By Emily Toppen
This week, I had the honor to chat with an individual from Theater of War Productions about Promethea in Prison, taking place on Wednesday, February 27, as part of Wharton Center’s Illuminate Series. This theatrical reading is based on an ancient Greek play, Prometheus Bound, about a god who is imprisoned for stealing fire from Zeus and giving it to humans. The staged reading is accompanied by powerful dialogue from the audience members and the cast.
Dominic Dupont, who will be the co-facilitator for the panel discussion, served 20 years, 7 months and 18 days in the New York prison system before he was granted clemency based on his leadership and positive impact. He shared with me some milestones of his journey, what leadership means to him, and some words of advice.
Emily: You had different leadership positions during your incarceration. Would you elaborate on these experiences?
Dominic: I had several positions. I was the director of the Youth Assistant Program in Green Haven Correctional Facility. With any kid that was having trouble with the law, we had an opportunity to essentially give them a snapshot of what their life would look like if they don’t get it together. I also led the Alternatives to Violence Project that teaches people conflict resolution skills. I was also office manager for a program called P.A.C.E. (Prisoners for AIDS Counseling and Education), where we worked with the men in prison who were HIV-infected. Outside of that, I was the lead facilitator for Exodus Transitional Community, a community-based organization that provides re-entry services for people who are transitioning back into the community.
Emily: How would you define leadership then with all those experiences?
Dominic: To me, leadership is about being an example. That’s the heart of leadership. That is what I pride myself on. It’s not just talking the talk but walking the walk. Good programming is good security within the prison, and it transcends into the community. I’ve also been of the mindset that if we can help people change the way that they think, then they can change the way that they behave. That takes true leadership.
Emily: You have an incredibly moving story. If you had to choose one word to encapsulate it so far, what would you say and why?
Dominic: Miracle. I think coming from the perspective of someone who has really been through a lot in his life from a really young age. Someone who has the opportunity to meet and work with amazing people right from prison to the community. For me, it almost escapes language. To have had the experiences that I’ve had in life and still be able to maintain my sanity and be an asset to the community is just really humbling and amazing.
Emily: What resources are out there for people to be more educated about our prison system today?
Dominic: I think the best way to educate people is to understand that there are good programs out there. We have the benefit and the privilege of working with Theater of War Productions, and they speak to the trauma that people experience. It doesn’t matter if it is at a military base, homeless shelter, jail, or nursing home, they speak to the real challenges that people face. I think the best way to reap the benefits of the programs is to: 1.) Come to more programs that Theater of War hosts; and 2.) Stay in contact with community-based programs that have skin in the game and that want to be part of the solution. That was the catalyst for me: understanding why change was important. Before I even understood what clemency or pardon meant, I understood that I had impacted my community in a very negative way. If I was ever going to be somebody positive, I had to change the way that I thought and partnered with people. I also had to be willing to help people understand that we have programs out there; we need to educate and reeducate people and change the narrative.
Emily Toppen is an intern with Wharton Center’s Marketing and Communication department. She is a junior at MSU majoring in Interdisciplinary Humanities with focuses of public relations, arts and cultural management, and theatre.
Promethea in Prison takes place Wednesday, February 27 at 7:30pm. $19 student tickets are available. You can purchase tickets here. Don’t forget to also like us on Facebook here and follow our Instagram here and our Twitter here.