When decency leads to downfall, Dameion Brown hears echos from his past.
“Coming from the [administrative segretation] of prison to a standing ovation or just any ovation, it’s humbling. It’s worlds apart – truly,” Brown said.
The 48-year-old landed the lead role in the Marin Shakespeare Company’s “Othello” after serving 23 years in California state prison. The ex-inmate, convicted of torturing his then three-year-old daughter, and severely beating three of his five other children, was released last year.
“There is a fact that I was prosecuted for certain things. There is a fact that I was convicted. And there is a fact that I spent 23 years in prison. But the facts of what occurred; those things aren’t very well known,” Brown said.
“Othello trusts the wrong people. I have done that too often. Othello was loving someone so much that his expectations were just so high that any fall would be from a great, great height.”
Marin Shakespeare Company’s managing director Lesley Currier says casting Brown in the lead role was a risk because of his limited acting experience.
“As far as I know, this is the first time any Shakespeare in prison student has ever played a lead role in a main stage production at a professional theater in the U.S.,” Currier said.
Currier first met Brown two years ago in an Arts in Corrections program, during which she recognized his “ability to tap into his emotions” and cast him as the lead in the prison’s production of “Macduff.”
The program has led to less violence in prisons and its graduates are less likely to return to prison after release, saving taxpayers thousands of dollars per year, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. In June, Governor Jerry Brown tripled the program’s budget to $6 million to expand Arts in Corrections to all 35 prisons in California.
Those who know Othello’s final act know there are no second chances for the tragic hero. Brown, however, has been working for Community Works West in Oakland mentoring at-risk youth.
“They can see that we can come from a depth that many consider the bottom of society and then do something many consider an honorable thing,” Brown said.
Othello opens Friday at the Marin Shakespeare Company in San Rafael, and runs through September 25.
Brown describes his relationship with his children as “strong and honest” even after spending more than two decades away from them. He says they will be in the audience on opening night.