Last fall, a group of Ithaks who were previously incarcerated or who were involved in the courts shared their stories in the form of oral history interviews they conducted with each other, which will be on file at the Tompkins County History Center. Over the summer, a group of the same people turned what they shared into a radio play called Steppin ‘in my shoes, which was released in September and can be downloaded right now on Spotify, Apple and Google podcasts.
According to Julia Taylor, director of the Re-Entry Theater (which sponsored and facilitated the project with College Initiative Upstate), part of the goal of this project was to “make available the great diversity of experiences in our community”. From a Cornell student’s perspective, it can be easy to imagine Ithaca to be a white, college, upper-class community, but Taylor wants more people to realize that “although this identity exists here , our community is so much larger than that. . The stories told in these oral histories, while painful, show other aspects of our community.
Taylor hopes the oral histories and the radio play will help “shatter a mythology of a very narrow understanding of who goes through incarceration and why and how” and “affect a change in the way we engage our community of advocacy. place for people who ”I have experimented with these systems.
Steppin ‘in my shoes is not always easy listening. However, hearing the stories of people who have experienced systemic problems in our community prevents us from ignoring them. And through memories of addiction, tragedy or abuse, the radio play showcases the strength and resilience of its storytellers, as well as the movements for change that are already happening around us.
Steppin ‘in my shoes has three episodes centered on three themes that writers and actors have drawn from oral history transcriptions. The first episode, “Family”, brings together stories about the many forms that the family takes for those interviewed. The second episode, “Hot Topics,” turned oral storytelling accounts into a fictional interview show meant to educate listeners about the successes and shortcomings of existing drug treatment. The episode details harm reduction, which is a treatment plan focused on the safety and well-being of people who use drugs, rather than on the criminalization and court involvement that many participants in. oral history have undergone. The final episode, “Hopes & Dreams,” features the moments when respondents spoke of their successes and their hopes for what lies ahead.
Steppin ‘in my shoes and the oral histories on which it is based create space for the memory of the systemic issues that lead to racism, poverty and drug addiction in our city. They are also a reminder that everyone has a story to tell – and it’s never as easy as you think.
For more information on ReEntry Theater or to donate to their work in progress, visit civicensemble.org. For more information on the College Initiative Upstate, which provides free access to college and university support for people who have been incarcerated or who have been involved in the courts, visit ciutompkins.org. Help can be found in the Ithaca region through Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services at carsny.org. Students can consult counselors from Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) by calling 607-255-5155. Employees can call the Teacher Assistance Program (TEAP) at 607-255-2673. An Ithaca-based crisis line is available at 607-272-1616. For additional resources, visit caringcommunity.cornell.edu.
Tilda Wilson is a senior at the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]