” a one-woman play set in a prison.
This play, which ran in Boston at Emerson Paramount Center from Oct. 17-28, 2018, shows two best friends interacting while one of them is incarcerated. As she started to delve into more of her passion, she explained her experience with the incarceration system.
As a poet and writer, near the turn of the century, she was asked to teach a workshop to imprisoned teenagers on Rikers Island in New York City. As she got there, she gained a familiarity with the issue of race and imprisonment. She “could’ve counted the number of white incarcerees on her fingers.” From her experiences, she now believes that the modern-day prison system is racially biased against non-whites by criminalizing non-whites more for the same mistakes.
Her show will deal with all of that and much more while trying to accurately portray prison life in America. “The Peculiar Patriot” is traveling nationwide, and is a critical look at the US justice and prison system, as well as the severity of modern punishments for crimes.
–Nov. 14, 2018–
TJ Powderly is a member of the Raider Times staff.