A week ago, the Storycatchers staff received an email with Sarge’s name in the title. I assumed it was news that he’d be rejoining the Firewriters. Unfortunately, the email revealed that Sarge had passed away. The staff and I were deeply saddened. I never would have imagined that we were spending his last few months of life with him. I can recall one of the last things Sarge said to me:

“You won’t even remember all of us anyway,” he said. I laughed a little bit at that comment.

“Of course I will! Each of you trusted me enough to share your very personal stories with me. How could I ever forget any of you?”

This time four years ago, I completed my first Staged Reading with Storycatchers Theatre. The journey I took to recount a personal story that my soul was aching to tell, share it, and then perform was a significant moment in my life. I discovered that every voice is valuable, even my own. Storycatchers has a special place in my heart for that reason.

Not long after participating in the most recent Storycatchers benefit, I was invited to be an Apprentice Teaching Artist at IYC-Chicago for the Firewriters’ second writing session. I eagerly accepted. I always dreamed of becoming a Teaching Artist at Storycatchers. It’s more than an honor to inspire participants like I’d been inspired just a few years before.

This fall, the new Firewriters participants were in the same place that I was just four years before: new to the program, to writing, and to storytelling. I saw these young men all step up and take their storytelling into their own hands. From the beginning of the cycle, Sarge in particular stood out to me and my fellow Firewriters’ staff. Sarge was brilliant. He was an excellent writer, leader, and performer. Some days he’d be especially excited to come in and he’d do a somersault when he entered the room. It made our whole team smile.

Anyone could see that Sarge was bright and had a strong desire to write his story. He wrote and he wrote and let the story flow out of him. Our staff was moved by how he told the story of the horrific things he witnessed when he was only nine years old.

The last evening that we had Sarge in a program session, the rest of the ensemble was working to prepare for auditions. He and I discussed his plans for the future following his upcoming release. He expressed interest in our Changing Voices program. I highly suggested that he look into it. I reminded him that his voice, his words, and his story were extremely valuable. Sadly, Sarge didn’t apply to Changing Voices. Instead, he was another young person lost to gun violence in Chicago.

I know for certain our staff won’t forget his positive presence in our ensemble. We will be recalling his memory for years to come. Sarge wrote and shared his personal life story, similar to what I did four years before him. He took a positive step forward in the world. His story was so well written and told that the main character of our show, James, is inspired by Sarge. The show is named, “The Anger Monster Inside”, after the lyric of the song he wrote during the session he spent with us. I’m glad that our musical preserves Sarge’s stories and his memory.

– Kateri Halbleib, Apprentice Teaching Artist – Firewriters Ensemble

See Sarge’s words, his voice, our tribute, on stage at the upcoming Firewriters Staged Reading. See first-hand why giving incarcerated youth a voice is so important.