Weight just a minute

June 29, 1994|By Clarinda Harriss Raymond

IN A move to cut down on the number of drive-by stranglings and drug-related wrestling matches, Deborah Price, an Ohio legislator, recently introduced a bill to ban weight training in prisons.

"Why should we be putting bigger, stronger criminals back on the streets?" Ms. Price demanded.

Ms. Price apparently chooses to ignore the testimony of many prison administrators and guards to the positive effects of weight-lifting programs in lowering inmates' stress levels and raising self-esteem.

Her vision uncluttered by facts, Ms. Price is entitled to her simplistic views. Ignorance does not abrogate First Amendment rights. But one hopes that the Ohio lawmaker will listen to some people who know a little bit about prisons, or weight training, or both.

Which brings me to me.

As a person who has worked with prison inmates for more than a decade, and who, incidentally, has "worked out" for a respectable portion of those years (to the great improvement of my disposition, I might add), I claim a right to respond to Ms. Price.

I've had many a heavy box of books carried for me in the rock-hard arms of my Maryland House of Correction Writers' Club members, who train with weights as well as with words.

Some, upon release, have flexed those muscles to get and keep jobs ranging from truck driving to coaching sports in centers for troubled youths.

But I've seen a couple of others whose bulked-up bodies shriveled to half their "lifting" size after a few months on the streets. I've learned, sadly, that when the muscles of a prison-trained hard body go slack, that body is likely to be residing again soon at "The Cut."

An arm whose iron has leaked out usually has a needle stuck in it. That's when the cycle of larceny, felony and assault starts over. For such men, committing such crimes, biceps are not the weapon of choice.

So muddle-headed are Ms. Price's lines of reasoning that they're almost comic. What makes them seriously frightening is the way they demonstrate one more time how desperate some of us are to deny that the real dangers on our streets remain drugs and guns.

Clarinda Harriss Raymond teaches at Towson State University.

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