Show Business: Players from Prisons

Inside a Riker's Island Prison theater in New York City last week, the players were setting up on stage. The audience entered in rowdy chaos—175 women, mostly black and Puerto Rican, dressed in sleeveless, hemless shifts, and monitored by hefty black female guards in starchy white shirts. A loudspeaker voice cut through the clamor to introduce the program: "'The Family' started behind the walls and it is now functioning outside the wall. And every member is a professional. Today we will see Straight from the Ghetto."

The Family is a tightly knit repertory troupe—18 actors, musicians and playwrights—who, in addition to touring...

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