A Mueller Report marathon for July 4th, the effects of solitary confinement in Louisiana prisons, a Who Dat festival, "Hamilton" returns and more. Here's what you need to know in New Orleans this week:
A freedom reading for July 4th
Fourth of July traditions include barbecues, picnics and fireworks. Now, New Orleans residents may be able to add a new experience to that list with Clove Production’s “Star-Spangled 4th of July Marathon Reading of the Mueller Report.”
The event — also called #ImpeachableYou — will feature more than 50 people taking 20-minute shifts at Happyland Theater (3126 Burgundy St.) to do a theatrical reading of the 448-page report on the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The reading will begin July 4 at 6 a.m. and wrap up around 2 a.m. the following morning.
Michael Martin of Clove Productions, who is organizing the event, will kick off the reading. Martin also is the creator of “Verbatim Verboten” — word-for-word readings of transcripts taken from surveillance tapes, tapped conversations and leaked emails of government officials and everyday people.
The event will include readings from local actors and spoken word poets like Tracey Collins, Brenda Currin, Ian Hoch, Mikko and Cammie West. Spoken word poet Chuck Perkins will close out the report. Martin also will perform the report’s redactions as Russian folklore character Baba Yaga. Jacob Germain of the Virtual Krewe of Vaporwave will provide visuals for the reading, and Jeff Mattsson of Happyland Theater will supply breakfast.
"Other than me stomping around on stage looking like a mythological folklore creature whenever we hit a passage where they black things out, other than that theatrical device, it's a straight reading," Martin said.
The New Orleans event is one of several community marathon readings of the report occurring across the country since its public release in April.
The New Orleans event is one of several community marathon readings of the report occurring across the country since its public release in April. "It was really just honestly getting nudged on social media that this should happen here," Martin said of his decision to organize the event. "A number of people after the fact said, 'Oh, good, I'm glad somebody's organizing something here.' But it's not a rare idea. It was out in the air."
Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Once you purchase a ticket, you are allowed to reenter the event. A majority of the proceeds will benefit the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"It will be as much of a party as it will be a show," said Martin. — KAYLEE POCHE
Report: Harrowing solitary confinement conditions in Louisiana prisons
Kiana Calloway, who spent time in solitary confinement during his 17 years in prison before being released in 2011, told a crowd of prison-reform activists and others gathered last week at Loyola University New Orleans that the criminal justice system isn’t broken.
“It’s structured to do exactly what it’s done,” Calloway said, referring to the brutal conditions he and others said they encountered during time in isolation in their approximately 6-by-9-foot cells.
Calloway was one of about 40 people in the room for the release of a report on Louisiana’s use of solitary confinement — conducted by Solitary Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana and the Jesuit Social Research Institute/Loyola University New Orleans — in which 709 men and women living in solitary confinement were surveyed about their living conditions.
More than three-fourths of individuals surveyed said they had been held in solitary confinement for more than a year, with 30 percent saying they’d been held for more than five years. According to the report, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (LADOC) had not collected its own data on the length of time people in prison spent in solitary.
Respondents described conditions including stories of being forced to clean toilets with their bare hands and sleeping on floors infested with ants, spiders and cockroaches in an attempt to try to cool off in cells without air conditioning. One respondent claimed to have gone blind in one eye due to being refused medical treatment.
Many respondents reported having psychological effects such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression, hallucinations and paranoia. Calloway said he still wakes up in cold sweats, haunted by the screams he heard from people in neighboring cells while in solitary.
David Cloud, lead researcher for the Vera Institute of Justice’s study of solitary confinement in Louisiana, said the findings in the study echoed many of the same details Vera found in its report released earlier this year.
"It is traditional to doubt anything that comes out of the mouth of an incarcerated person. … The media does cooperate in that.” — Jean Casella, co-director of Solitary Watch.
But the LADOC disputed the survey’s findings. In a prepared statement, LADOC spokesman Ken Pastorick said that many of the survey responses included claims that were "vague and blatant lies," adding that “it appears that information was gathered improperly.”
“First of all, I don’t know how a lie could be vague and blatant at the same time,” Jean Casella, co-director of Solitary Watch, said in response to Pastorick’s statement. “Our background at Solitary Watch is in journalism. It is traditional to doubt anything that comes out of the mouth of an incarcerated person. … The media does cooperate in that.
“I’ll tell you if six people write that they are being forced to bark like dogs before they get fed, I believe them,” she added. “If the DOC asked them these questions, they would find out the same thing.”
Albert Woodfox, a New Orleans native who spent more than 44 years in solitary confinement, said he believed the survey respondents because the experiences they wrote about in the study mirrored his own. “I’m trying to figure out where the lying part is at. Everything that’s said in here, I’ve lived it for the last 44 years and 10 months of my life,” Woodfox said.
Woodfox was a member of the "Angola Three" who, at the time of his release from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in 2016, was the country’s longest-standing solitary confinement prisoner. Earlier this year, he released “Solitary,” an autobiography detailing the more than four decades he spent in isolation.
Nearly one in five men in Louisiana state prisons had been in solitary confinement for more than two weeks, according to a fall 2017 count from the LADOC and the study released by the Vera Institute of Justice — a rate about four times the national average.
In 2011, the United Nations (U.N.) called on countries to ban solitary confinement in almost all cases — with exceptions to protect an inmate from being targeted — along with a total end to isolation for more than 15 days and for juveniles and people with mental disabilities. The U.N. also discouraged its use as a form of punishment for rule breaking inside prisons. But according to the survey, 56 percent of respondents were in “extended lockdown,” which is typically a result of rule violation.
Researchers mailed the 12-page surveys and return envelopes to 2,902 individuals living in solitary confinement in the state. A press release for the Loyola event said it was “the largest survey ever conducted of people living in solitary.” — KAYLEE POCHE
Jefferson Parish to hold new ‘Who Dat’ festival just before Saints season
A two-day "Who Dat Nation Rally & Music Festival" to kick off the New Orleans Saints regular season has been set for Sept. 7-8 — the weekend before the Saints season opener.
The new festival will take place in LaSalle Park in Metairie and on the grounds of the Jefferson Performing Arts Center on Airline Drive, adjacent to the New Orleans Baby Cakes stadium and the Saints practice facility.
There will be three music stages, with the Atlanta Rhythm Section (insert your own Falcons joke here) and the Family Stone playing on Saturday and the Producers and the Topcats playing on Sunday on the Who Dat Nation Stage. The JPAC Stage will have Blood, Sweat & Tears on Saturday and the Guess Who on Sunday. A "major headliner" for Sunday is promised for the Maple Leaf Stage.
There will be a performance by the Atlanta Rhythm Section (insert your own Falcons joke here).
Also on the lineup are the All For One Brass Band, Whistle Monsta (aka Saints superfan Leroy Mitchell) and "local radio and TV personalities," as well as a "very special guest TBA."
Admission will be $30 for adults ($45 for both days), $10 for kids 13-18 ($15 for both days), and free for children under 12. The fest should get Black and Gold fans charged up for the Saints' season opener Sept. 9, when the team takes on the Houston Texans at home in the Superdome. — KEVIN ALLMAN
Big Freedia ice cream? New Orleans’ Queen Diva teams up with Ben & Jerry's
Back in February, Queen of Bounce and Everything Else Big Freedia put a photo on her Instagram account showing a Ben & Jerry's ice cream container with her face on the front and the flavor "Booty Bouncing Beignets” — which was said to be a joke.
Or maybe not. Last week, Ben & Jerry's announced a "new partnership" with Freedia which will kick off with a July 6 event at Republic from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
"Ben & Jerry’s is teaming up with the Queen of Bounce, Big Freedia for a day of music, food, and of course FREE ice cream, at Republic NOLA," said the announcement. "We will be announcing a new partnership together that will be benefiting local non-profits, and did we mention it will be sweet? The event will include an exclusive first listen of new Big Freedia track, 'Chasing Rainbows.' The Queen Diva herself will be there, speaking to the crowd and telling her story about her life in New Orleans. 100% of the proceeds will benefit No Kid Hungry LA, Liberty’s Kitchen and Upturn Arts."
So: could "Booty Bouncing Beignets" ice cream be a real thing? There's plenty of precedent; besides famous celebrity-saluting flavors like "Cherry Garcia" and "Stephen Colbert's AmeriCone Dream," the company has also put out lesser-known flavors like "Dave Matthews Band's Magic Brownies" and "Willie Nelson’s Country Peach Cobbler." And Freedia herself may have spilled the (vanilla) beans on Instagram when she wrote, "it will be with vanilla ice cream tho.” — KEVIN ALLMAN
Will you be able to bounce your beignets with a Big Freedia-flavored Ben & Jerry's?
Missed ‘Hamilton’? You’ll have another chance to take your shot
A touring production of Lin-Manuel Miranda's hit musical phenomenon "Hamilton" — about the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton — will return to New Orleans as part of the 2020-2021 Broadway in New Orleans season.
The show had a three-week run at the Saenger Theatre in March, with packed houses for every performance.
"Hamilton" uses rap, hip-hop, R&B and pop music to recount Alexander Hamilton's life as an immigrant from the West Indies who became active in politics during the Revolutionary War, assisting Gen. George Washington, and later served as the nation's first Treasury Secretary. Hamilton was a political rival of Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson.
The 2019-2020 Broadway in New Orleans season begins with "Wicked" in October and includes "Dear Evan Hansen," "Miss Saigon," "Mean Girls" and other shows. Dates for "Hamilton" have not been announced. — WILL COVIELLO
A touring production of Lin-Manuel Miranda's hit musical, "Hamilton," about the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, will return to New…