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A tale of six innocents

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Ever get in trouble for something you didn’t do? Did you go to prison for it?

The Exonerated, the latest production from the Poetic Justice Project (PJP), tells the stories of six individuals who were sentenced to death row for crimes they didn’t commit. Written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, the stories were crafted from letters, interviews, transcripts, case files, and public records.

PJP was founded by Deborah Tobola, whose artistic résumé includes directing a theater program at the California Men’s Colony. The program was successful, and Tobola recognized a need for a similar project for parolees, so she created PJP.

All cast members of PJP productions have served time in correctional facilities. You shouldn’t attend expecting a Tony Award-caliber performance, because that isn’t the point of PJP. What is the point? These actors are doing something really hard: getting up in front of strangers and exposing the part of their character that carries a heavy social stigma. Many of PJP’s plays are set within a prison (or similar) setting, which strikes an emotional chord with the cast members. One has to admire people who can overcome the things that hurt.

I don't know if you could find a group of more dedicated actors. And I think they're not performing just to satisfy a personal desire to be in the spotlight. They're doing this to contribute creatively to their community. And they're doing this for each other, for what [PJP] stands for and the message it delivers to its audiences,” Tobola said.

Everybody has something to offer, something valuable to share. PJP offers lessons you won’t find anywhere else, because it comes from people society actively forgets. The Exonerated is an excellent opportunity to challenge yourself by learning something new.

I've learned that love overcomes fear. I've learned this from our actors, who have shown great courage and compassion toward each other,” Tobola said.

The Exonerated plays Friday, Oct. 26, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 27, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the United Church of Christ (Congregational), 11245 Los Osos Valley Road in San Luis Obispo. Tickets cost $20, with discounts for students, seniors, and when purchased in groups of 10 or more. Visit poeticjusticeproject.org for more info.

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