Jenkins Brings “Inferno” Behind Prison Walls in NYT Article

Olivia DrakeJanuary 20, 20112min

Ron Jenkins, professor of theater, created a program in which inmates study and perform parts of Dante’s "Inferno." (Photo by Andrew Sullivan for the New York Times)

Ron Jenkins, professor of theater, was featured in the Dec. 24 edition of the New York Times for his efforts teaching incarcerated men Dante’s “Inferno.”

In the Dante Project, Jenkins leads a series of workshops that, through reading, analyzing, adapting and performing, explores the connections between Dante’s 14th-century epic poem and the lives of incarcerated men and women.

Jenkins, who has taught in Wesleyan’s theater department for 11 years, introduced prison outreach into the curriculum in 2007, bringing Wesleyan students to the York Correctional Institution, a women’s prison in Niantic, to work with inmates on literary classics. In 2009 and 2010, they began concentrating on “Inferno”; this year, because of construction at York, the class took place at the men’s facility in Niantic, the J.B. Gates Correctional Institution.

“Everyone who reads [“Inferno”] can identify with it, but the inmates can identify in a more powerful way, because they’ve gone through hell more than the rest of us,” Jenkins says in the article. “In our classes, they aren’t identifying with the sinners; they identify with Dante. They’re taking Dante’s journey, learning how to get out of a difficult place into someplace better.”