Shakespeare in Solitary

Want more? Browse our full list of Shakespeare Unlimited episodes. Listen on SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, and NPR One.

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 58

For ten years, Laura Bates, a professor at Indiana State University, taught Shakespeare to a group of inmates considered the "worst of the worst" – men incarcerated in the solitary confinement unit at Indiana’s Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. These are, for the most part, prisoners considered so dangerous they were kept apart, even from the other prisoners.  
Every week, Professor Bates would drive out to the prison, make her way over to solitary confinement and sit down in a space in between the cells of these men to discuss Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello and Richard II. She wrote about her experiences in a book titled Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard.
Laura Bates is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.
Listen on iTunes, Google Play, SoundCloud, or NPR One.

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series. Published October 4, 2016. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This episode, "How I May Compare This Prison Where I Live Unto the World," was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster and Esther Ferington. Esther French is the web producer. Audio of the inmates Laura worked with was provided by Indiana State’s Video Production Manager, Tracy Ford. It was edited by Ciara Gillan. We had additional help from Mike Paskash and Casey Zakin at WFIU, Indiana Public Media and Bill Lancz at Marketplace Studios in Los Angeles. 

Previous: Anecdotal Shakespeare | Next: Shakespeare in Sign Language


MICHAEL WITMORE: From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I'm Michael Witmore, the Folger's director.  

We talk a lot about Shakespeare's huge appeal, how practically anyone can appreciate and draw lessons from his writing, whatever their life situation. Beginning in 2003, Laura Bates put that theory to a vigorous test.  

For 10 years, Bates, a professor at Indiana State University, taught Shakespeare to a group of inmates considered "the worst of the worst": men incarcerated in the solitary confinement unit at Indiana’s Wabash Valley correctional facility. These are, for the most part, prisoners considered so dangerous they were kept apart, even from other prisoners.  

Every week, Professor Bates would drive out to the prison, make her way over to solitary confinement, and sit down between the cells of these men to discuss Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, and Richard II. She wrote about her experiences in a book titled Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard.  

We brought Professor Bates in to talk about what she taught and what she learned in this most unusual of classrooms. We call this podcast, "How I May Compare This Prison Where I Live Unto the World.” Laura Bates is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.  


BARBARA BOGAEV: You know, quite a few people teach in prison, so I was thinking that we wouldn't be having this conversation on this podcast, if you hadn't decided to teach Shakespeare to offenders, as opposed to all of the other possible subjects. So before I ask you how you got into this work, why don't we talk about that? Why Shakespeare? Why not Hemingway, or the Autobiography of Malcolm X, or Doris Lessing, or The Picture of Dorian Gray?

LAURA BATES: Absolutely, key question—for a number of reasons, why Shakespeare? One of them is that we recognize, and your listeners recognize, and prisoners recognize, that Shakespeare is one of the ultimate works of literature, and they recognize a great, great sense of challenge when they take it on, and a great sense of personal accomplishment when they recognize that they are able to master the master of literature. And that also resonates very much with their peers, and their family members, and even with the prison administration.  

So that's part of the reason. And there's a second reason, I think, that is within the works themselves: That they lend themselves to such open interpretation, where the prisoners, and any readers, really, can relate their own lives to these marvelous characters of Shakespeare.  

BOGAEV: And these all, you came to believe as you did the work. But when you started in the prisons, you just taught basic literacy to first-time offenders, and you say that back then, you thought that Shakespeare shouldn't be taught to prisoners in maximum security prisons, that they were beyond rehabilitation.

BATES: Exactly.

BOGAEV: So why did you end up working with men in solitary confinement? Why take that on?

BATES: Okay, well, partly because of that challenging of my own thought and my own belief. And the way that came up and it wasn't unique to Shakespeare, it was just any kind of work with maximum-security prisoners at the time. I felt that it was the minimum-security prisoners, the first-time offenders, that were more likely to benefit from any kind of educational opportunity, and so that is how I got involved, just doing volunteer work, basic literacy work, then that kind of developed into drama work.  

But again, it wasn't Shakespeare-related until I had the wonderful opportunity to become a Shakespeare scholar myself at the University of Chicago, and after I was well underway on my own dissertation related to Shakespeare studies I thought, "You know, I want to now test out that whole universality of Shakespeare that we hear so much about. Let's test it out into the prisons."  

Again, I went into the minimum-security prison, but over the years, and it's now been more than 20 years, each door led to another door that I went through, and I went from minimum to maximum and, guess what, eventually, super-maximum prisons. So ultimately, I had to agree with those that had been doing work with the hard-core prisoners that, you know, really no one is beyond rehabilitation. And again, Shakespeare is a unique tool, and a very powerful and effective tool for rehabilitation.

BOGAEV: So, in the beginning you took it on a little bit as a personal challenge, and you write that the first time that you went in, a guard said, "Look, there's no way you'll be able to teach these guys Shakespeare."

BATES: Exactly.

BOGAEV: What did other people in your life think of this plan? Did they support it or agree with the guard?

BATES: Yes and yes. [LAUGH] Both. Both. Some were very supportive, luckily my husband being among the most, very supportive. Maybe at the other extreme, the least supportive, probably my boss, part of it just being the idea that, "Hey, this was volunteer work," for one thing, and it got to the point where, to be honest, my volunteer work was becoming much more demanding and time-consuming than my day job of teaching on-campus.

BOGAEV: Was he worried about your safety?

BATES: He wouldn't admit it, but I think so. I think there was a little bit of that, you know, father figure. I think that was part of it as well. 

BOGAEV: Well, safety was a concern, though. I mean tell us about these men who were your first students in the SCU, and I should say, that's the Special Confinement Unit. It goes by a lot of names: Special Security Unit, Special Housing Unit, Solitary Confinement. Just how hard core were these inmates?

BATES: Well, first of all, even though I had some experience by then in the prison, I was not aware that there was such a unit myself. So, it was a real learning experience for me to learn of this, what also is known as "supermax," this is a long-term solitary confinement unit. It’s basically a prison deep within another prison.  

And I was doing a class on Macbeth, and one of my students got in trouble, and was pulled out of the class, and sentenced into this supermax unit—disciplinary segregation, in his case. And that's when I learned about this unit, and so I kind of went around some channels, and eventually got permission to go into the unit.  

And it was another world, and I was surrounded by what's known as the "worst of the worst" prisoners throughout the state of Indiana. The supermax houses the most dangerous, the most violent prisoners from across the state.

BOGAEV: And you told a story in the book about a prisoner who sought to take a hostage when you were working in the same facility.

BATES: Yeah, and ironically, that same prisoner is the focus of my book, Shakespeare Saved My Life. And Shakespeare saved his life, literally. He was so desperate; he was at the point of... It was either going to be a homicide or a suicide, and so I always emphasize that when I'm talking about Shakespeare saving lives, it's not just the prisoners’ lives, it is also their potential future victims’.  

And so, here's a good example of a prisoner who was so desperate, had spent, you know, a decade in supermax in a concrete, windowless cell, and was ready to take a hostage, was ready to perhaps commit murder. Had ended up stabbing one of the sergeants there. And so, we maybe saved that sergeant’s life when we saved the prisoner's life, and again, that's thanks to Shakespeare.

BOGAEV: And this is Larry Newton, and we're going to be talking about Newton a little bit later. But first, tell us about your first day and help us picture what you went through to get to the SCU, and what your setup was like. Because it's unlike any literature class I've ever heard of, certainly.  

BATES: Absolutely. Well, the setup, when you physically enter the unit. First of all, you've gone through multiple layers of security: sally ports where the door's sealed behind you before the door in front of you opens, and razor-wire fences, and armed guards, and X-ray machines, and pat down, and all that good stuff.  

But then, ultimately, you're completely alone. There is no armed guard who is standing beside me or walking with me. In fact, the officers in this unit are on a separate level. They're on an upper level in a sealed-in glass pod from which they, through remote control, open the gates that I'm now going to enter. So, they push a button, a gate slides open in front of me, and I walk onto what's called "the range.” On each range there are 12 individual cells, and I literally went door to door, cell to cell, knocking on those cell steel doors and saying "Hi. Would you like to read some Shakespeare?"

BOGAEV: And we have a clip from a program, a television program, that was done of your work in the prisons. And I'd like to play it. This speaks to just how skeptical some of the prisoners were.

[CLIP from Indiana State University:]

INMATE: She came around, introduced the program to a lot of us, and many of the guys took to it real quick. But having been in prison, and having a lot of time, I felt like my energy should be focused primarily on fighting for my freedom to get back out with my loved ones.  

But as I thought about it, you know, and a lot of the guys were coming back really having an excited overview of the plays and things of that nature, I decided to look at one of the booklets, and I realized that we all need new experiences. In the SCU, Special Confinement Unit, you need outlets to let that energy out, you know, creativity and things of that nature. And the four plays as I read them, I said, "Hmm, maybe I can relate to this."

BOGAEV: Yeah, so initially, some of the prisoners were wary, but it sounds as if you've really got your first strong confirmation that this material would resonate with inmates when you had a prisoner named Larry Newton tell you his reaction to a particular scene in Richard II.  

BATES: Absolutely, and Richard II is the first text that I distributed among the prisoners because I thought Richard's soliloquy in Act 5, where he is literally in solitary confinement himself, would really resonate with these prisoners. And probably the most remarkable response I had to that text was from Larry Newton, who was somebody who had never even heard of Shakespeare, didn’t know who Shakespeare was when he took this on, and yet had some remarkable insights into that text.

BOGAEV: And for those of us who haven't read Richard II recently, just remind us what was this passage that you presented to the students, and how did Larry interpret it?

BATES: Yeah, after Richard is overthrown by Bolingbroke, he is imprisoned. And I say it's a solitary confinement unit, because he makes it clear that he is in prison alone.  

And the speech begins by Richard saying:

I have been studying how I may compare
This prison where I live unto the world,
And for because the world is populous
And here is not a creature but myself,
I cannot do it. Yet I'll hammer it out.        

And then he proceeds to hammer it out. Larry immediately grasped that he was in prison, that he was in solitary confinement, and he related to so many of the details.  

There is a passage where Richard says that he fantasizes about breaking through these concrete walls by just scratching through them with his fingernails, and Larry says, "You know, I've had that fantasy, you know, I know what it's like to pace in my cell.” This little 8 by 10 foot cell, where it's five paces from one concrete wall to the other. Pacing back and forth, having these fantastic ideas of breaking out, or even just living another life, of peopling your little cell, as Richard says. And Larry absolutely related to every moment of that speech.  

BOGAEV: All the pacing must have been so real to them. How about the other inmates, though? Did Richard II seem as believable to them as it did to Newton?

BATES: Well, it's interesting. Some of them wanted to take it to a metaphorical level, and say, "Well, he's not literally in prison.” I mean, maybe because he's a king, you don't want to think of a king in prison, just as you are, you know.  

But some of them said, "No, it's a prison of the mind," and I thought, “Well, that's great.” That this is what Shakespeare offers us, is really so many possibilities for interpretation. And, you know, for prisoners, that's a really valuable lesson. It’s one of many lessons that Shakespeare has to offer them.

[CLIP from Indiana State University:]

LESTER BUFKIN: And it made us look at each other, make us basically look into a mirror and see ourselves through these characters.

BOGAEV: Well, at first it seems like you hardly taught or spoke much at all during these seminars with these guys, judging from the book. That it seems that they spent the whole time in discussion talking to each other.

BATES: Well, they said that I was like a traffic cop. [LAUGH] I'm sitting, you have to visualize what this setup is like. I’m sitting in a hallway between rows of cells. Because, again, remember they're in solitary confinement, so they cannot be around another human being, even another prisoner.  

So, as they're brought from their individual cells, and they are shackled, by their feet, by their hands, and then placed into a separate cell within my sort of makeshift classroom. And so, I have, typically I would have, maybe four cells on my left-hand side, four cells on my right-hand side, in this narrow hallway where I'm sitting in between.  

And yes, absolutely. They would for the most part just engage in conversation and debate among one another, and my role for the most part was just pointing at the next person to talk. [LAUGH] Or asking them to be patient and wait their turn because sometimes it would get so animated, but just so excited.  

And you can imagine these prisoners spend years, not just, you know, 30 days in the hole, not that sort of thing. They spend years in solitary and have very little opportunity to speak to another human being, and much less to speak about Shakespeare, so very exciting for them.

[CLIP from Indiana State University:]

INMATE: There's very little back there that's intellectually stimulating, and you just sit and you stew. It’s just not a very healthy, mentally healthy, place to be.

BOGAEV: Well, what about the language of Shakespeare, the text itself. The language is so scary and challenging to students, and many of these guys didn't have much education. Didn't they have problems with the language?

BATES: Well, I love that you said "scary.” I wanted... I was going to say, "Yeah, college students are frightened, but the prisoners were not afraid. They were fearless."  

They, again, they didn't bring that academic background to it, which I loved as a professor, because it was so exciting. It was like being with Shakespeare's original audience, I thought sometimes. You know, these guys didn't know where Hamlet was going; they didn't know how Macbeth was going to end. And maybe some of Shakespeare's original audience felt the same thing, and that was exciting.  

So, I think they just really connected with the characters, with the overall plot, and they didn't get too bogged down with the intricacies of particular phrases, archaic phrases or words. “Fardels and bodkins” can throw off my college students, but these guys would just skim over and say, "Yeah, okay, I guess he's talking about suicide here,” and kind of get the bigger picture. And it was great. It was exciting.  

BOGAEV: Yeah, they have no problem with slang, probably.

BATES: Right, right, yeah.

BOGAEV: And you had this application process where you presented them with the piece from Richard II, but then in the seminar itself, you taught Macbeth. So, were you... Did you teach that because you thought murderers would relate to the story, or were you curious whether Shakespeare got it right? You know, murder and the mind of a murderer?  

BATES: Exactly, exactly. My first motivation for bringing Macbeth into this particular prison, where almost all of my students were convicted killers. But still that does mean that when it comes to Shakespeare's representation of murder, you have to go to the expert. You know, we talk about Shakespeare being able to understand what it's like to be a king as well as a peasant, a man as well as a woman, but what about a murderer? And so that was my selfish, initial motivation, was, "Let's hear what I can learn from the prisoners,” more so than "what can I teach to them."

BOGAEV: And you use this phrase, "valorization of transgression," and that's a quote from a lecture that you heard by a very well-known Shakespeare scholar. Tell us about that, what he, he was a man, what he meant by that and what you wanted to test.  

BATES: Well, I can't presume to know what he meant exactly, but I'll tell you that just hearing that phrase just really inspired me, I have to say. The setting for that experience was very evocative. It was literally moments after I successfully defended my own dissertation, and Professor David Bevington and the rest of my committee and I literally ran across the campus of the University of Chicago to catch the speaker at our Renaissance workshop.  

And as soon as I heard that phrase, I thought, "I really want to test out that idea in a completely different environment,” and I wanted to bring that into prison. You know, this idea of "valorizing transgression." What is there, if we see Macbeth as a transgressor, as a killer, is there something in that to be valorized, and what would killers think?

BOGAEV: To be glorified, you mean?

BATES: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

BOGAEV: To be glorified, to be emulated. What was he getting at there, that lecturer?

BATES: Yeah, well again, I am not sure that I can put words in his mouth for sure, because honestly I think at that moment I probably stopped listening to the lecture. [LAUGH] To be honest, I heard that phrase and then I was off in my own mind in a completely different direction. I was like, "Wow, yeah, I wonder, what about the real world?” So honestly, at that point I think I spent the rest of the lecture in my mind thinking about how I would like to do this in a prison setting.

BOGAEV: Well, that's interesting, because that's one of the concerns people certainly have in prisons, that the inmates glorify each other's transgressions, or that you're impressed, or you’re impressive, the worse your crime is; the more serious your actions are, the more street cred you have in prison.  

BATES: And, again, I think through analyzing Shakespeare and some of his greatest transgressors, the prisoners actually themselves found a way, another direction from that. And I think that's important, to say that they found it themselves, because a lot of prison programs come in with a couple of different approaches than the Shakespeare program.  

First of all, they send the message to a prisoner that they're broken, you know, they're incapable, and "Here I am, the expert, you know, psychologist or whatever, prison administrator, and I'm going to tell you how to fix you."  

But when I come in and say, "Hey, would you like to read some Shakespeare," that sends the opposite message, "You're not broken, you’re capable of reading the most challenging literature in the world.”  

And then, as they're examining these characters, so they're looking at the transgressions of a character like Macbeth, and they're questioning, "Why does he do this? What's his motive?" And then they look essentially in the mirror and see themselves.  

And so that does take them away from that more stereotypical sense of "Oh, I admire this prisoner because he's so hard or so tough.” They find other things to admire.  

BOGAEV: Right, and we do have a clip that talks a little bit about just how much these inmates found that was relevant to their own experience. Let's play that.  

[CLIP from Indiana State University:]

INMATE: It definitely made me reflect on myself and see my own introspections and what not. You know, sitting here in the SCU, doing time and whatnot, by looking at the other characters and some of their shortcomings.  

It was, I guess you can say enlightening to myself, because one has to look at themselves when they look at others, you know. Whether it be Macbeth, you know, that ambitious a general. Whether it'd be Hamlet, a person that was wronged by somebody he loved and he was seeking revenge, or it was through Othello, the jealous lover, or Iago, the shyster and cunning character. We all see bits of ourselves in that.

BOGAEV: So, what answer did the guys in maximum security give you? Did Shakespeare get it right with Macbeth?

BATES: Yes, absolutely. And I have learned so much more from them. Of course, I've learned a lot from the professors I've worked with, but some had different kinds of insights.  

For example, when Macbeth... You know, it's an interesting question that I always like to throw out to my campus students, "Why does Macbeth see the ghost of Banquo? Why does he not see the ghost of Duncan?”  

And the very common answer I'll typically get would be, "Oh, he feels bad, he feels bad about having his good buddy killed." And so, then we look at the text and say, "Well, where's the evidence that they're necessarily such close buddies? You know, they've been in battle, yes, but how do we know they're good friends? Why should he feel bad?”  

Well, it was the prisoners who taught me that the reason he sees the ghost, they felt, is because Macbeth is actually needing confirmation that this man has actually been killed. Because, remember, Duncan was a hands-on, but with Banquo he hires some hitmen, and he's stressing about that. "Is he really dead? Is he really dead?” And he needs that reassurance. He needs to see the ghost of Banquo, so it's not guilt, so much as a desire to see confirmation that he's dead.  

Another clue to that—again, I learned this from the prisoners. The “forty mortal gashes on his crown” is the way that the murderer, the hitman, describes the scene, and that is exactly the way Macbeth conjures up that image. We see those gory locks, and the prisoners said, "Well, first of all, you're not going to be standing there counting those 40 gashes.” [LAUGH]  

So that is absolutely just hyperbole on the part of the executioner who's just trying to save his own skin. Because, remember, he had to 'fess up and say, "well, one of your victims got away, Fleance escaped. But no, don't worry, the other guy is so dead. I so killed him, you know, I stabbed him 40 times."  

So, some of these, these gory details, but I think important details, have opened up some of the play for me. So, in a word, yes, Shakespeare got it right.  

BOGAEV: Well, switching topics a little bit, what evidence did you find that the Shakespeare classes made a difference to these men?

BATES: Well, the main example that I focus on in the book, of course, is Larry Newton himself, and I have to say, it started with Larry. The idea that Shakespeare could actually be used—and that's a term that Larry employed. We can "use" these plays. They're great works of art, they're great entertainment, they're great material, they're great literature, but we can use them to help prisoners change their lives. It had had that impact on Larry.

[CLIP from Indiana State University:]

DANJO GRAZIANO: Doctor Bates saved my life back there. I was on the border of losing my mind, literally. And I could've lost my mind if I didn't find a way to use my mind.

BATES: For Larry, it organically happened, as he was reading, and specifically the play of Macbeth spoke to him. He's questioning Macbeth's motive, and he realizes that Macbeth is motivated by a lot of external pressures. And he realized for his own deeds, including murder, that it was external influences that played a big part. And that started to lead to real change in his behavior.  

One of the things I track with both Larry Newton and the other, over 200, prisoners that I have worked with in 10 years in solitary is their conduct history. And before they experienced Shakespeare, these prisoners were racking up, sometimes hundreds of conduct reports, in prison—not just the murder they committed to be sentenced to prison, but the violence that they committed within prison. And sometimes even within the supermax unit, they would find ways to have violent acts or attempted acts.  

And so, after they were involved in Shakespeare, there were no violent offenses. So already it had an impact immediately in their behavior, and over the years it continues to have this impact.

[CLIP from Indiana State University:]

LEONARD MCQUAY: There was a situation where she asked me a few questions one time, when she said, "Well, Mr. McQuay, do you think Shakespeare can turn somebody's life around?”  

And having been in the SCU since 2003, and now that I really have participated heavily in the program, I can honestly say as an individual, that if you take part in the program and you allow it to actually transform you, and calm you, then yes, I believe that the anger, the thoughts of hopelessness and things of that nature that we go through as human beings—Shakespeare can, in fact, help you save another from committing some type of act that he or she may be regretting in their lives.  

BOGAEV: I thought it was wild that the guard who Larry Newton ended up stabbing in that hostage situation, he said he noticed a change in Newton, right?

BATES: Exactly. He said, "He's changed a lot, and if Shakespeare can do that, then, you know, good for you or good for him.” And ironically, once Larry was released from segregation into an open prison population, the officers in that unit were afraid of him, and did not want to let him out, and I'm sure didn't want to give a prisoner like that any special perks or experiences.  

And so, it was that same sergeant, that officer that he had stabbed, that I went back to and said, "They’re not letting him out. What do I do?” And he got him released into that—not released from prison, of course, but released from his cell so that he could come for that Shakespeare session. And so, his first, Larry's first free walk, unshackled, unchained, in more than 10 years, was to walk from his cell to his Shakespeare class.

BOGAEV: Well, he ended up writing “Introductions to Shakespeare” workbooks for use for all kinds of students of Shakespeare. And I do love the introduction titles. Othello was headlined "Girl Meets Boy" in his workbook, and he compared King Lear to The Waltons, Titus Andronicus to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and The Taming of the Shrew to The Honeymooners. So, all of this is funny, it's great, but did the workbooks get to deeper meanings of Shakespeare's plays?  

BATES: Oh, absolutely. Very, very, very deep meanings and, in fact, the guiding principle was never to dumb it down, or even break it down, to simplify in any way, but always to raise the bar, actually. So, for each play he raises a daily consideration. So, it's some passage in the play and you're asked to consider, again, often, motivations of the character and always to apply it back to yourself.

For example, when Macbeth is hesitating to kill the king, in our workbook, we ask the reader to examine that speech. He lists a lot of reasons not to do it, and then Larry asks you to consider, are these reasons related to a sense of conscience—it's wrong to kill this man—or is it more related to Macbeth's own ego?  

And then he asks the prisoner who's reading this workbook and using this workbook, "Well, what motivates you? Are you motivated more by your conscience, or by your ego and what other people think of you?" That workbook is 50,000 words long, so it's as long as my PhD dissertation.  

BOGAEV: You know, I have to ask you, the political backdrop to Larry Newton's story and other maximum-security inmates’ experiences, that some people argue that this kind of program in prisons isn't worth investing in, that it's money wasted, and that these men and women don't deserve it, given the crimes they've committed.  

Now you've laid out ways in which Larry's work now extends beyond the prison, but you write in the book that you even asked yourself whether you were just making smarter criminals. So, what do you say to people who confront you in this way?

BATES: And that is the common argument. If you educate a criminal, are you making a smarter criminal? And when I was involved with the correction and education program at Indiana State University, I was actually the person in the dean's office who designed the curriculum for their four-year bachelor program, and my guiding principle was that it absolutely has to be a humanistic approach to education. It has to be humanities-based.  

So, if all you do is simply give them a job skill, which of course is important—it helps them to get a job and maybe stay out of a life of crime in that way—on a deeper, life-changing level, you have to have criminals contemplating and reflecting on why they made criminal choices, and that's where Shakespeare's criminal tragedies come in so beautifully. What I call his criminal tragedies are Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet, for the younger audience.

Now a couple other quick responses, just in terms of the bottom line, the money question. It is absolutely cheaper to educate than to incarcerate. And then, ultimately, as we mentioned previously, these prisoners, even lifers like Larry, are so influential within the prison, so it is very positive in terms of just management of the prisoners to have them involved in something like Shakespeare. And they're so influential outside of prison with their own family members—inspiring their children, for example, to stay in school.  

And I have to say the direction where I'm going with my work right now, at least for myself, I want to step back and try to prevent these kinds of crimes from happening. And so, the goal of my current project, and my follow-up book to this, is actually aimed toward children. And the prisoners—one of the things they taught me when we did our Romeo and Juliet project, it's not the teenage years that you need to attack. It’s really the children. They tell me by the age of seven, that criminal career, that criminal path for them, was already well-established.  

And so I want to... I can't bring the victims back and yes, working with prisoners to keep them from committing crimes again is important. I'd like to step back, though, and see if we can prevent these crimes from happening.  

BOGAEV: Laura, really great talking with you. Thank you so much for taking the time.  

BATES: Thank you, Barbara. My pleasure.  

WITMORE: Laura Bates is a professor in the Department of English at Indiana State University. Her book, Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard, was published by Sourcebooks in 2013.  

She was interviewed by Barbara Bogaev. "How I May Compare This Prison Where I Live Unto the World" was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster and Esther Ferington. Audio of the inmates Laura worked with was provided by Indiana State's Video Production Manager Tracy Ford. It was edited by Ciara Gillan. We had additional help from Mike Paskash and Casey Zakin at WFIU, Indiana Public Media and Bill Lancz at Marketplace Studios in Los Angeles.  

Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world's largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website, For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I'm Folger Director Michael Witmore.

Want more? Browse our full list of Shakespeare Unlimited episodes. Listen on SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, and NPR One.