Sam Miller’s Letters From Jail

by Molly Gilmore for OLY ARTS

This Thursday evening, comedian Sam Miller is getting serious. Miller, host of the weekly open-mic event Vomity (9 p.m. Wednesdays at Le Voyeur), shares the story of his time in jail in The Jail Letters Project, based on letters he exchanged with mom Mary Soehnlen. If you know Miller, whether personally or through his comedy, you already know he spent many years addicted to drugs and alcohol. Along with that went time living on the streets and numerous run-ins with the law on charges including underage drinking, possession of marijuana, trespassing, resisting arrest and shoplifting. But Jail Letters, which includes readings of letters exchanged while Miller spent 100 days in jail in 2003 and some frank discussion, paints a bleaker, more detailed picture.

“There’s going to be stuff that’s probably going to get one or both of us choked up,” Miller said in a recent interview, sitting next to Soehnlen. “When my mom reads those letters she wrote to me, it’s hard to hear. I know what we have now and what we had then.”

These days, Miller and family share a Tumwater duplex with Soehnlen, and mother and son are clearly close. Miller will graduate from The Evergreen State College in June, the same month he’ll mark nine years of sobriety. “If I make it till June,” he joked, nudging his mom. “I’ll probably make it just for you. I’m selfless. I’m basically just like Gandhi — if Gandhi did meth and fought cops.”

Last spring, he took a class on prison writing, taught by Elizabeth Williamson at The Evergreen State College, and chose to focus his final project on his own writing. He and Soehnlen read their letters &mash; his vows to stop using drugs, her cheerful messages in greeting cards — and talked about their perspectives on incarceration for that class and later for a theater class Soehnlen took at the Olympia Senior Center. They were surprised how interested people were in their experiences and decided to do a public performance. Proceeds from the show benefit The Women of Color in Leadership Movement, a nonprofit affiliated with Media Island International that provides safe spaces for women of color to talk about issues affecting them.

What: The Jail Letters Project

Where: Obsidian,
414 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia

When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 27

How much: $10

Get tickets: 360-890-4425 | tickets

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