Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jail stunt reminiscent of Madame Byrne

The sheriff for Lake County, Ill., had plans to be locked up in his very own county jail – supposedly to show that the place is not a deathtrap, despite the fact that two people have died there in recent weeks.
CURRAN: Not inmate material (we hope)

Although the Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday that Mark Curran changed his mind. A scheduling conflict, he claims. Although the Internet is filled with anonymous comments about how Curran decided at the last minute how he would prefer not to be sexually molested by the jail inmates.

PERSONALLY, I DOUBT that would have happened. Because I’m sure the personnel who work for Curran at the jail would have gone “by the book” and treated him the way inmates are supposed to be treated.

If anything, he would have received extra care to ensure that nothing bad happened to him – other than having to adapt to a new diet consisting of foods such as bologna and oatmeal..

Curran would have received what he described as “the realities of the exceptional treatment of the inmates at his jail.” I doubt other inmates receive similar treatment, except perhaps by accident.

But I’m really not as concerned about whether Curran’s stunt would have proven anything about the daily realities of jail life. I expect it would have proved about as much as did Jane Byrne in 1981when the then-Chicago mayor decided to show that Chicago public housing really wasn’t all that bad.

SHE DID SO by moving into the now-demolished Cabrini-Green public housing complex – the one located right next to the Gold Coast neighborhood where Byrne herself really lived.

Byrne gave the same explanation that Curran gave for her stunt – she wanted to see for herself what things were like for people who had no other options than to be in those places.
BYRNE: A Cabrini-Green resident?

No one believed it when Byrne said it just over three decades ago. I doubt anyone finds it more believable now coming from Curran’s mouth.

For the record, Byrne lived in an apartment (number 401 at 1160 Sedgwick St.) with her husband, Jay McMullen, for three weeks some 31 years ago. In her book “My Chicago,” she wrote, “Living in Cabrini was not uncomfortable, but all in all it was a sobering experience.”

SHE GOT TO see up-close an environment in which people were afraid to be seen outside near their own residences for fear they’d get caught in the street gang crossfire. She also got to experience the “eternal vigilance” against protecting one’s food supply from being infested with cockroaches.

Which, to my mindset, makes the video that exists on YouTube all the more hilarious. It was Easter Sunday that year, and Byrne arranged for a church service to be held outdoors at the complex grounds. We get to see Jane “find Jesus” along with all the other Cabrini-Green residents.

Of course, none of those residents had a Chicago Housing Authority crew do their best to clean up the apartments she used. Note, I wrote apartments – as in plural.

Because Byrne admits her mayoral security detail was living right across the hall from her. Which, in and of itself, makes her experience of sleeping nights in a Cabrini-Green apartment and going to work at City Hall during the day somewhat artificial.

ABOUT AS PHONY as any experience Curran would have had staying a couple of nights in his jail.

Which makes me think there is something inherent in the political process that makes public officials believe they can arrange for an artificial view of something and make it reality.

The Cabrini-Green of decades ago was a dismal place where too many disadvantaged people were crammed together and wound up feeding off each others’ misery. Too much like the conditions of a jail, except that the public housing residents didn’t have criminal records that put them there.

The superficial view didn’t offer up much in the way of change for public housing three decades ago. It wouldn’t give us anything better in the northern suburbs now.


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