As a young man, Bashi Rose had trouble finding his motivation.
“I wasn’t an A student. I almost didn’t finish, actually,” he says. “I joined the Army Reserves when I was 17 because I didn’t think I had anything else to look forward to. It was either that or stay around Park Heights and get in trouble.”
When the Army proved uninspiring, Rose came back to Baltimore and enrolled in community college.
“Nothing really clicked,” he says. Until he discovered the city’s poetry scene.
“It definitely challenged me,” Rose says about reading, writing and watching others perform their original work. “And it helped me deal with a lot of issues I had: anger, self-identity, my perception of women, my insecurities with writing and reading, my lack of understanding of black history. It just opened up a whole world to me.”
A love of poetry turned into a love of theater and performing. And when Rose figured out that theater could help others the same way poetry and performance helped him, he knew he had found his motivation.
While a volunteer intern in a prison program, Rose says he became convinced he could combat incarceration and its detrimental psychological effects with his passion for theater and social change.
Rose’s fellowship, D.R.A.M.A. (Direct Responses Alleviate Misdirected Aggression), developed with the men at the Maryland Correctional Training Center, will work within five Maryland prisons to teach incarcerated black men how to use theater and film as a tool to navigate conflict without violence, create healthy relationships , develop effective communication skills and ultimately prevent recidivism.
“Theater helps human beings develop in a really dynamic way,” Rose says, “sometimes without them even knowing it.”
He tells the story of a 2007 trial theater program he started at the Maryland Correctional Training Center that culminated in prisoner productions of short plays, excerpts from August Wilson’s “Fences” as well as improvisational skits and original poetry.
Two men in the program had an obvious conflict.
“You could sense the tension; it was real on stage,” Rose says.
Rose helped to teach them to use role playing and theater techniques to break down their boundaries.
“When the process was done, the atmosphere was totally different,” he says. “Everybody was transformed. In addition to being encouraged and inspired to change their lives, some of the men developed a true love and passion for theater.”
Rose’s program also will blend the needs of at-risk boys from Baltimore city high schools.
The D.R.A.MA. program will serve an average of 15-20 black males ages 14-70 in each prison and approximately 15 young black males ages 14-19 from high school. Rose’s goal is that more than 1,500 inmates and community members will be exposed to the program through performances.
“I hope that it will do for them the same thing it did for me. It shows how education is not something that necessarily happens in a classroom,” he says. “It can happen in the community you’re in.”