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domingo, mayo 17, 2009

How To Increase Suffering

The Times Record Herald reports that the New York Prison Guards Union has managed to kill a performance of an inmate musical production. The prisoners, it seems, wrote a play, a musical to be exact, produced it, directed it, and act, sing and dance in it. They were going to show it to prisoners at another, nearby prison.

Why has the production been canceled? Because the guards' union is mad at the Governor because of closings of work release centers in which union member guards are employed, supposedly for budgetary reasons. Not content to fight the Governor directly, not content to picket the Governor, the Union has stepped in to stop the prisoners' showing their play to other prisoners by threatening to picket the performance:
State prison officials have lowered the curtain on an inmate theatrical performance.

A troupe of 18 convicted murderers, robbers and other felons at Woodbourne Correctional Facility had been scheduled to perform an original play Wednesday at Eastern Correctional Facility in Ellenville.

But the state Department of Correctional Services has canceled the show because union workers threatened to picket.

"The commissioner does not want to jeopardize the program or the people in it by putting them in the middle of a statewide labor issue," said DOCS spokesman Erik Kriss.

Great. The guards are angry, so, of course, the prisoners, who have nothing to do with the dispute whatsoever, have to suffer. Is this the guards' reflex, to increase the prisoners' suffering? And is it the state administration's reflex to cave to this kind of pressure? Why is this all so very unsurprising? And how, you might ask, do the Guards explain this, so that it doesn't appear that they're just being bullies and dashing prisoners' hopes for no obvious reason?

In January 2008, inmates began writing and rehearsing their own Broadway-style show about the difficulty of living behind bars and keeping a family. The play, "Starting Over," was funded and supervised by Rehabilitation Through the Arts, a nonprofit group that seeks to reduce recidivism through arts enrichment programs. The group declined comment on the cancellation, but it forged ahead with a production of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" last week at Sing Sing.

Kevin Walker, regional vice president for the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, said prison farms, annexes and print shops have been useful because they teach skills that can be applied toward a job on the outside. The union saw no value in theater work.

"How many of these medium-security convicts do you think will go to Broadway and get a job?" Walker said. "We believe it's a blatant waste of manpower and funding."

Kriss rebutted that, noting that inmates experienced a range of new emotions and kept busy by learning how to act.

What a joke. And what a disgraceful reason to cancel the prisoners' play. Walker may be an ace union guy (not), but he's a terrible economist, a bad psychologist, and an even worse humanitarian. Is it impossible for prisoners' to do anything just to have a small token of happiness in their day? Apparently not. Not if the guards' union has anything to say about it.

The prisoners, of course, are up a creek on this without a paddle. They don't have an alumni association to stand up for them. And they have virtually no community support-- look what they did before being incarcerated. So they are the ideal targets for the bullies in the Guards Union and the weaklings in the administration.

If there were any justice, the show would go on. Citizens like me and you would insist on it. I'm not holding my breath.

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