Inmates at Lansing Correctional Facility stage Macbeth.

At Lansing Correctional Facility, inmates strut and fret their hour on the stage 

Inmates at Lansing Correctional Facility stage Macbeth.

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In November 1997, Vaughn walked into the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department and announced that he'd killed his grandmother. He is now serving a hard 40, meaning a 40-year sentence without parole, a punishment reserved for "heinous, atrocious and cruel" crimes.

"A lot of these guys never got to experience life," Vaughn says. "I graduated college. I was in the military and traveled around."

Men like Betts, who were locked up young, missed those opportunities.

"It's good that these guys can get a taste of culture and education," Vaughn says. "Broaden their minds."

Of Betts, Vaughn says, "I know him. I know what kind of background he comes from. He's really furthered himself in here."

Cox started with 30 men in the program, but only 12 were left by opening night. Turns out, the medium-security inmates have busy schedules. Many of the men at Lansing work shifts at one of the 15 industries that function as joint ventures between private corporations and the Kansas Department of Corrections. Inmates who work for Impact Design, for example, churn out Royals T-shirts that are given away to fans at Kauffman Stadium each season. Cox had to move rehearsals from Wednesdays to Sundays because, by his estimate, 75 percent of his cast works at the print shop.

As people dropped out, Vaughn became something of a small-part collector, picking up the roles of Prince Donalbain, the Porter and Seyton and understudying for those who had to miss a week. "I think Banquo is the only part I haven't played," Vaughn says. "You get confused, understudying for everyone."

Vaughn quickly picked up the stage directions and became sort of a stage manager, coaching the rest of the cast members on their cues and reminding them of their blocking. He also choreographed the fight scenes.

Cox chose Macbeth, murderous plot and all, for reasons that were both practical and philosophical. For one thing, it's Shakespeare's shortest play. It has one of his most accessible plots. And a few key lines really lend themselves to this population, Cox says. The "Tomorrow" speech is "probably the most profound moment in the show for any of the prisoners," he says.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
'Til the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.

The most troublesome role to cast was Lady Macbeth. The men wanted Cox to bring a woman in to play the part. He explained that in Shakespeare's day, the part would have been played by a man. Still, Cox wasn't getting many takers.

"One guy stepped up, and he got transferred [to another institution]," Cox says. "Another guy stepped up and got released. Another guy stepped up and lost his nerve. So after going through four Lady Macbeths, back in April, I just said, 'Fuck it. I'm going to play Lady Macbeth.'"

Cox found that the actors' performances improved once he joined them onstage. Perhaps they dropped some of their own fears after watching Cox, in Act 1, Scene 5, clutching a pair of invisible breasts and bellowing, Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here.

Harold Wayne Hodges was also a late addition to the cast. He showed up at a rehearsal one day and sat silently in the audience.

"He's a really rough-looking guy," Cox says. "White guy, and I don't have too many of those. He's got big, crazy-looking white hair, which I love. He comes in covered in tats, and he's got this voice." Cox imitates it, a dark rasp, like Nick Nolte with a cold.

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