Tona Wilson worked as a Spanish interpreter in New York State’s courts, prisons and jails as a way to pay the bills in the late 1990s; but her experience in the legal system became the subject of her art, with Wilson making sketches and drawings and writing descriptions of her encounters. Envisioning a book describing the fate of prisoners in the legal system, Wilson brought her idea to fruition during a residency at Women’s Studio Workshop in 2010. Stories behind Bars focuses on the plight of immigrants in prisons, jails and immigration detention centers. It consists of a quartet of books, each telling a particular story; one is about the inmate who was deported in a court hearing at which he wasn’t even present (located in a prison in western New York, he was connected by video monitor and had to say goodbye to his family via the screen).
Resembling a graphic novel, with its combination of drawings and text, Stories behind Bars will be brought to life through a staged reading at the Kingston Library on Wednesday, April 18 at 6 p.m. Part of the monthlong “E=” event, which takes Emily Dickinson’s life and work as the jumping-off point for a celebration of the culture of Midtown Kingston to commemorate National Poetry Month, the reading will be directed by Chris Silva, executive director of the Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) and its sister theater, the Bardavon. The cast will consist of teachers, students from Kingston High School and Bard College and local parishioners and clergy, and will be followed by a question-and-answer session.
Wilson, who currently does translation work for schools and occasionally town courts, said that she produced 50 copies of her book, most of which are in public and university libraries. But she’d like to publish it, given that “One ironic thing about the book is, here’s this expensive handmade artist’s book about a subject that most people who dealing with can’t afford.” She views the reading as an important first step in publicizing its stories, which “make visible a whole part of our society that’s pretty hidden.”
For more information on the project or the staged reading, call the Kingston Library, 55 Franklin Street in Kingston, at 331-0507, or e-mail email@example.com.