Prof. John McCabe-Juhnke first started his journey in bringing performing arts to Kansas prisons after attending a fundraiser put on by his mentor and Bethel College alumna, Elvera Voth.
The fundraiser supported performing arts in prison. McCabe-Juhnke remembers a man stood up and talked about his experience in prison.
‘You have no idea what it does for someone who has only been told they are no good,” McCabe-Juhnke recalled the man said.
In 2001, roughly a year later, McCabe-Juhnke took a sabbatical and started working with inmates to put on a play at Lansing Correctional Facility.
McCabe-Juhnke soon connected with Offender Victim Ministries at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility. He worked with the OVM over the years.
With the help of OVM, McCabe-Juhnke brought students on board for the first time in 2014.
The first performance was an unaccredited class in the maximum security prison. In 2016, and now as an accredited class, students worked with inmates again at the HCF maximum security prison, but the performance was curbed because of a prison-wide lockdown.
During the performances at Bethel College, students often stumbled over their lines. The students only had a couple of weeks to perform the roles previously cast to inmates. The students knew the parts they would eventually be in, but they spent the bulk of their time helping the inmates get ready for their performance.
"It’s a big messy project,” McCabe-Juhnke said, adding he plans to continue offering the class every other year. “But then when you hear the student testimony and see what it does for both groups … It seems to be in many ways a transformative process for everyone.”