Lection Connection - Spirit Sightings

December 1, 2019: Choose to Wait

From Sandra Rooney

A recent Sunday New York Times visual series featured cast members for a production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” What made the production unusual was that it was put on by 30 medium-security inmates of the Sterling Correction Facility, on the eastern plains of Colorado. It turned out to be part of the University of Denver Prison Arts Initiative (DU PAI), which provides therapeutic, educational creative arts programming to incarcerated men and women in Colorado state prisons. 

Over a week in September, the cast and crew took the play to a men’s prison in the tiny town of Limon, Colo., and to a women’s prison in Denver. The complicated logistics included the need for the cast to be strip-searched before boarding the bus to the show. The leading man had abrasions on his wrists from being tightly shackled. The production had been a six-month journey for prison staff and the cast, through rehearsals and character studies and improv games, and then out beyond the prison walls. It was the first time in years some had been outside Sterling’s 20-foot walls and razor fences, and for a brief time they could feel the freedom they all longed for and waited for. As soon as the men finished their bows, they had to change back into their green prison uniforms.

The current DU PAI production is an Advent special, Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. It is being produced, designed and performed by 40 women incarcerated in the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. They have spent the last five months crafting what is described as “a delightful performance right out of Dickens’s own text that is as fresh today as it was in 1843.” Most of the performers and designers have never been involved with theatre, but they have worked enthusiastically to create their own version of Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation. 

One participant put the experience this way: “This (DU PAI) workshop opened me up to realize how much I have changed through my incarceration. I’ve realized that I locked up the best parts of me years ago. I’ve been in a prison, while in prison. This class has helped release the best part of me and I hope to share that with the world.”

DU PAI also collaborates with Sterling Correctional Facility and the Denver Complex on “Family Reunification Events,” where the family members of incarcerated people can come and connect with their family in a new, innovative way. One woman said, “My family hasn’t visited me in over two years because of how normal visiting feels. But today they came. And today I wasn’t Denise the prisoner. Today I was Denise the mom, Denise the daughter.”


  • Beyond the absence of war, what are people waiting for? 
  • What does it mean to “walk in the light of God”?
  • It’s one thing to wait expectantly for change, for the world to match Isaiah’s vision. But while we wait, what do we do here and now?
  • Where do you see people reflecting the light of God in how they live?

God of light and darkness, whether we choose to wait or are forced to wait, we pray for your presence in our lives. In our waiting, may we examine our own lives and seek to be a reflection of your light so that those we encounter may not stumble in the darkness. Amen.

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