Being arrested and spending a short amount of time in jail opened Star Trek: First Contact‘s James Cromwell‘s eyes to what goes on in prison, and as a result, the actor is adding prison reform to his list of causes.
Cromwell chose to serve a short prison term rather than pay a $375.00 fine after being arrested during a 2015 New York power plant sit-in protest. “It wasn’t much of a choice actually because it seemed ludicrous to accept the judgment of that court,” said Cromwell; “which basically decided that it was more important to punish us for breaking a minor statute — causing inconvenience to practically no one versus the imminent threat that this plant represents not only to the people of that community but to the people in New York and to the whole country and the world.”
As one might expect, being imprisoned is an unpleasant experience. “The purpose of prison is to dehumanize and disempower people who, because of the lack of opportunity in their own neighborhoods is so bad, commit crimes out of their anger and frustration — or because they need to feed their family,” said Cromwell. “The system is established to create cheap labor — because they’re basically slaves under the 13th Amendment — and to extract from the community the ones who are most impelled to resist. Prison gets them out of society, which of course robs their energy and everything they have to offer from the community.”
Cromwell was released early for safety reasons. “So, if they had put me in the general population,” he said, “some guy concerned that he might be attacked might say, ‘Well, if I beat the shit out of this old actor, then I’ve made my chops and people will leave me alone,’ and the last thing the institution wants is a celebrity coming in there and exposing through his own misfortune the jungle that this place is. So they let me out after three days when I would have otherwise been moved into the general population.”
The experience has left Cromwell with the desire to change prison conditions. “I’m very interested in prison reform now,” he said. “This dehumanizing system affects everybody, the inmates and the administrators and the guards.”
Source: The Hollywood Reporter