The upcoming presentation of “A Day at Stateville,” being performed in Waukegan on March 24, exemplifies the vision of the Changing Minds Campaign: to reach out to other Illinois cities and towns and encourage other organizations and groups to create their own programs and presentations based on the Campaign concept.

Since its first public performance at the Dawson Technical Institute two years ago, “A Day at Stateville” has been presented almost 40 times, but all in the immediate Chicago area.

Waukegan, Ill,  in prosperous Lake County, is almost a microcosm of Chicago, mirrors its diversity and the problems that face men and women in prison and those returning from prison. With a population of approximately 92,000, the city has a median income of about $30,000, well below the $67,000 Lake County level, and many residents earn $14,000 or less annually. The workforce is very diverse, ranging from laborers to skilled professionals. It is also racially diverse: 50 percent white, 30 percent Hispanic or Latino, and about 17 percent black. The city also has more than its share of crime.

There are several groups and organizations in Waukegan dedicated to helping prisoners, their families and those returning to the community following incarceration. The Campaign to Reduce Recidivism, for example, headed by the very energetic Waukegan Township Supervisor Patricia Jones, is dedicated to providing support and resources for ex-prisoners. Many members of government agencies, local businesses and faith-based organizations as well as prominent Waukegan citizens have joined with formerly incarcerated people in this Campaign. The Lake County Sheriff’s Department and the Lake County Department of Corrections also support their work.

The Workforce and Professional Development Program at the nearby College of Lake County is offering entrepreneurship training and guidance, precisely what returning ex-prisoners need.

The Waukegan Holistic Organization for Life Empowerment (WHOLE) is also part of the Waukegan movement. WHOLE is a prison ministry founded by the late Curtis Pride Sr. and IICLA President Jim Chapman and his wife, Toosheyah, working with Pastor Walstone E. Francis of the Shiloh Baptist Church. In 2009, the principals teamed up again to establish “Entrepreneurship 4 Ex-prisoners,” a training program to help former prisoners prepare for and obtain meaningful salaried employment. In December, 20 formerly incarcerated students graduated from this program.

Another key contributor is Joe Schmitt, himself a formerly incarcerated person who in 2009 was a resident in the Waukegan Township Staben Center, a transitional housing facility for men. Schmitt’s vision was to establish a facility operated by ex-prisoners for the benefit of men and women coming to Waukegan from prison-training and educational programs. True to his vision, Schmidt founded Former Inmates Striving Together (FIST), now a thriving center in Waukegan’s downtown area. (See their website: http://fistin.org.)

So there exists in Waukegan a keen awareness of the problems confronting prisoners and ex-prisoners, and a high level of energy and effort being directed toward finding solutions. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that many people associated with these groups and organizations seized the opportunity represented by the Changing Minds Campaign to develop their own programs to spread the word and generate additional interest and support among the city’s citizenry.

In late December, Schmitt and Chapman renewed their friendship and, enthused by the Changing Minds Campaign, Schmitt contacted Rebecca Adler, Artistic Director of the Clockwise Theatre, which led to the presentation of “A Day at Stateville” to be performed there on March 24, April 3 and April 9.  The first two performances (all of which are free) “sold” out in 48 hours each.  Hence, the third.  Persons are coming from afar, like Rockford, almost 90 miles from Waukegan.  F.I.S.T. personnel will perform the reading on April 9.

These performances in Waukegan mark a significant step for the Changing Minds Campaign as the first city outside the Chicago metro area utilizes Campaign resources to inspire and strengthen their own programs.

This performance of “A Day at Stateville” will be presented at 6:30pm at The Clockwise Theatre, 221 Genesee Street in downtown Waukegan. Although admission is free, early reservations indicate that the theatre may be “sold out.” Additional performances are being scheduled for Sunday, April 3, at 3pm and Saturday, April 9, at 7pm. Go to www.brownpapertickets.com/event/160650 for reservations.