Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Q&A with Michael Reyes of 'Crime Against Humanity'

"Crime against Humanity" is a play based on the real life experiences of 14 Puerto Rican political prisoners who spent more than two decades in prisons for seditious conspiracy -- two of whom are still incarcerated. Written by poet and activist, Michael Anthony Reyes Benavides and former Puerto Rican political prisoner Luis Rosa, the play brings us into the U.S. prison system and the experiences of these prisoners for more than 27 years. The New York Premiere of the play is this Friday at Hostos Community College in the Bronx. PRSUN contributing writer Ismael Nunez talks to Michael Reyes.

Q. How did you come up with the name “Crime Against Humanity”?

A. “Crime Against Humanity” has two meanings. The first is that the United Nations states its a crime against humanity to have a colony, and Puerto Rico is still a colony of the United States. Also, prison is a crime against a person’s humanity. All of the
prisoners kept referencing the issue of maintaining
and holding onto their humanity, so it was an organic
choice to select the title. It just kept coming up.

Q. Why did you co-write the play with former political prisoner Luis Rosa?
A. True. Luis had a very similar idea when we
visited Puerto Rico and we decided to create it
together. Since his idea was more about a day of a prisoner and my ideas were about years, we fused the ideas to create the play. He was a big help in the entire process because he was coming from a space that experienced prison as a political

Q. You were given the opportunity to interview Oscar Lopez Rivera and Carlos Alberto Torres. Did you get a chance to interview Haydee Beltran as well?
A. Haydee Beltran has made it clear that she does not
want to be included in any of the campaign materials and such, so I fully respect that decision. Since this play is to further the campaign to free them, I did not attempt to include her.

Q. The play pulls no punches. Why did you decide to leave the profanity and nudity?
A. Yes, it was the only way we could present it honestly and truthfully. I decided to go all out with it, so I wanted to show the true brutality of the prison industrial complex and the only way to do that was to reflect the truth.

Q. Did you write this play before the clemency by President Bill Clinton to release some of the prisoners in 1999?
A. No, this play is less than a year old, so it’s really in its infancy.

Q. Would you say this is a educational play?
A. It deals with the issue of political prisoners. It is an issue the legal system never mentions. That's the reason it was created to educate
and spread a message that shows the truth about the United States and the issue of political prisoners and prisoners of war. With this play, we can reach thousands of people in a different way. It has been a great tool.

Q. What has been the response of the other Puerto Rican political prisoners toward the play?
A. Mostly they love the production and are grateful. Almost all of the prisoners that have seen it say it is a very accurate dramatization of their experience. Ninety percent is their actual words and that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to tell their story, so they really enjoy it. As hard as it is for them sometimes, they have been very supportive.

Q. What type of feedback have you received from this play so far?
A. People love it. But the most important thing for me is that the Puerto Rican community loves it. That's who we are speaking to and so that’s who is important. If other people get something out of it, then we have truly created something special. The play does speak to everyone that has to struggle to maintain humanity. For now, we are happy spreading the word through the many communities we reach. And I hope we do get to write a sequel, which will be based on the rest of the prisoners coming home and telling the story of that
journey. – Ismael Nunez

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