When Kathy McGregor, Project Director for The Prison Story Project, first had the idea to hire professional filmmakers to film a staged reading of stories written by men on Arkansas’ death row while on a tour with actors, a stage manager, and a musician in 2019, she had no idea that a pandemic would soon render live tours impossible.
With a major grant from the Whiting Foundation and supportive grants from Episcopal Evangelism Society and Mid-America Arts Alliance, the Prison Story Project was able to hire professional filmmakers to film the staged reading, On the Row, before a live audience at St. James Episcopal Church in Wichita, Kansas while on tour to Episcopal churches across four states. This turned out to be quite providential given the onset of the pandemic.
At a time when more attention than ever seemed to be on the death penalty (New Hampshire (2019) and Colorado (2020) abolished the death penalty and Federal executions resumed this past summer under the Trump administration for the first time in nearly two decades) McGregor felt it more important than ever to continue giving the men on death row a voice to remind us of their humanity, so that we might be encouraged to work towards abolition of the death penalty as we are called to as Episcopalians.
With that in mind, McGregor applied for and recently received a grant from the Episcopal Evangelism Society to provide Zoom presentations of the staged reading, On the Row, to Episcopal congregations across the country throughout 2021.
The Prison Story Project will begin contacting Episcopal Dioceses across the US, encouraging parishes to book Zoom presentations of On the Row. Booked parishes will receive materials for prayerful reflection prior to the showing, with time for a Q&A after the film. The Project will also provide call-in participation from one of On the Row’s writers as part of the Q&A as allowed by Varner Prison, where the men on death row are housed in solitary confinement.
For more information about the Prison Story Project, a ministry of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas, please visit www.prisonstoryproject.com. For information about bookings, please contact McGregor at email@example.com or 479-871-4875.
Kathy McGregor is on the National Executive Committee of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship and convener of the Death Penalty Abolition Action Group on our website, www.epfnational.org. More information on current death penalty issues is also available on https://www.facebook.com/EPFdeathpenaltyabolition