John Leguizamo Live at Rikers

This short film will screen with other short films in Block 1 | Youth, Truth, and Resistance
Friday, December 9th at 12pm
Palm Springs Art Museum. Palm Springs, California.
Buy Tickets Here 

John Leguizamo visits Rikers Island Correctional Facility to perform his one-man Broadway show Ghetto Klown for an audience of over 400 inmates. Following his performance, Leguizamo holds group discussions with justice-involved young men awaiting trial or sentencing. By sharing his personal journey of adversity and self-awareness, he encourages them to reflect openly and honestly about their own lives. This short documentary interweaves excerpts from Leguizamo’s performance and those discussions, bringing attention to the serious challenges and human side of incarceration.

Director Biography – Elena Francesca Engel

Elena Engel is an award-winning writer, producer and director of film, video, radio and spoken word. She has been a creative resource to The Walt Disney Company, Warner Brothers, Amblin Entertainment, Simon and Schuster, Western Publishing Company, National Public Radio, The United Nations, Mercy Corp International and PBS television. Elena has produced and directed more than seventeen live action and documentary films for the cable television, home video and educational divisions of The Walt Disney Company, receiving four Cine Golden Eagles in addition to numerous awards from The Birmingham, Chicago Film Festivals and others. Her dramatic film about child abuse, Listen To Me, won the Lillian Gish Award at the Women in Film International Festival and her film, A Promise to Remember, premiered at the International Animation Festival in Annecy France. As an audio producer/writer for both National Public Radio and The Walt Disney Music Company, Elena received The Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s “Most Creative Use of the Medium” award, a NARAS Grammy Nomination, four Gold and Two Platinum albums. Her humanitarian and non-profit film projects have included global travel on behalf of UNICEF and Mercy Corps International for whom she created informational films distributed to audiences throughout the world. As president of her own production company Azimuth Films, Elena continues to be drawn to stories that instill empathy and a deeper understanding of the human condition.

Director Statement

John Leguizamo: Live at Rikers was, at its conception, a deeply personal story inspired by my own son who went to prison for a nonviolent offense. His harsh experience challenged the trajectory of his life and my own, forcing me to recognize the lack of human consideration in the justice system. Even though I was powerless to change his fate, I could at least offer up the possibility of a different, more empathetic and hopeful perspective on behalf of justice-involved young men.

I first met John Leguizamo through the Harlem based anti-recidivist program Getting Out and Staying Out (GOSO). As advocates for criminal justice reform, we shared a common desire to support GOSO participants who face a world in which they are demonized even after fulfilling their debt to society. John and I wanted to make a film that depicted justice-involved young men receiving dignity and highlighted the importance of providing them with opportunities for emotional support, education and employment.

After months of meetings with the New York Department of Corrections, we finally received permission to film at Rikers Island Correctional Facility. Over three days, John performed his one-man Broadway show Ghetto Klown for over 400 inmates and spoke with GOSO enrolled participants in group discussions. Throughout our time at Rikers, John expressed genuine empathy and care for these young men who were awaiting trial or sentencing. He made them laugh in a place where laughter is not often heard.

I hope that the personal truths voiced by the participants in our film will inspire others to look further into the emotional and social issues of incarceration. When these young men have an opportunity to communicate what matters most to them there is enormous richness to be found in their self-esteem and desire for a better future.

– Elena Francesca Engel


When I first started acting, I didn’t just want to be an entertainer, I wanted to be an artist. To me, that meant being a mouthpiece for the voiceless, and standing up for those that society overlooks. After my performance at Rikers, I realized that there are few individuals more invisible than those who have been through America’s criminal justice system. After performing and talking with these men, it’s clear how much work still needs to be done to help lift them up.

– John Leguizamo

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