The Unusual Suspects provides an opportunity for rehabilitation through theater. The group moves theater beyond art imitating life. For The Unusual Suspects, art promotes life. It is the generative force that pushes young people off the track of poverty and prison, and onto the track of productive citizen. As Nick Williams, actor and Grants Manager puts it, “incarcerated kids have more to them than their crime.”
The non-profit began in 1992 with one program, working with incarcerated youth. Since then The Unusual Suspects has expanded to offer preventative programs that create theater in middle schools, high schools, and juvenile detention centers, as well as rehabilitative programs in prisons. They have a collaborative process in which a group comes together with professional writers, actors and directors to write, produce, rehearse, and perform an original play together. “It’s exciting to see hardened young men open up.”
This is not quick-fix work. The Unusual Suspects focuses on one group or location over time. They have worked for several years at San Fernando High School and in South LA, often with repeat at-risk students. It may not be possible to measure how many youth The Unusual Suspects save from prison, but one statistic stands out clear. The Los Angeles Unified School District has a forty percent dropout rate, while ninety-eight percent of The Unusual Suspect’s participants graduate high school.
How will we live tomorrow?
“There’s a big divide in the US, a political divide that is making it difficult for us to move forward. Money is in the wrong place. In terms of our work here, people are making money off of incarcerating youth.
“Last week we had lunch with a man who was falsely imprisoned for 28 years. This guy became a painter in prison, got known, and got his case reopened. We met him through a network of organizations working for incarcerated youth.
“We spend $4 billion to kill 17 people on death row. Think of what we could do with $4 billion in terms of education, food, assistance.”