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Otterbein alumna teaches improv theatre as prison outreach

Otterbein alumna teaches improv theatre for prison outreach program

Susan Seiple Sabo’s ’74 life took a winding path to get where she is, but through her resilience and kindness, she now gives back to others whose paths are even more winding than her own — inmates at an Ohio prison.

Sabo was a high school senior from Upper Arlington, Ohio, when she “fell in love” with Otterbein’s friendly atmosphere. Life challenges intervened, but Sabo eventually completed her bachelor’s degree at Otterbein, noting that the acceptance she felt from old campus friends and new ones alike sustained her during her final year of study.

Her career took her to Columbus Public Library and, later, Gahanna-Jefferson City Schools, Ohio, where she retired as media specialist in 2011.

Three years ago she reluctantly accompanied her husband, Bill, a teacher and the leader of an improv group in Columbus, to a TED Talk inside the medium-security Marion Correctional Institute. She found herself relating surprisingly well to several inmates also in attendance.

The experience brought her employment with the Healing Broken Circles program. Healing Broken Circles has conducted prison outreach, and their Downtown program assists individuals who are re-entering society — whether it is from prison, homelessness, trauma or other isolating events — to overcome vulnerability and limited options by providing support and community.

Sabo and her husband, who volunteers with the program, organized improv classes at the prison, through which inmates experienced new perspectives and talked as “regular” people.

Improv classes expanded to include Otterbein credit-earning courses in poetry and women’s studies. Jessie Glover of Otterbein’s Department of Theatre and Dance organized the inmates in a production of Hamlet. The men even “rocked the audience” in a skyped appearance at the Chicago Improv Festival.

Now Sabo, affectionately known as Mama Bear, is daily inspired to offer the acceptance she found at Otterbein to individuals who have had few chances but are choosing to improve their lives by forging their own paths.

The Vernon L. Pack Distinguished Lecture Series at Otterbein University is proud to present Piper Kerman: The Real-Life Story of Orange is the "New Black” at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 20, in the Fritsche Theatre at Cowan Hall. Free tickets are available to members of the Otterbein community on Jan. 15 at the Box Office in Cowan Hall. There is a limit of two tickets per person, and tickets are first come, first served, so be sure to get your tickets early. Piper Kerman’s bestselling memoir, Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, chronicles what the author calls her “crucible experience”— the 13 months she spent in the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut. Now a resident of central Ohio, Kerman teaches in local prisons and advocates for prison reform.