By Mario Anzuoni
Recently I was granted access inside a California state prison to photograph the Actors’ Gang Prison Project final presentation. The project is funded by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and aims to rehabilitate inmates through the arts.
The California Rehabilitation Center is located in Norco, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, only a couple of blocks from a dense residential area, and houses more than 3,000 inmates.
I cleared security around 9 a.m., and was escorted through a sliding gate and into a minivan, which inadvertently gave me a tour of the prison grounds before finally arriving at our destination atop the hill.
I was led into a room adapted into a small auditorium. It was quiet and as I looked around, I could see that the inmates participating in the project were on the floor, meditating, while the artistic director of the project, actor Tim Robbins, sat quietly in a corner.
Their acting coach guided them through the meditation routine and then it was makeup time. The workshop was called “Commedia dell’Arte,” a type of comedy theater developed in Italy in the 16th century. Given the genre, the makeup is very colorful, and very artfully applied by all of them. As they were finishing up, their small audience of about 30 inmates trickled into the room. Tim Robbins took the stage and welcomed everyone by asking us to turn off our cellphones. Everybody chuckles, including the inmates, because there are no cellphones in prison, of course.