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Julia Steele Allen in “Mariposa and the Saint.”
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Watch a Video From “Mariposa and the Saint,” a New Play About Solitary Confinement

The work is based on years of letters between Julia Steele Allen and Sara Fonseca.

Activist and performance artist Julia Steele Allen met Sara Fonseca in a California prison and corresponded with her for years while Fonseca— who goes by the nickname “Mariposa” — was living in solitary confinement. Their letters became “Mariposa and the Saint,” a play now on national tour.

The play has been performed dozens of times and is scheduled to be shown soon in Texas, Massachusetts and Wisconsin. Policy-makers have also taken notice: In November, Allen performed the piece at the 2015 Ninth Circuit Corrections Summit, a conference of federal judges, wardens and prison officials. The show has performances scheduled at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, considered the birthplace of solitary, and in front of elected officials and staffers in the New York State Legislature.

This is the first time video of the play has been made public.

Fonseca was sentenced to 15 months in solitary confinement after she was found in possession of tweezers, considered a weapon by prison officials. She then served additional time in solitary — more than two years all together. Fonseca is still incarcerated and is now in a psych unit.

Through Mariposa’s story, the play advocates for an end to solitary confinement. It has inspired hundreds of petition signatures, letters to elected officials, and calls to wardens. Audience members are also encouraged to write to Mariposa with pre-addressed postcards handed out at the end of the show, and Allen said she now receives one or two postcards a day.

“When we started working on it, it was really just about helping her keep her sanity,” Allen said. “I don’t think we ever imagined it would get to this place.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of the play's main subject. It is Sara Fonseca, not Fonesca.

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