American RadioWorksDocumentaries Hard Time: Life After Prison
Scraping By  |  Marsha and Sons  |  Collateral Damage: East Durham

   Program for C.H.A.I.N.S.
Marsha, one of the ex-offenders featured in Hard Time, performed with the C.H.A.I.N.S. Theatre Ensemble.
Creating Hope Inventing New Stories
Theatre Ensemble

Sample Program - December 9, 2001

  • Will I Lose My Dignity?
  • You Have No Idea Who I Am
  • Free Me From These Chains
  • Lend Me Your Hope
  • Memoirs
  • Psalms of Lament (Listen to excerpt)
  • I Told God I was Angry
  • The Other Side of the Gate (Listen to excerpt)
  • I Am
  • Vocal Selection
  • Questions, Answers, Dialogue with Congregation

The C.H.A.I.N.S. (Creating Hope Inventing New Stories) Theatre Ensemble is one aspect of the PCCCC (Presbyterian Chaplaincy Coordinating Committee) Prison Ministry, but every aspect of this ministry is grounded in the belief that God is the giver of new life, and God's desire is for all who have been given new life to share it with others. In this way, we create hope where hope did not exist, making it possible for old stories-stories that chain persons to destructive behaviors, things of the past, and patterns of thought that bring suffering and death - to be transformed into new stories; stories of freedom, fresh beginnings, clear futures, abundant joy, and new life.

A 14th century English mystic names Julian writes, "the love in which we were made never had a beginning; in it we have our beginning" (Revelations of Divine Love). The C.H.A.I.N.S. Theatre Ensemble never really had a beginning; it could more aptly be said to have emerged out of history, a seemingly random series of events, lasting friendship, the belief that our lives have value and purpose, and a conviction that we are called to give back to our communities, in gratitude to God for giving to us.

Of the many streams of history from which C.H.A.I.N.S. has emerged, one of those streams is Presbyterian history. Some twenty years ago, a group of Presbyterians noticed that although there were women serving time in prison, there were no female clergy serving women in prison. And so Presbyterians took action to create and fund the first female chaplain's position in our state prison system. That position remains funded today not by the state, but by Presbyterians, churches, and persons of faith. Having in 1997 become the third woman to serve in this position, my immediate inheritance included a gospel choir, that shortly afterward turned into a gospel-acting choir, that thanks to my friend Willie Jordan (a Baptist!), eventually became a finely tuned dramatic performing ensemble.

C.H.A.I.N.S. was first known as "The Drama Troupe." But with growing maturation came the awareness that in order to exist as a community and not as warring factions, The Drama Troupe needed a clear sense of identity, a common sense of purpose, and mutually agreed upon values and goals. It was Onia Royster, then the "chaplain's clerk," who shared her observation of the PCCC Prison Ministry as giving her a lens to see stories of death and despair as containing possibilities for hope and new life. This new way of seeing transforms not only old stories into new stories, but is also affects transformation in people who hear these stories. The student had exceeded the teacher, but Onia wasn't finished! She proposed that the group formerly known as The Drama Troupe be called C.H.A.I.N.S. She went on to explain that when most people think of a chain, they think of something that binds and oppresses. But she saw also that when people are connected to each other, as are links on a chain, everyone is made stronger. Onia took an old story and told it a new way, making the old story no less true than it was, but causing it to lose oppressive power. At her suggestion and by unanimous vote, The Raleigh Correctional Center for Women Drama Troupe became in 1998 the C.H.A.I.N.S. (Creating Hope and Inventing New Stories) Theatre Ensemble.

Since 1998, performing work written exclusively by women at the Raleigh Correctional Center for Women, C.H.A.I.N.S. has shared its old stories and its new stories with more than 10,000 persons in church, school, and community settings. C.H.A.I.N.S.'s purpose is to dispel myths about incarcerated women; share stories of redemption and hope; foster volunteer involvement at the Raleigh Correctional Center for Women; deter violence, drug use, and encourage youth to stay in school.

C.H.A.I.N.S.'s own story is being transformed and its circle enlarged as members are released from prison and give back to their communities through ongoing involvement with the PCCC Prison Ministry. PCCC believes its call is to share hope with incarcerated women and female ex-offenders. We invite others to join us. Financial support of this ministry may be sent to PCCC, 120 W Hargett Street, Raleigh, NC, 27601. For more information about PCCC and volunteer opportunities, contact Harriet Jennings, JobStart Mentor Coordinator, 843-3219,, or the Reverend Marla Cates, RCCW Chaplain, 733-4252, 345-5779,

Marla Cates, Chaplain
Raleigh Correctional Center for Women

C.H.A.I.N.S. is funded and made possible through the
PCCC Prison Ministry, a Community Service Outreach
Grant for Cultural Enrichment by White Memorial
Presbyterian Church, Maple Temple United Church
of Christ, and Raleigh United Church of Christ.

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