Curtain rises on production written, starring ex-convicts

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- An ex-convict is using an unusual outlet to inspire, motivate, and educate. The curtain is about to go up on Shelton Land's play, a performance written, directed and performed by people with criminal backgrounds.

Shelton Land, 41, spent seven years in prison, an unlikely place he found he had a passion for theater.

"I used to put on plays and tell stories like a one man show in jail," said Land. "I was motivating the guys inside of prison."

Land says that was the turning point of his life.

"One of the guys came up to me and said, 'Look at yourself in the mirror, you're better than this,'" said Land. "I had sat down one day and wrote down everything that I wanted to do when I get out. Now here I am years later and I'm still on track: I went to school, I have a doctorate degree, and I founded a nonprofit called Land Mindz."

From the penitentiary to the center stage, Land takes his story on the road in a play called "You Get Back What You Put Back," featuring a cast primarily made up of ex-convicts.

"Involving ex-felons and former homeless individuals as actual cast members turned out to be very therapeutic," said Land.

Donnell Vaughan has a criminal record as well, but the aspiring singer and actor says being in the play has helped him to not let his past define him.

"I can really relate to my character because I've been at the bottom, I've been in the streets and I've been there for a while," said Vaughan. "But if I can show people that they don't have to go back to that life, that if I can do it they can do it, it's all worth it.

The play tours across the Southeast and involves local organizations that help ex-felons at every stop. In North Charleston, Land has teamed up with Turning Leaf Project, a local nonprofit that helps felons transition back into normal society.

"Show the community that there are people out there that made mistakes that want to do the right thing got the capability to do the right thing but a lot of us just need a constructive foundation to go to," said Xavier McClain, who is a part of Turning Leaf Project and working during the intermission for the play.

As for Land, he hopes to inspire ex-cons to not let the curtain close on their lives without a fight.

"Once we learn that life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass but it's about learning to dance even when it's pouring, people will get a lot further in life," said Land.

The play hits the stage at North Charleston Dream Center this weekend.