Variety shows entertain inmates

FUN TIME AT THE CITY JAIL

January 19, 1993|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

In a move to ease the frustrations and tensions that ar common with incarceration -- and to enhance security -- the Baltimore City Detention Center is allowing inmates to bring in variety shows.

The first of several shows in coming months was staged last week at the jail in the 400 block of E. Eager St.

The shows -- featuring a comedian, singers and dances -- are paid for by the Inmate Welfare Fund out of money spent by inmates at the jail's commissary.

"Comedy is very relaxing and, medically, it has been documented that it is very healthy for the heart," says LaMont W. Flanagan, commissioner of the state Division of Pre-Trial Detention and Services, which runs the jail.

Mr. Flanagan says the shows can also help with security. "It's better to entertain them than for them to entertain us," he says, referring to disturbances.

"It is economically more feasible to provide activities than to spend tax dollars repairing windows and for medical expenses," Mr. Flanagan says with reference to property damage and injuries that usually result from disturbances.

"These people are only pretrial detainees. The only reason they are here is because they could not make bail."

A tough crowd

About 250 of the facility's 2,900 inmates attended each of the two performances last week. To get to see the shows, an inmate could not have broken any of the detention center's rules.

For Andrew Browne, the featured comedian in the show, the inmates proved a tough audience.

"At the Comedy Club, people can just get up and walk out," Mr. Browne told the inmates who jammed the facility's gymnasium. "I don't think y'all are going be able to do that."

The joke elicited moans and groans from the audience but few laughs.

Following Mr. Browne was a talented young rapper who bopped about the stage singing rhymes and melodies nonstop.

At one point, he tried to get the inmates involved, asking them to clap and sing along with him. Mostly, he got blank stares.

"These brothers are tough," the rapper lamented. "Real tough."

The best response was given to a female singer -- and the prolonged applause was not solely for her singing abilities.

At the first sight of the young woman, the audience wildly applauded and cheered.

Some stood and danced in the bleachers.

"They're having a good time and it's not too often they see women like her in here," said one inmate.

"In fact, it's not often they see women at all. This is a treat for them. It's a treat for me."

'This helps a lot'

Despite their indifference at times, the inmates seemed to appreciate the show.

Sean Brockington, 26, of West Baltimore who is charged with first-degree murder and has been jailed for two months, said the shows help keep inmates in touch with the outside.

"A lot of guys don't have too much to look forward to, like girls or anything else," Mr. Brockington said.

"This helps a lot because it's something different to do.

James Taylor, 26, who is also charged with first-degree murder and has been imprisoned for 19 months, said the inmates enjoy the shows -- and the prison jokes -- even though they may not show it.

"We don't take [the jokes] personally," he said.

"We joke about it all of the time ourselves. Sometimes it's not funny, but we'd rather be here [at the performances] than not be here."

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