Friday, August 31, 2012

Brubaker and Tough Love

Robert Redford's portrayal of a crusading prison warden in the 1980 film “Brubaker” is far from his best known role. That is scarcely surprising. Even with a bona fide box office star on board, an often gritty (if increasingly melodramatic) prison movie is a tough sell to the public.

Still, the film remains noteworthy. It was based on the experiences of a real warden, Tom Murton, in the Arkansas prison system in the late 1960’s. Murton’s efforts led to federal litigation that helped validate the constitutional rights of inmates concerning the conditions of incarceration.

As depicted in the film those conditions were horrific, with beatings and bribery only the tip of the festering iceberg.

Is it possible that love could melt that iceberg and offer a new paradigm for criminal justice? Two authors from the American friends' community, Laura Magnani and Harmon L. Wray, explore that question in their 2006 book “Beyond Prisons.”

It's a book worth reading, even for those more comfortable with the word "tough" than the word "love."


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