The following is a commentary piece written by Ithaca resident Andrew Hocking. It was NOT written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit an alternate viewpoint, contact us at

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“We’ve grappled with the nightmare of addiction, the lie of the American Dream, and the disconnect between generations and cultures and classes.” -Sarah Chalmers, Director of Civic Engagement for Civic Ensemble

On March 25th and 26th at the Hangar Theatre, the ReEntry Theatre Program presented “Dreams and Nightmares”, short plays written and acted by people who have been incarcerated. They shared of themselves with the audience, and we could begin to see their struggles. It reminded me that we all need to work together to help our community members achieve their dreams.
The ReEntry Theatre Program is part of Civic Ensemble, and this year was presented in partnership with the Ultimate ReEntry Opportunity, part of Multicultural Resource Center.

The performance started and ended with the playwrights expressing their dreams and nightmares as bookends, and the short plays contained within revealed their struggles. A single mother could not afford her increased rent, while her employer expected her to receive assistance from the state. A man explains to a younger individual how to communicate with self- respect. An alcoholic makes a deal with a supernatural “Corrections Officer” to undue a double murder. (Ok, not all of the stories were actual experiences.) Another finds himself “learning” the same lessons over and over, as he lies to his mother about getting drunk, costing her more money and more heartache. A heroin addict dies while waiting days for an appointment with a rehab.

In these stories, the playwrights brought their perspectives to the problems and solutions of life. While there is most certainly a place for “Ivory Tower” research, there are times to simply listen to those living the day in and day out struggles.

I found myself in agreement with Chalmers, when she expressed in the director’s note, “I am faced with the breadth of what I do not know or understand.” And this performance did not offer a simplified understanding of the problems nor trite solutions.

Indeed, one of the final lines of the play summarized: “What if we worked through the complexities rather than searching for simple answers?”

So, what are the problems keeping our community members from realizing their dreams?

Injustice, Addiction, Racism, Dishonesty, Bureaucratic Inefficiency, Infidelity, Low wages, the Classism which denounces “You people”, Greed, Believing that oneself doesn’t matter — The performance identified all of these and more.

If I tried to put these problems on a spectrum, one end could be systemic problems such as bureaucratic inefficiency and low wages. The other end corresponds to individual actions and responsibility, such as addiction and poor self image. (Of course, this dichotomy falls short as society affects the individual, and the individual affects society.) But, I propose it as a useful picture for understanding how different people address these problems.

As I have interacted with many seeking to help the formerly incarcerated, I have noticed the tendency to focus on one end of the spectrum or the other.

Sometimes, but not always, the attention can be predicted by political ideology, with progressives addressing systemic injustices and conservatives working with individuals.

Sometimes we might feel that the other side doesn’t try because they’re not doing the same things we are.

But these blind spots, which I typically find in detached political conversations and angry Facebook posts were completely absent in the performance. What a breath of fresh air!

Now, I’m not saying that each of us need to respond to every problem in society. We must focus. While I have the utmost respect for those serving in Ithaca, as I look on the national conversation, I notice the need for a little humility, a little acknowledgement that while a person may feel called to address a single problem listed above, we need each other because these problems are interwoven. We even need the people who voted for the other candidate. And of course, we need the insight and help of those returning from incarceration, who fight everyday to achieve their dreams and avoid their nightmares.

So if nothing else, when you hear about the next performance of the ReEntry Theatre Program, find yourself there and bring a friend.

Residents of Ithaca, Andrew Hocking and his wife recently started a blog,, where they find spiritual truth in popular movies, television, and literature.

Featured image courtesy of Flickr.

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