Search The World... In Briefs!

Friday, June 10, 2016



     Someone once said that the pen is mightier than the sword, and that might be why we were asked to refrain from bringing one along on a recent tour of Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining. There are two ways to get into Sing Sing- the easy way and the hard way. We did it the hard way, with a full security check. I immediately started complaining about the baggage fees from force of habit, forgetting that I was not at the airport. The metal detector here is so sensitive that the alarm goes off  even if you happen to mention Led Zeppelin's fourth album. There was no cavity search or anything, which I don't agree to even at the dentist's office.

     My wife and I were there as part of a group tour arranged by an originative program called Rehabilitation Through the Arts. This is an organization that encourages prison inmates to become involved in the arts as a way to sublimate the personality disorders that brought them to this place and change the course of their lives. People who do not believe that time and resources should be spent on criminals do not understand that a very small percentage of incarcerated individuals remain there for life. The rest will be back in their and our neighborhoods at some point, and society would benefit if they knew their lines and could hit their mark on cue.

     The theater workshops culminate in a full-fledged production, complete with a professional director, and Broadway-caliber book made available by the playwrights themselves. This is all done on a shoestring budget, if shoestrings were allowed in prison. The group survives on private donations, so please contact me to find out more about he transformative work being done by RTA.

     Our tour was led by John, Assistant D.S.P., who took us through the halls of "the Big House." We passed by the commissary, where prisoners shop for snacks and personal items using an internal system of currency. Inmates get paid about the market equivalent of having a paper route, but their overhead is low.

     We saw the actual dormitories in Cell Block B where the residents live, and they are as small as you would think, each with its own bed, commode and not a whole lot of privacy. As bad as conditions were it was better than my first apartment, which was above an unpleasant-smelling fish store in Pleasantville.

     In the "honor block" we met inmates who earned the right to special privileges such as cooking their own meal. There were almost 70 residing there, including Morris and Tiger, two felines possibly in for cat burglary or some other cat on cat crime. We have two cats that lie around grooming each other nicely, and then suddenly violence breaks out because one of them can't hold his licker.

     We ended up in the Chapel auditorium, where several of the cast members were practicing scenes from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night." If you can't believe prison inmates could or would perform Shakespeare, well neither could I. They rehearsed lines like, "If music be the food of love, play on!" Even though "food" and "love" are rarely heard in the same sentence this close to the prison cafeteria. Some of them stopped to talk with us and answer questions, then went back to work on the play, which they will perform to a captive audience of their fellow inmates, and then again to the public. I found out that it is not productive to yell, "Break a leg!" in a maximum-security prison.

     Once they had me safely off the streets, would I be allowed to leave Sing Sing? "They would  never let you to stay here, you'd be shipped off to Juvenile," my wife predicted. But they opened the gate, and the taste of freedom newly re-savored, we left the complex in our Ford (I kid you not) Escape.

No comments:

Post a Comment