Backstage with Sandy Kenyon: 'The Peculiar Patriot'

HARLEM, Manhattan (WABC) -- Liza Jessie Peterson spent nearly 20 years helping adolescent prisoners held at Rikers Island, and those experiences turned into a play that is back by popular demand at the National Black Theatre in Harlem.

"It started out, I was just writing in my journal, and it came out as a monologue," she said. "And I didn't know it was going to morph into this mammoth of a production, The Peculiar Patriot. But I knew I had to say something."

The Peculiar Patriot, written and performed by Peterson and directed by Talvin Wilks, offers a poignant look inside what its star calls the "prison industrial complex."

"Seeing kids who are sitting at Rikers Island because they can't afford bail, seeing kids who are sitting at Rikers Island over an issue at school that could've been handled in the dean's office, so the systemic issues seem to be so entrenched," she said.

There are more than 2.5 million people behind bars in the United States, and the production examines the human impact while attempting to shine a light on racial disparities.

"I knew that my art was bigger than just me," she said. "My art was a vehicle to bring forth voices of the voiceless."

The play runs through July 29. CLICK HERE for information and to buy tickets.

* More Manhattan news
* Send us a news tip
* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts
*Follow us on YouTube
Copyright © 2022 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.