Robert Kennedy is one of a handful of inmates at Donovan Correctional Facility who’s in an advanced playwriting workshop.
In a class a few weeks ago, Kennedy stood up to explain what he gets out of writing plays and collaborating with other inmates. He said the creative process has been infuriating at times, but working through disagreements has taught him about healthy conflict resolution. He also said the experience has been therapeutic.
“It’s not just writing plays, see,” he said in a video recording of the weekly class led by the San Diego nonprofit Playwrights Project. “I wrote a play about my dad, who committed suicide. That helped me deal with something that I … haven’t dealt with and helped me deal with it for the first time ever.”
Kennedy said he blamed himself for his dad’s death for a long time. It was just one of the factors that led him on his path to eventual incarceration, he said.
Snippets of Kennedy’s story are in “I’M GOOD: Incarcerated Men Getting Over Obstacles Daily,” a 90-minute play Kennedy and other inmates wrote together that paints a detailed portrait of the men and the lives they led before prison. A staged reading of the new play will be held at San Diego State University’s Experimental Theatre from April 20-23.
The playwright program at Donovan is part of the California’s Arts-in-Corrections program, which is run through a partnership between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the California Arts Council. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, Arts-in-Corrections was held up as a model program that reduced recidivism, helped with rehabilitative goals and improved prisoner behavior. Despite its success, the program was slimmed down amid statewide budget cuts in the early 2000s then cut entirely in 2010.