Another ‘Monfils Six’ Release
Michael Hirn Takes His First Steps Into Freedom
BY JOAN TREPPA
“This is a collect call from Michael. To accept charges, press one.”
Beep. Connection established.
“Hello, Joan and Mike,” said the familiar voice on the other end of the phone line.
What he said next was mind-blowing.
Michael Hirn, incarcerated for more than 23 years, was calling my husband Mike and me from the McNaughton Correctional Center, a minimum-security prison in Tomahawk, Wisconsin. The previous evening Hirn had called our house three times but, regrettably, we’d missed all three; we were thrilled to connect with him now.
Between bouts of sleeplessness the night before, I had apprehensively pondered the most likely reason for his calls. Maybe he was actually going to be paroled after all? But “after all” somehow seemed too unlikely to be true, given the events of the last two-plus decades.
Hirn is the youngest of six blue-collar union workers. He was employed at a Green Bay, WI paper mill in the early 1990s when he and five co-workers were blamed for the death of another mill employee, Tom Monfils. The police theory in 1992 was that Hirn and the others (Dale Basten, Michael Johnson, Keith Kutska, Reynold Moore and Michael Piaskowski) viciously attacked and dumped Monfils’ body in a paper pulp vat. The reason for this supposed conspiracy and murder? Police said the men were retaliating against Monfils for having made a 911 call to accuse Kutska of stealing a scrap piece of wire from the mill.
When Monfils’ body was discovered at the bottom of the vat, with a rope and weight tied around his neck, authorities immediately treated his death as a homicide investigation. In 1995, following a two-and-a-half-year investigation and a joint trial that lasted 28 days, jurors convicted all six men of first-degree intentional homicide. All of them were given life sentences. And all have (more…)
Off The Beaten Arts Path
What Does It Take To Be A Radical Community Artist?
BY RACHEL LIEBERMAN
Xochi de la Luna stands in a glimmering cape, sunflower crown, and gothic platform boots at the center of a small, intimate crowd. Audience members–some in folding chairs, others seated on the floor–dim their conversations in anticipation; the fantastical, bimonthly cabaret known as “Mother Goose’s Bedtime Stories” is about to commence. Before introducing the evening’s eclectic lineup of local bands, rappers, authors, actors, and dancers, this striking emcee leads the crowd in a moment of intentional silence, then cracks a joke that sparks giggles across the room filled with both new and familiar faces. “Welcome,” Xochi says, “this show came to me in a vision of a faraway planet, much more serene and alive than ours…”
According to Xochi (pronounced ‘zo-chee’), a 28-year-old Minneapolis-based performance artist, producer, community arts organizer and Mexican/Salvadorian immigrant, the atmosphere of this show is vastly different than ones they encountered when they first entered the theater and comedy scene a couple years ago. (Identifying as queer, transgender, and non-binary, Xochi uses they/them gender pronouns.) Back then, Xochi often found themselves performing and auditioning for crowds that were fairly homogenous. Especially with comedy, Xochi shares, “I had to try harder to relate to an audience that here in Minnesota is usually White and male–they don’t understand my jokes as much.”
Xochi next introduces the house band, Freaque, here at the Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis. Lead singer Gabriel Rodreick, seated in the wheelchair he uses after sustaining a spinal cord injury 11 years ago, explains, “These latest songs are about sex”—a topic often left out of discussions about people with disabilities. Before launching into his set with the band, Rodreick also notes how refreshing it is to perform in such an intentional, communal space, as compared to the bar shows his band has been playing recently.
This intentionality is, in large part, due to Xochi’s impassioned devotion to creating new community arts spaces. Xochi’s mission is to give appropriate value to the arts, and to especially support the careers of Black, Brown, Indigenous, Trans, Queer, and female artists. Whether its stand-up comedy, song, poetry, dance, a band or a cabaret act, Xochi is currently curating or emceeing as many as six different shows a month, and over the course of the past couple years, more and more people have started to take notice.
According to acclaimed local dancer and choreographer Leila Awadallah, “Xochi organizes a living breathing organism of work that ranges from literally just giving artists space to try something completely new, to serving as a platform for building broader, deeper connections across our intertwined communities.”
ARTS RESOURCES ARE SCARCE, AND MANY SENSE THEY ARE GROWING SCARCER
For Xochi and others who endeavor in the arts, and for the fans who appreciate their efforts, the value they provide in terms of community and culture is undeniable. But, as has always been the case, work in this field often entails long hours and little-to-no pay. Funding is scarce, and burnout is common. The financial and cultural obstacles for Xochi are especially overwhelming.
For one, Xochi faces a number of financial obstacles working in larger institutions. Primarily, they say, the casting timeline and rehearsal schedule is not conducive with working another full or part-time job, making it especially difficult for those in economically marginalized groups. “When I tried to do theater, (more…)