Actress, singer, teacher, and writer Rhodessa Jones collaborated with incarcerated women, ex-offenders, and other artists to create My Life in the Concrete Jungle, “a magical-realist journey into the heart of the American urban wilderness,” inspired by Amos Tutuola’s My Life in the Bush of the Ghost.
Tutuola’s book features a nightmarish adventure of a young boy who is chased into the bush by African slavers. While there, he experiences a variety of transformations and adventures, including phantasmagoric encounters with ghosts and spirits found in African mythology. Concrete Jungle explored the parallels between African myths and urban myths that inhabit American cities.
Rhodessa Jones and Idris Ackamoor are co-artistic directors of Cultural Odyssey. Jones has created groundbreaking theater pieces based on the lives of women she has encountered while conducting classes in San Francisco County Jail. Building on her 16 years of experience, a team of artists spent months in San Francisco County Jail leading intensive workshops, auditioning, and interviewing participants for the project. Jones believes that increasing inmates’ self-awareness is necessary to their breaking the cycle of incarceration and probation, and the Concrete Jungle text was based on real life experiences of the participants.
The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department administers San Francisco’s six county jails and works to make San Francisco safe. In addition to traditional law enforcement duties, the Sheriff’s Department has created successful crime prevention programs, including in-custody substance abuse treatment, anti-violence counseling, and post-release job development.
With cooperation and transportation provided by the Sheriff’s Department, the inmates were able to perform the finished piece at Bay Area theaters, celebrating their successes with family members and the general public.