Three years ago I interviewed Tom Magill, now co-founder and artistic director of the Educational Shakespeare Company (ESC) in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Tom grew up in Northern Ireland in the time of “the troubles.” His violent behavior as a young man put him in a British prison.

In prison Tom was assigned to deliver food trays to other prisoners’ cells. One cell housed an avowed enemy, a leading republican IRA member. As Tom steeled himself to enter the cell for the first time, he found himself ready to kill his enemy.

What he found inside that cell was a starving man in the middle of a self-imposed hunger strike. Tom came face to face with this man’s weakness and vulnerability.

In that cell his anger turned to compassion. “Meeting my enemy in prison changed my life.”

The starving man in the cell told Tom he was wasting his young life. That night Tom visited the prison library. He began reading Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Tom Joad, the main character, an ex-prisoner himself.

The company Tom went on to set up now uses the power of storytelling in drama and film to heal the trauma so deeply rooted within criminal justice and mental health settings. ESC works to enable those mired in brutal circumstances to understand and transform their lives through the creative process. The plays of Shakespeare, most prominently Macbeth, feature strongly in this healing process.

The power of story.

Read the interview here.