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The Brown Creek Life Review Performance Project grew out of a unique collaboration between the Southern Oral History Program, Anson Community College (ACC) in Polkton, North Carolina, and Brown Creek Correctional Institution (BCCI), an all-male, 800-inmate medium-security prison in Anson County. The project took shape in 1996 when Winnie M. Bennett asked SOHP scholars Alicia J. Rouverol andKathryn Walbert to hold a series of oral history workshops in Anson County as part of her North Carolina Humanities Council-funded project “Building Community Through Poetry, History and Art.” During an initial workshop at BCCI, inmates took a keen interest in oral history and quickly grasped its value in their own lives. Several inmates suggested that by drawing attention to the experiences that led them to BCCI, the telling of their stories might influence at-risk youth in local communities. Rouverol encouraged the inmates to consider developing an oral history-based performance similar to the SOHP’s “Performing Women’s Leadership.”

With further support from the North Carolina Humanities Council and the SOHP’s “Listening for a Change” initiative, the Brown Creek Life Review Performance project took place under the auspices of BCCI’s continuing education program during the spring and fall of 1998. Rouverol co-taught the first course with ACC faculty member Mark-Anthony Hines, organizing sessions around the concept of “life review” – the process by which individuals at key junctures in their lives review and assess their past. Inmates participated in a series of taped group life review storytelling sessions that focused on topics ranging from family background and childhood to young adulthood and the experience of coming to Brown Creek. Using the transcripts and their own writings, the inmates then developed a script in collaboration with Rouverol, community theater director Marlene Richardson, and ACC’s Head of Correctional Education Joe Madaras. In March 1999, the inmates participated in two original performances of “Leaves of Magnolia: The Brown Creek Life Review Performance Project” for prison administration and ACC administration and staff. Read and listen to the interviews here.