They call it the Hate Factory.
Actor George Kennedy takes us through the maximum-sercurity Stateville Prison at Joliet, Ill., in the hour long documentary "Hard Time" tonight at 10 on Channel 9, and we soon find out why.
There are 2,250 prisoners in the grim place, which boasts the largest single cell block in the world, and 82 percent are black, and most are under 25. The warden is black too, but that doesn't stop the hate.
"The onliest right you have is the right to think what you want to think, and that's it," says one prisoner in what must be the straighest, hardest look that television has ever taken at an American prison. None of your Attica docudramas here.
"Usually I'm a pretty kind person," remarks a white prisoner who like most others has adopted black ways of speaking, walking and thinking, as he says, for self-protection. "In here, I can't be that way, because they take kindness for weakness."
There is no violence in this picture, just tension. We see the disciplinary sessions, when prisoners are hauled up for such crimes as wearing a hat in the law library. We watch someone's portly, graying mother -- a visitor -- being frisked by a woman guard with insulting thoroughness, patted and rubbed from top to toe. We hear the prisoner himself tell of being stripped and searched after the visit, and we sense the rage. Many don't want their families to visit them because of the treatment.
Of course, prisoners who want drugs get them easily, through the underpaid guards.
"The struggle for control takes precedence over all else," someone observes.
"It infringes and imposes on your peace of mind."
A few years ago, one supervisor says, the prison was in the hands of the prisoner gangs so evident in every prisonl. They were even assigning the new men to their cells and had so intimidated the staff that guards wouldn't come to work. Now it is different, but the people running Stateville seem at best mediocre, at worst stupidly sadistic.
One of the sponsors, Bob Guccione of Penthouse magazine, comes on to tell us that "prisons lock the world out just as surely as they lock men in." He would do better to keep his face off the screen. It remains for Kennedy to make the point at the end.
A quarter-million convicts are released each year, he says. Many are walking time bombs, "and the people who run this and all the other Statevilles know this must change."
Probably not enough people will see this picture. One can only hope its calm understatement will make a difference. How many Atticas do we require?