In 1999, Sammie Byron, a founder of the Shakespeare Behind Bars Program at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Kentucky chose to play Othello in the annual SBB production.
In 2011, Curt L. Tofteland, Founder of Shakespeare Behind Bars, began working with Sammie, on his memoir one person play – Othello’s Tribunal.
In 2012, Sammie premiered Othello’s Tribunal while he was incarcerated at the Green River Correctional Complex in Central City, Kentucky. In 2014, Sammie was paroled from prison after serving thirty-one consecutive years of a LIFE sentence. As a returned citizen, Sammie and Curt continued to work on rewrites of Othello’s Tribunal.
In 2018, Sammie performed Othello’s Tribunal at the Rome Shakespeare Festival in Rome, Georgia and during the Shakespeare in Prison Network Conference at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California.
In 2022, Sammie performed Othello’s Tribunal at the Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta, Georgia where a recording of the performance and the following talk-back with actor Harry Lennix (played Aaron in Julie Taymor’s film Titus Andronicus) was completed.
Viewers of this recording will note Sammie’s powerful personal story, his emotionally truthful performance, and his deep empathy and compassion revealed in the post-performance talk-back.
The work of Shakespeare Behind Bars is a testimonial to the transformational change that is possible when incarcerated human beings are connected to empathetic and compassionate human beings who facilitate non-judgmental human transformation programs in prisons.
In 2022, Othello’s Tribunal performed at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.
The Give Back Tour
Sammie is aware that he was a “taker” in his young adulthood. As a returned citizen, he is committed to “giving back” to others by sharing his personal story of overcoming his childhood trauma and his human transformational change in his memoir, Othello’s Tribunal.
In the spirit of giving back, we are booking performances of Othello’s Tribunal followed by talk-backs with the audience in adult prisons, juvenile detention centers, and facilities that offer programming to youth and young adults who have been impacted by the American Criminal Justice System. We believe a performance of Othello’s Tribunal followed by an audience talk-back can be an inspiration to those who are locked behind the razor-wire, as well as to returned citizens.
We are booking performances at colleges, universities, and conferences. This builds on the same belief that Warden Larry Chandler had when he permitted Philomath Films to film their award-winning documentary of SBB’s 2003 production of The Tempest.
After experiencing the success of SBB at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, KY, Warden Chandler sponsored a tour of The Tempest to other Kentucky prisons. Warden Chandler wanted more incarcerated humans to be able to witness the power prisoners could accomplish when they committed themselves to a path of positive behavioral change. The annual touring of SBB productions to Kentucky prisons continued for several years following Warden Chandler’s departure as warden of the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex to warden of the Kentucky State Reformatory.
In 2020, during the COVID crisis, Warden Chandler emerged from a well-earned retirement to reopen a previously closed, privately run prison in Southern Appalachia – Southeast State Correctional Complex in Wheelwright, Kentucky. Warden Chandler invited Shakespeare Behind Bars to start a virtual Shakespeare Behind Bars program with the Lifer’s Club at SSCC. That program continues to this day.
From SSCC, Warden Chandler moved to lead another prison reclamation project in Central Appalachia – Little Sandy Correctional Complex in Sandy Hook, Kentucky.
Warden Chandler agreed to work with Shakespeare Behind Bars to support the Give Back Tour of Othello’s Tribunal.
Give Back Performance Tour
Little Sandy Correctional Complex, Sandy Hook, KY – October, 2022
Illinois Youth Center, Chicago, IL – October 20222
The Spot, Goodwill Industries, Louisville, KY – April, 2023
Save Our Children Network, Louisville, KY – April, 2023
Roederer Correctional Complex, LaGrange, KY – September, 2023
Northpoint Training Center, Burgin, KY – September, 2023
Ohio Valley Shakespeare Conference, Dayton, OH – October, 2023
SAMMIE BYRON is a Founding Member of Shakespeare Behind Bars at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Kentucky.
During his ten years with Shakespeare Behind Bars (1995-2005) Sammie played 20 of Shakespeare’s characters, including:
First Gravedigger in Hamlet in An Evening of Shakesperean Scenes (1995);
Proteus in Two Gentlemen of Verona (1996);
Henry V in King Henry V, Ghost in Hamlet, Gratiano in Merchant of Venice, & Capitano in Commedia del ‘Arte in Knaves, Knights and Kings: An Evening with William Shakespeare (1996);
Maria & Priest in Twelfth Night (1997);
Henry IV in King Henry IV part 2, Clown in Winter’s Tale, Launce in Two Gentlemen of Verona, Richmond in King Richard III, & Master Brook in Merry Wives of Windsor in The Bard Behind Bars: An Evening with William Shakespeare (1998);
Othello in Othello (1999);
Aaron in Titus Andronicus (2001);
Polonius & First Gravedigger in Hamlet (2002);
Trinculo in The Tempest (2003);
Marcus Brutus in Julius Caesar (2004);
Knowledge & Archbishop Marlow in Falstaff and His Luggage by Jerry Guenthner, & Richard II in King Richard II in All the World’s a Stage (2004).
Sammie appears in Philomath Films award-winning documentary, Shakespeare Behind Bars, which follows the 2003 SBB production of The Tempest from the first day of rehearsal through the conclusion of the tour of the production to other Kentucky prisons.
Sammie is employed full-time with Goodwill Industries as a Youth Training Facilitator at The Spot working with young adults 16-24 years of age. Sammie teaches a course called, Developing Soft Skills. The course is designed to equip participants with social standards to enhance quality performance in workplace environments, as well as inspire value systems that are worthwhile, realistic, and attainable.