Theatre of the Oppressed: Opening the Box

Sarah Shourd

Sarah Shourd is a writer and grassroots organizer with the human rights organization United4Iran. She is currently living in Oakland, CA, has a blog on Huffington Post and has written for The New York Times,, Newsweek’s Daily Beast and more.

In 2009 Sarah was captured by Iranian forces while hiking behind a tourist site in semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan. Sarah, her fiance Shane Bauer and their friend Josh Fattal were then thrown into Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison and held in incommunicado detention without legal representation or trial. Sarah was held in solitary confinement for 410 days before being released by President Ahmadinejad on “compassionate grounds” in Sept. 2010, a move which was in fact designed to ease international pressure against the Iranian government.

Sarah Shourd has joined Solitary Watch as a contributing editor and director of an innovative theater project based on the experiences of people in solitary confinement in the United States. Sarah, who spent more than a year in solitary confinement in an Iranian prison after being detained while hiking in Iraq near the border, has been an advocate for American prisoners in solitary since her release. At Solitary Watch, she will create and present a play titled Opening the Box. In her words:

For this project I will draw from my own experience as an author, a journalist and the 410 days I spent in solitary confinement while held as a political hostage by the Iranian government from 2009-2010. My goal is to portray real stories with truthfulness, dignity and complexity and also to make the experience of watching this play as visceral as possible.

I want the audience to breathe along with a young man having a panic attack after being denied a visit with his mother, to crawl inside the skin of an immigrant detainee terrified of being deported and to travel with a lifer on a magic carpet of memory—only to be pulled back into the stark, implacable reality of the hole. By hearing these stories, my hope is that the audience will be able to relate to the men and women enduring this torture in our prisons, to their pain but also to their resistance to the dehumanizing forces around them, their incredible resilience…and their refusal to be institutionalized.

Once the play is written we’ll move to stage production—enlisting well-known actors and survivors to perform in cities across the country. Our strategy is not just to perform the play—in each city we visit we will meet with local politicians, prison officials, activists, survivors and their families. Everywhere we go, we will provide our audience with ways to stay involved, act on what they’ve seen and contribute to nation-wide efforts to end this practice in our prisons for good.

Sarah will begin by corresponding with people on the inside, gathering the stories of their lives and their experiences in solitary confinement and using these stories to create the script. To support this initial phase of the project, she has launched a Crowdrise fundraising campaign, which features the following video:

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