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Robert Scheer Interviews Gary Tyler, Wrongly Imprisoned for Decades

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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."

Later she came to me and she asked me about it. Would I be willing to do this? Of course, I had my reservations. How it would look for me to do a Christian play in a prison that thrives off of Christianity. And that many of them know that I was not a man of any Christian or religious belief. And that they would vehemently be against me taking on that responsibility. But little did I know that they was the ones that kept recommending that I was the one to do the production.

Scheer: This is actually a good side of the impact of religion in that this warden, because he's on your film, he's in the film ...

Tyler: Right.

Scheer: He says, "Well, you know, the other thing of just oppressing these people and beating them down and everything is not working; we got to do something else here." And he said he was inspired that through Jesus' message of love and understanding and openness, something other could happen, right?

Tyler: Right.

Scheer: I know you're not, you don't call yourself a religious person, although many of your actors are. Not all Christian.

Tyler: Right

Scheer: You have Buddhist, Muslims.

Tyler: Muslims, Jewish.

Scheer: But the fact of the matter is, this is a case where that religious impulse that was brought into the prison basically from more conservative, Southern-types ended up being a good thing, you know?

Tyler: Yes, of course. One thing that I'm also asked that I have to the liberty to rewrite the script. I was given the latitude to do that. What I did, in turn, was ...

Scheer: You got to rewrite the Bible?

Tyler: Well, what I did was, I kind of like, you could say, compacted it a little more and took out the more practical things out of the script, you understand? We're talking about a play that it took over three to four hours to perform. The Passion Play. And I had to do this play within 2 hours. So I knew that I wasn't going to be able to do everything in the script, so give me the liberty to change things, and I'm then going to give, you understand, you what you want.

I took some things out and I also wrote characters in the script as well as one in particular, Judas, because I felt that Judas was a pivotal character back then. We're talking about someone who had betrayed Jesus. That's all many people remember Judas about. I realized that what Judas did, he was destined to do that. Even though he was destined to do that very act, that it was something that was ordained from the heavens. And that we look at Judas as the betrayer of Jesus, but Judas could be setting right there next to Jesus in heaven today. Because he was forgiven by Jesus. Despite the treacherous act that he committed, he was forgiven by Jesus.

And right there, I felt that it showed redemption; it showed forgiveness and that's why I wanted Judas, you understand, to be a pivotal role in the play itself.

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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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