Collaborating with Alice Kim, Director of the Human Rights Lab at the University of Chicago, we reviewed essays written by people who have experienced incarceration and purchased the rights to use their writing as the basis of the libretto. We are grateful to them for permission to use their work – Raul Dorado, Mary L. Johnson, Monica Cosby, Andrew Phillips, Phil Hartsfield, Joe Dole, and Devon Terrell. These writers are figuring out life strategies every day when they wake up in their cells; they are working to reassimilate into society; they are mothers who become “lifers” because their children are lifers; poets, philosophers, activists . . . Their words make up over 85% of the libretto.

The stories that emerge show the humanity and brilliance of those experiencing incarceration as they forge new bonds, reconcile themselves with their actions, and move beyond mere survival to redefine what it means to live life fully within the constraints of the US penal system. It is humbling, frightening, and eye-opening. It is powerful, moving, and unapologetic. It is a call to action to those of us who have never experienced incarceration to make the changes necessary to break the cycle of poverty, discrimination, devaluation of black and brown lives, and incarceration.

The five scenes in the opera are composed by five black composers who range in age from their 20s to their 80s. Together, Jacinth Greywoode, Leila Adu-Gilmore, Jonathan Bailey Holland, David Sandford, and Mary Watkins represent a long history of black classical music composition. White Snake Projects is proud to bring them together to make a new opera as our contribution to the BLM movement, and our hope for change now, today.

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