The Peculiar Patriot

An excerpted reading and MAPP Conversation with Liza Jessie Peterson on mass incarceration and its impact on family, friends, and communities


Fields of Knowledge
  • Health / Sustainability
  • Performance
  • Social Justice

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Penn Social Policy & Practice, MAPP International Productions

Contributing Institutions

Goldring Reentry Initiative


John L. Jackson, Jr.

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought, Penn Social Policy & Practice, and MAPP International Productions are pleased to announce "The Peculiar Patriot," an excerpted reading with poet, performer, and playwright Liza Jessie Peterson, followed by conversation with scholars of mass incarceration and social work including Toorjo (TJ) Ghose and Nancy Franke on Friday, March 25, 2016 from 6:30-8:00pm.

In Peterson's performance, we meet Betsy LaQuanda Ross, a self-proclaimed "peculiar patriot" who makes regular visits to penitentiaries to boost the morale of her incarcerated friends and family. As Ross navigates relationships and love across security checkpoints and barbed wire, she passionately sews a memory quilt for the urban "street soldiers and P.O.W.'s" (prisoners of the war on drugs) who are serving time.

For Peterson, Ross is both a victim and victor of this country's prison system. She represents the millions of men and women who sojourn to penitentiaries on a regular basis (weekly, monthly, year after year), subjecting themselves to long bus rides and humiliating security checks to visit loved ones incarcerated. "The Peculiar Patriot" constructs a narrative about voicelessness and America's fastest growing epidemic/industry—with provocative thought, hilarious dialogue and gripping pathos.

Peterson has shared and expanded upon Betsy's tale in more than 34 prisons and correctional facilities in seven states, beginning with Rikers Island in 2003. Over time, she has evolved a single character's story into a powerful metaphor for a human condition that impacts more than 2.5 million people behind bars, as well as their loved ones and communities. In doing so, she is also fulfilling a promise made to inmates throughout the tour, who have implored her to take their stories "back out into the world."

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The United States has earned the disturbing distinction of being the world's leading jailer. Representing just 5 percent of the world's population, we now hold 25 percent of its inmates.

The "tough on crime" politics of the 1980s and 1990s fueled an explosion in incarceration rates. By the close of 2010, America had 1,267,000 people behind bars in state prisons, 744,500 in local jails, and 216,900 in federal facilities—more than 2.2 million people incarcerated in all, 1 million of whom are black.

Over the past thirty years, this represents a 500 percent increase. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison at some point in their life. Nationwide, black Americans represent 26 percent of juvenile arrests, 44 percent of detained youth, 46 percent of youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58 percent of the youth admitted to state prisons. Together, blacks and Hispanics comprised 58 percent of all prisoners in 2008, though they make up approximately one quarter of the population.

About the Production

"The Peculiar Patriot" is produced by MAPP International Productions, a nonprofit producer of major performing arts projects that raise critical consciousness and spark social change. MAPPinternational.org

Further Resources

American Civil Liberties Union:

NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet:

The Sentencing Project:

About the artist

Liza Jessie Peterson is a renowned actress, poet, playwright, educator and advocate. Her plays have been featured in theaters and festivals nationally and internationally.

Peterson began at the Nuyorican Poets Café in the 1990s, where she was a vital member of the "underground slam poetry/spoken word" movement. As an actress she has appeared in feature films including Love the Hard Way and Spike Lee's Bamboozled.

Peterson has taught theater and poetry to urban and incarcerated youth for over 15 years. She created The Urban Folktale Project, where students create original plays about pressing issues and perform at theaters around New York City.