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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 10/2/16

Robert Scheer Interviews Gary Tyler, Wrongly Imprisoned for Decades

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Scheer: But it still didn't get you out.

Tyler: No, it didn't. What it did was that it kept my plight alive with the public. It reminded people of the injustice that not only had been perpetrated against me, that I was still in this suspended, you understand, state of injustice. It gave me hope knowing that people were out there. People who correspond with me, the letters that I've gotten from people, the cards, who have constantly, on an annual basis, encouraged me to hold, to stand, to be strong. And, don't let this get the best of you that one day something good going to happen.

Scheer: So how did you get involved with the theater group in prison?

Tyler: Well, after getting out of CCR and later, the cell block, there was a guy named Herman Smith. He was over the drama club. He was looking forward to going home. He read a lot about me and he felt that he wanted to leave the organization in some capable hands. Now, I never ran no organization before in my life. The only thing I had for me is who I am and my reputation. But he felt that I would be a good addition to the drama club.

Scheer: So this is a guy who's getting out of prison and he cares that the drama club continue?

Tyler: Yes. Because drama club was one of the earliest organizations that was established in prison because back then, they did not have any recreational activities that was in the prison itself. When later, when the inmates was allowed to establish self-help programs, the drama club was one of the organizations that was earlier developed. And he had been the president of that organization ever since.

Scheer: He singled you out. Let me ask you though, the thing that happened with the drama club, which brings us to the question of this movie that people can watch that shows about your production. First, there was a woman that helped you and then the warden who got involved.

Tyler: Right.

Scheer: And it kind of got mixed up with telling the story of Jesus and that this was supported by the local Baptist, Christian community, right? Or, Catholic community in Louisiana? How did that happen? You'd done a lot of plays with this drama club.

Tyler: Yes, we did numerous productions inside of the prison, matter of fact, we were one of the first prison organizations that traveled around the state, performing at universities, college, schools, and civic centers. Bring our message out. And what we did was that, we had wrote plays centered around social issues like teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, Alcoholic Anonymous, and various other things. We performed around the country, excuse me, around the state with our production. So, it kind of, like gave the guys in the organization, you understand, it gave them that experience. They was able to sharpen their acting abilities. But, you know, after so many years of performing, you had people that able to build their confidence, people that able to feel as though that they could just about do anything.

Scheer: Well the startling thing about, I didn't see the play, which was performed at the prison. But the film about the play, everyone in, and we didn't get to this part, but insisted on having women actors come over from the women prison. Every single person who made the cut, I guess you had auditions, they were all, like, stellar actors. They were professionally incredible.

What is the title, by the way?

Tyler: Cast the First Stone.

Scheer: Yes. How did that play, that particular production come about?

Tyler: It came about through one of the assistant wardens that went to Scotland. She went to Scotland on a tour and she was invited to a Passion Play and she watched it and she liked what she saw. She felt, I guess she got an idea that, that this same production could be performed in Angola. But when she came back, she went to the religious community in the prison and asked them would they be willing to do the play. And, of course, many of them had their reservation. The felt that they weren't capable of doing it and, at the same time, my name kept coming up in the middle of the conversation.

She, at the time, she wanted the religious community because they felt that by Angola having one of the biggest faith-based program in the nation that it would have been good having graduates of the Bible college performing the play. Not realizing that those guys were not actors. Those guys were basically typical plain, just old prisoners. They did not have any acting experience and many of them kind of shoned away from it. But they kept telling her that, "You need to get Gary to do it, get Gary to do it. If anybody can make this happen, Gary can do it."

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Robert Scheer is editor in chief of the progressive Internet site Truthdig. He has built a reputation for strong social and political writing over his 30 years as a journalist. He conducted the famous Playboy magazine interview in which Jimmy (more...)

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