‘The BOX,’ a play about solitary confinement, coming to Anacostia Playhouse

A formerly incarcerated playwright and cast will present an immersive production that brings audiences into the deep end of the U.S. prison system.

As part of a ten-city national tour, the End of Isolation Tour will bring an immersive, transformative play, The BOX, to Anacostia Playhouse, in partnership with DC Justice Lab, which is working on the front lines of imagining a world without cages.

Based on correspondence with incarcerated people and inspired by true events, The BOX underscores both the horror of solitary confinement and the humanity of people subjected to it. The play is set in the solitary unit of an unnamed prison, where men are confined 23 hours a day to 6×9 cells to remember (and often regret) the past, dream of the future, yearn for loved ones, and rage against the system that threatens their sanity and their souls.

World premiere of ‘The BOX’ at Z Space in San Francisco, 2016. Photo courtesy of End of Isolation Tour.

By turns entertaining and unsettling, The BOX offers a rare glimpse into the deep end of our prison system, the intimate bonds forged between survivors of brutality and isolation, the ripple effects of systematic torture, and the common core that makes us human.

The BOX is written and directed by Sarah Shourd, who was held in solitary confinement for over 400 days as an American political prisoner in Iran. After discovering the prevalence of solitary confinement in her own country, she collaborated with other survivors to create this project. Several members of the nine-person cast and crew are formerly incarcerated.

The play, which premiered in 2016 and played to sold-out audiences in San Francisco, Marin County, and Alcatraz Island, has been reconceived as a traveling show for the age of COVID. The team is making its way from city to city in a converted school bus with a mural by DJ Agana. Filmmakers Bobby Field and Emile DeWeaver are creating an exclusive behind-the-scenes documentary series about the tour, which will provide intimate insight into what it takes to create transformative theater, as well as how individuals deal with the legacy of prison torture.

In the District of Columbia, the End of Isolation Tour will partner with DC Justice Lab, whose team of law and policy experts were instrumental in the introduction of the Eliminating Restrictive and Segregated Enclosures (ERASE) Solitary Confinement Act, which would strictly limit all forms of segregated confinement for individuals incarcerated at penal institutions owned, operated, and controlled by the D.C. Department of Corrections and the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. The bill was introduced by Councilmember Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and co-sponsored by Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4), Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), and Robert White (D-At Large).

The End of Isolation Tour aims to enact political change and to promote healing through drama and artistic ritual. With the support of national partners the Pulitzer Center and Unlock the Box, the End of Isolation Tour has teamed up with organizations and activists in each community that are working to shift perceptions and policies around solitary confinement in the United States, where an unparalleled 80,000 men, women, and children are held in isolation on any given day. A portion of tickets for each show are reserved for formerly incarcerated and other system-impacted people.

Playwright Sarah Shourd at wheel of ‘The BOX’ tour bus. Photo courtesy of End of Isolation Tour.

“The message is clear: We need each other as much as we need fresh air, food, and water. We need each other if we are to prevent the greed, ignorance, and incompetence of a few from undermining the human spirit. We need each other to survive. I collected the stories you will witness from people trapped a decade ago in the hellish deep end of our country’s prisons. Now, in a cruel twist of history, there could not be a more powerful moment to bring their stories back.” —Sarah Shourd, playwright, director, tour co-organizer, and survivor of solitary confinement

“Solitary confinement is a cruel, inhumane, and degrading form of punishment and amounts to torture under international law. The BOX provides an invaluable perspective about solitary confinement, a common occurrence in correctional institutions here in the District that must come to an end.” —Patrice Amandla Sulton, founder and Executive Director of DC Justice Lab

“Before I met Sarah Shourd, and was hired as actor and chef for the End of Isolation Tour, most people in my life didn’t know about my incarceration. Acting in The BOX stripped me down, like the layers of an onion, revealing what was inside. This stripping down for me is freedom. Now, I want to take that freedom on the End of Isolation Tour for others.” —Anthony Michael Jefferson (“AJ”), formerly incarcerated actor

“Ending isolation isn’t a painful longing for something that’s going to happen in the future; it’s what we are doing right now. We are ending isolation right now—on this stage.” —Arnie Fischman, formerly incarcerated tour co-organizer

The BOX plays at 7:00 pm on August 20 and 21, 2022, at Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Place SE, Washington, DC. Tickets ($30–$50) are available online.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes.

COVID Safety: Anacostia Playhouse along with other theaters coordinated by Theatre Washington, requires proof of vaccination to be shown and masks to be worn.

End Isolation – Begin Transformation:
from Bobby Field on Vimeo.

Follow the End of Isolation Tour on Social Media:

Learn About the End of Isolation Tour National Partners:
Presenting Sponsor: The Pulitzer Center
National Sponsor: Unlock The Box
Organizational Ally: Solitary Watch

End of Isolation Tour Resources:

Inside ‘The BOX’: a gripping view of institutionalized sadism (review by John Stoltenberg)


  1. The play was not directed by Sarah Shourd. Michael John Garcés is the director who developed the piece extensively and worked directly with actors.


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