In interviews, Liza Jessie Peterson often talks about The Peculiar Patriot as a love story. Her heroine, she points out, was modeled on the people she would see waiting in long lines in the middle of the night on Manhattan’s Columbus Circle for the buses that were going to take them to see their incarcerated loved ones in upstate New York prisons. They would travel through the night, some as much as eight hours, to visit for whatever meager minutes and under whatever regulated conditions the prison policies allowed, and then get right back on the buses for home.
What else but love could explain this sacrifice?
Who are these people, both the visitors and the visited? Chances are pretty good you or someone sitting near you could name a few loved ones that either ride such a bus or are waiting on the other end for their arrival. Just look at the statistics:
– More than 2 million people in the United States are currently in prison.
– The United States has only 5% of the world’s population but over 20% of the world’s prison population.
– Incarceration rates in this state are higher than nearly every nation on earth, including Iran, Colombia and Venezuela, according to the Boston Globe.
– African Americans are incarcerated at five times the rate of the rest of the US population. African-American men make up only 6.5% of the US population, but over 40% of the prison population.
– 66% of female prisoners in the United States are mothers of dependent children.
These statistics are crushing. They are too big to hold. They overwhelm. They make most of us uncomfortable. They become impersonal. We go numb.
That state of overwhelmed, of numbness, holds in place a system that is the modern manifestation of the “peculiar institution” from which this show derives its title: slavery. Poet Liza Jessie Peterson created Betsy LaQuanda Ross, her peculiar patriot, to close the distance between us and the statistics. She’s not coming at us through our heads. She’s sneaking in through our hearts. A self-proclaimed artivist, she’s betting that if we can feel it, we can fix it. At ArtsEmerson we talk about art’s power to ignite empathy. The Peculiar Patriot is living proof.
- David Dower, Artistic Director
Don’t miss The Peculiar Patriot at the Jackie Liebergott Black Box in the Emerson Paramount Center OCT 17-28.