‘Exonerated’ actor on activism, life after incarceration

The actor with NOW producer Linsday Weiss
The actor with NOW producer Linsday Weiss

Last Friday, I went to see Culture Project’s “The Exonerated,” which features the stories of six people who were wrongly incarcerated and sentenced to death but later released after evidence cleared their names.  It is the 10th anniversary of the show, created by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen.  They used text from interrogations, personal letters, and transcripts from court cases as source material for the play.  One of the actors who is part of the rotating cast is John Forté.

Forté has a personal interest in the play and the stories it brings to light.  In 2000, John was arrested on drug charges and ordered to serve a mandatory minimum of 14 years in prison, for a first offense.  Through the efforts of friends and family, including singer Carly Simon, Forté’s sentence was one of eleven commuted by President George W. Bush on November 24, 2008.  Since then, Forté has channeled what he learned from his incarceration into speaking with and helping young people.

I had a chance to talk with Forté about his past and the play:

What should people take away from “The Exonerated?”

“I think people walk away with the sense that these true stories of injustice are happening every day and, sadly, most people won’t receive the blessings that these characters received when the truth came to light.  Perhaps the audience will be inspired to activism?”

How do you live your life differently now than you did before you were incarcerated?

“I appreciate the moments of the days more.  The tiny details that used to be usurped by all of the hyperbole are now magnified to the point where I can see the miracles in the so-called mundane activities of the day.”

How do you use your experience to educate future generations?

“I try to talk to (and more importantly listen to) young people as often as I can.  Sometimes, just showing up can make a world of difference.  Young people need to know that their voices matter… because they do!”

Anything else?

“It was a humbling honor to share the stage with such magnificent talent.”

“The Exonerated” is playing at Culture Project through December 2nd, 2012. 

'Exonerated' actor on activism, life after incarceration