Throughout the performance of The Peculiar Patriot, Liza Jessie Peterson, as Betsy LaQuanda Ross, constructs a quilt, carefully sewing together the narrative of her incarcerated friends and family, each square of fabric representing their stories. With each quilted piece, we learn more about the intricacies of how mass incarcerations affects individuals and their communities. Stitched together like the stars and stripes of Betsy Ross’s original United States flag, our Betsy Ross sews a different American symbol, one of hope but also of systemized trauma and oppression.
Below is each one of the square quilts Betsy LaQuanda Ross brings to her community behind bars, accompanied by the segment of the script depicting their story.
“You! Lemme show you what I treated you to. So, I gave you an orange full moon because you’re full of potential, and I gave you three shooting stars, one for each of your kids: that’s Mookie, that’s June-Bug, that’s Nay-Nay. You like it? Thank you, boo…Ooh and look, I gave you a yellow ribbon ‘cause you coming home soon so you know we gotta tie a yellow ribbon round that old oak tree. Girl, don’t start that crying…we said we wasn’t gonna cry this visit.”
“And this is for Donna. Girl, she’s gonna be mad it’s pink but that’s all the fabric I had and it was an emergency. I gave her a fan to cool it down momma, cool it down. Cause she stay fighting all the time. She’s such a pepper head. I pray she gets out of that hell hole. If she had money she’d ‘uv been home and a real lawyer would’a put this case to sleep. She’s been sitting at Rikers over a year now, waiting to go to trial…she ain’t have the money for bail and she didn’t want to take no plea ‘cause she ain’t do it. Her lawyer trynna scare her talking ‘bout she’s looking at 15-life if she blows trial, trying to pressure her into taking the plea deal, a 6-5 split, 6 years up-top, 5 years parole. Donna said she ain’t with it, she ain’t gonna do it.”
“Girl, remember Raheim from 5J. Mhmm. This his patch. You know he’s home! About two weeks ago. It was in the Amsterdam News and everything. He was looking at a life sentence and he served 13 years of it for some shit he aint even do. His own sister put herself through law school to represent him herself and got him off on new evidence. Yes she did. She knew he aint do it, she was on a mission. That bitch is bad. I said you better go git your brother! That’s right. That’s right. Hell no they ain’t give him no money for no wrongful incarceration. They was like bye nigga bye. That man served 13 years of his life behind bars for nothing!! Innocent! Yeah he home now. So he earned the Purple Heart patch of distinction…You go through all that without going crazy? That’s a hero in my book.”
“And this one, this for Lil’ Mike. Wait a minute, I had just finished his square, he come calling me up talking bout jail making him a better criminal, he’s still hustling in jail. He a real bozo, addicted to the game. So, I sewed a big black S on it for stuck on stupid shit. I told him don’t call me, don’t expect no more letters from me neither. And you see he don’t have no yellow ribbon. He pissed me off. Joann, everything you sayin makes perfect sense, but the problem is you’re talkin logical about an illogical ignoramus. That’s like trynna have a glass of champagne with a chimpanzee. Them dots just don’t connect.”
“I finished Larry’s patch. I gave him a white candle for him to stay in the light, thank you, you know, positive vibes. Amen we gonna keep him in prayer. That’s right. That’s right.”
Don’t miss The Peculiar Patriot now playing through OCT 28 at the Jackie Liebergott Black Box in the Emerson Paramount Center!