Three years after leaving prison for the last time, Leonard Flippen found himself onstage, bowing for a standing ovation, after a performance of Blue Train. The play was Poetic Justice Project's first, performed in December of 2009. It wouldn't be the last play for PJP, or for Leonard. Onstage that day, Leonard discovered the power of the arts to change lives--his life, his fellow castmates' lives, and even the audiences' lives.
Leonard appeared in most of PJP's plays and directed one. He loved the storytelling of theatre, loved acting, and especially loved the talkbacks that followed each performance. PJP also offered Leonard the opportunity to mentor new actors who were reintegrating into their communities.
Leonard was passionate about education and transformation. He studied at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, earning an Associates of Science degree in Human Services, and certificates in Addictions Studies and Co-Occurring Disorders. He then attended Brandman University, earning a BA in Psychology with a minor in Social Work. At the time of his death from Valley Fever on Jan. 4, 2021, Leonard was in graduate school at the International Institute for Restoratives Practices.
In the final years of his life, Leonard worked as a Restorative Practices Coordinator, Facilitator, Trainer and Consultant with Restorative California. He loved working with youth in middle schools and corrections facilities.
Poetic Justice Project is establishing the Leonard D. Flippen IV Scholarship for returning citizens who wish to continue their engagement with the arts. The $1000 annual scholarship winners will be chosen by artists who have experienced incarceration.
Poetic Justice Project, a program of the William James Association, is the country's first theatre company established for formerly incarcerated people. More than 100 people have appeared in 20 productions since 2009.