WHILE YOU WERE AWAY – A play by the Fall 2015 Documentary Theatre Class (RCHUM 334)
Scene #16: “Non-Authorized Outrage” written by Karly Thomas
Sometimes it’s hard to know how much of it is his story and how much is mine. (Beat.) He went into
the system when he was 15, had just turned 15 by two months and (long beat) after he was there for
seven months they ended up sending him, he’s been diagnosed as bipolar when he was eleven, so
they ended up sending him to the adult psychiatric prison because they have no psychiatric facilities
for the youth in Michigan that are in prison. So they put him in with the adults, and there was really
my first clue of just how (Beat.) how the staff aren’t really aware of people’s rights, of humanity, of
simple things like he’s a minor.
I had no experience with the system, which is often the case with many families. The only thing you
know for certain is the trauma from all the court proceedings, and the thought that once they get
sentenced to the Department of Corrections, that we have no control. Like they’ve been fed to the
wolves…and there is nothing we can do. And that was kind of really where it— Citizens for Prison
And so (Beat.) I just really started learning a lot of the holes and a lot of the things that were wrong.
Such as there is no authorization form–well there is one now but not all prisoners are given it? So if
they have a mental health or medical crisis and are taken to a hospital, their family can’t know why
they’re there…unless they’ve signed this form. And even then they are only good for a year and
different forms are null and void in different prisons. So when you are moved, my son was moved a
lot, that form is no longer any good. Finally in October, the legislators passed something saying
there had to be one standardized form, but it’s things like that we’re trying to work on. Some of it
seems like (Beat.) some of these people have worked in high up positions for a long time and they
become calloused. They tend not to view prisoners as people. Or their families—we desire the
respect we’re fighting to earn for our loved ones, but so many times we are treated as if we also
committed a crime. You know, they talk hugely about how they recognize that the number one
support that helps prisoners when they are released is their family. And that they rely on their family
yet their policies and their practices and the “well we just don’t want to fill out more paperwork”s and
their reasons and what they carry out! (Beat.) Go against that very idea. So that is what we’re
working to point out to them. It’s time for families’ voices to be heard. We’re not even considered. In
I always say it was my pain and anger turned to passion and purpose. All we want and all we expect
is respect for our loved ones. You know, basic humane treatment. Getting the Department of
Corrections to look at their policy and understand that they are not family-friendly. They are not
about family engagement and inclusion. Yet they are saying families are the number one most
important support for prisoners when they get back out. So it’s a conflicted message.
You know from my own experience I can say this has been a great amount of grief and trauma. To
me it’s like an open wound that you continue to apply salt to. It never heals. It never gets better.
Every Christmas, every holiday, you know, you’re reminded of these things, you’re reminded that
they never got to go to prom…It’s just like these constant (Beat.) reminders that you are stuck.
Everyone else in my family was enjoying their children hitting these milestones and my son was just
stuck. There…are…times when it is too painful. Why should the way the system is structured then
further that feeling? Our stories matter. I think by sharing real stories, our real stories, we can cause
them to shift out of policies that keep us…stuck.