Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins is part of a growing movement urging Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to spare the lives of two Australian drug smugglers currently on death row in Indonesia. Their executions are scheduled for later this month.
Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were part of a theater workshop Jenkins conducted at the Kerobokan Penitentiary in 2011. That workshop focused on adapting Dante’s “Divine Comedy” for the stage. Jenkins is now teaching the same class at a prison in Connecticut through the Yale Divinity School.
In connection with that course, on Feb. 7, Jenkins moderated a panel at the Yale Divinity School on social transformation in prisons through the arts, which was dedicated to Chan and Sukumaran. The panel was covered in a news article which was published on the Asian News Network and appeared in 10 Asian countries. One of the panel members was Jenkins’ former student, Kaneza Schaal ’06, who is currently directing an adaptation of “The Egyptian Book of the Dead” with a formerly incarcerated actor, Cornell Allston, who also spoke on the panel.
“We want Chan and Sukumaran to know that the international community fully supports them,” Jenkins told The Jakarta Post.
On Feb. 6, Jenkins also wrote an op-ed in The Jakarta Post, titled, “Waiting for death behind bars,” about the two men and their participation in the prison theater program.
Collectively they wrote a play that interwove lines from Dante’s text with stories from their own lives that paralleled the journey from hell to heaven that is the subject of “The Divine Comedy.”
The tales told by the men and women in Kerobokan prison were as unsettling as the torments in the “Inferno” portion of Dante’s poem, but in spite of the abuse and betrayals that led them to a point in their lives where as Dante wrote “the straight path was lost,” none of the prisoners lost hope.
Even Sukumaran and Chan believed that international appeals on their behalf would stop the government from carrying out the barbaric ritual of state execution.
Neither claimed innocence. They admitted their crimes, but wondered like much of the rest of the world if those mistakes merited the punishment of death.
What I remember most about Sukumaran and Chan was the generous way in which they encouraged other members of the workshop to forget about their problems for a few hours a week and throw themselves into the collective work of creating theater.