P4W: Invisible Stories From Canada's Prison for Women: In the system

In the system

Carolyn-Fe Trinidad and Janice Wu tell true stories from behind bars
Photo: Christina Ainsworth

P4W: Invisible Stories From Canada's Prison for Women connects prisoners' stories to much-needed societal change

From Cool Hand Luke to The Shawshank Redemption to Oz, prison narratives are entrenched in our culture. Most prison narratives in our cultural idiom, however, are about men; the unique notion of women as prisoners has unfortunately only been explored popularly in a creative sense in porn.

Julia Ainsworth’s P4W: Invisible Stories From the Prison for Women, a collaboration between Zeitgeist Theatre Collective and Mischief Theatre, takes aim at that, and shines a light on an obscure and obscured place in Canadian history. "The play, for me, came from how the more I found out about what goes on inside our prisons and what happened in P4W, the angrier I got, and I thought that this was an interesting way to explore that," says the writer and director. "For me, it came from a place of outrage."

From 1934 until it was decommissioned in 2000, the real-life, bricks-and-mortar women’s prison P4W existed in Kingston, Ontario. Ainsworth’s site-specific play, to be performed in the basement and corridors of the St-James Church, is based upon actual events and inspired by interviews with former inmates.

Ainsworth, who understands the marginalized nature of these kinds of stories, is fully prepared for people to not give a damn about her show or the people it depicts. "[People] don’t understand the connection between themselves, as [individuals], and someone on the other side of the system," she explains.

As such, when asked what she hopes to achieve with the production, Ainsworth keeps it simple.

"I think it’s exposure. I think it’s giving a voice to [these stories] and hopefully to get people angry, the way that I felt when I was doing my research. I think that a lot of change, a lot of positive change, can come from a place of total outrage."

P4W: Invisible Stories From Canada’s Prison for Women
At St-James United Church (1435 City Councillors), Jan. 28-30, 8 p.m., Jan 30-31, 2 p.m., $15/$12

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