Throughout the first week of April 2016, Decarcerate PA travelled across the state of Pennsylvania to support performances of the play “Mariposa & The Saint.” Co-written entirely through correspondence by Julia Steele Allen and Sarah (Mariposa) Fonseca while Mariposa was being held in solitary confinement in a women’s prison in California, the play documents Mariposa’s personal history, her enduring spirit of resistance, and her struggle to maintain her health and sanity amidst the inhumane conditions of the SHU. The California Institute for Women, where Mariposa is held, has seen a huge spike of suicides and suicide attempts in the solitary unit across the past several years. In the fall of 2015, the Associated Press reported that the suicide rate at CIW is more than eight times the national rate for female prisoners and more than five times the rate for the entire California prison system. Those numbers have only escalated since that time.
Every Pennsylvania performance of “Mariposa & The Saint” was followed by a dialogue with activists, advocates, and survivors of solitary confinement – including members of Decarcerate PA, CADBI, Reconstruction, the Human Rights Coalition, the People’s Paper Co-op, and Let’s Get Free. At the close of every show, audience members were invited to engage directly in an “action step,” filling out CADBI postcards to their legislators, urging lawmakers to abolish death by incarceration sentencing in this state. More than 400 postcards were collected between Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Haverford, and Philadelphia.
By the end of June, the play will have been performed at least 60 times in eight different states across the country. In addition to a local action step, all audience members are also invited to write to Mariposa about their reactions to the play. As a result, writer and actor Julia Steele Allen notes in an op-ed for The Guardian: “Mariposa now receives two to three postcards a day from strangers who have been deeply moved by her words, sitting in their church pew in central Texas, or their Ivy League college or their grassroots community theater. I watch it happen each night: her words igniting their imaginations, bringing tears to their eyes. And I wonder if this is the real reason she continues to be held in isolation: the power of her, a fire so bright the prison can only seek to contain or destroy it. Like so many others, whose will to survive, whose complexity, confidence or fight, is intolerable to the system; all these burning candles in small boxes, marking the length of our country.”
Learn more at: www.juliasteeleallen.com/portfolio/mariposa.