Actors’ Gang brings stories of formerly incarcerated people to stage

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“To share our stories and to be heard … has been amazing,” says Rich Loya, co-director of The Actors’ Gang’s new production “(Im)migrant of the State.” Left to right front: Yahaira Quiroz, Henry Palacio. Back: Montrell Harrell, Edgar Rodriguez. Photo by Bob Turton.

The Actors’ Gang has been working in California’s state prisons and juvenile detention facilities for over a decade as part of their Prison Project. Their aim is to increase empathy and help people to prepare for life beyond bars. Now some of the Prison Project’s graduates have written an original play called “(Im)migrant of the State” that they will perform on the Actors’ Gang’s Culver City stage. 

“What happens is it starts to break down racial barriers, it starts to break down gang barriers or affiliations inside the prison. And it allows folks to start to connect with each other and essentially form empathy,” says Jeremie Loncka, director of the Prison Project. “We've been doing this for over a decade now. And we're at the point where so many of the folks that we met early on who were looking at life sentences, who were life without parole -- due to what's going on in our state with resentencing, those folks are starting to get out. So now we have an alumni program over at The Actors’ Gang, which is all folks who are formerly incarcerated. And in terms of the programs we want to run inside prison, it's now those folks who are formerly incarcerated who are going in and doing the teaching.” 

Rich Loya is co-director of the production, an alumnus of the program, and a current program manager. “I was formerly incarcerated. I went in fairly young, I was 16 years old, was tried as an adult in 1988. I ended up doing 30 years in prison. And as you can imagine, I became so disconnected from humanity and emotions,” he shares. 

The program was helpful for him while he was incarcerated and continues to help. “It's still healing for us because we're dealing with the emotions of it now that we should have been feeling then.”  

Loncka and Loya have been working with alumni on this play for a year and a half. “What is so awesome about what they've created is just the sense of ensemble amongst the group,” Loncka notes. “The play hits on this theme of second chances. It’s something we hear inside prison when we’re running programming. And it's something that several cast members have said they want people to walk away with.” 

The cast worked mostly over Zoom to develop the play and have recently been running rehearsals in-person on stage, which has been especially meaningful for Loya.

“Life moves fast — jobs, family, some [cast members] have kids. And so to get everybody together has been a difficult thing. But when we are there, everybody knows and understands what this opportunity means for us. To share our stories and to be heard, to have our voices heard, has been amazing. Amazing.”



  • Rich Loya - co-director “(Im)migrant of the State”
  • Jeremie Loncka - co-director, “(Im)migrant of the State,” director of The Actor’s Gang Prison Project