How About The Big Apple As Our National Slammer? (Detroit Free Press/May 29/1981/US) By Jim Fitzgerald



Speaking of prison riots, in Los Angeles recently I saw a sneak preview of a movie that won't be released nationally until the Christmas season. The action takes place several years in the future, and the premise is that all convicted criminals in the United States are forced to live permanently on one island where they can prey on no one except themselves.

The island is New York City. The theory is that because of the huge population of crooks already living in the city, the cheapest way to create an island of crooks is to move the few innocent resident's out, and movie the rest of the nation's criminals in.

The idea works well. All exits from the island are walled and guarded from the outside. No guards or other non-criminals are allowed on the island, so the crooks can't stab innocents, or take hostages. There is no nonsense about rehabilitation. The outside world takes absolutely no responsibility for the prisoners other than to dump them on the island and prevent them from leaving.

The convicts have free run of the entire city. If they want to eat, they must grow food. If they want to read a book, they must write their own. If they want rules, they must elect their own government. If they want to kill and rape, they must do it to each other. There are prisoners of all sexual preferences.

The scummiest of the New York convicts live in sewers. They come out at night to steal from the higher-class crooks who have cornered the market on clean sheets. Convicts who starve or otherwise die are left unburied because morticians are seldom imprisoned for stealing.

No one on the outside cares what happens to the prisoners as long as they don't escape. The price of keeping the island secure is minimal. It doesn't cost much to plug the Holland Tunnel. There are no paroles and no sentences less than forever. Life off the island, with no robbers or murderers or sex fiends, is carefree. All an ordinary citizen has to worry about is embezzlers, tax loopholes, politicians, the Pentagon and TV game shows.

The name of this movie is Escape From New York, and it wasn't directed by L. Brooks Patterson. The director is John Carpenter, whose previous efforts were such schlocky money-makers as Halloween and The Fog. He was at the sneak preview along with his wife and Maude's daughter, Adrienne Barbeau, who is in Escape From New York, playing the role of a noble convict who never complains despite suffering from an extensive case of decolletage.

Carpenter's movie is satire, sometimes almost camp. At the preview, the audience was made up mostly of sophisticated Hollywood types who laughed at all the right times. They decided Carpenter was using exaggeration to ridicule our prison system and the fight against crime. They realized no civilized society would ever actually condone Carpenter's island prison. Would it?

I wonder how Escape From New York will be received in Michigan and other states that need scorecards to keep track of their prison riots? I suspect many audiences will applaud the idea of isolating and ignoring all convicted criminals. These will be the same moviegoers who sympathized with George C. Scott when, as Gen. George Patton, he worried that World War
II would end before he killed his share of Germans.

Today, most governments officials say the solution to the prison problem is to build more prisons. Most taxpayers say the solution to the crime problem is to lock up more crooks, but they refuse to pay for more prisons. Almost no one dares to say the only real solution to both problems is to prevent crime through education, with a goal of tearing down all prisons. This is an extremely unpopular opinion in the land of unbleeding hearts.

So come early to get a seat. The next prison riot starts in 45 minutes. You'll love the part where Adrienne Barbeau is run over by the Staten Island ferry.