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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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Tyler: The prison population, yes, of course, disproportionately, African American.

Scheer: And yet, within that community, you have people who are not. You had, as I said before, different religions and different attitudes, but the interesting thing was that the ideas were ideas that everyone could grab onto and relate back to their own life. The amazing thing about watching that is you are watching and listening to a conversation that is as intelligent as you're ever going to listen to but from people who are basically not well-educated, I assume, or not all, and have had a hard life and are in a prison and have every reason to be cynical and say, "who needs this," and yet, you have one of the most thoughtful discussions of the meaning of life and of values and of the worth of individuals. Precisely as the image of Christ that we have was intended to convey.

Scheer: Right. And all these notions of forgiveness. I was amazed that the warden seemed to endorse that whole approach. Were you surprised in his little speech?

Tyler: Yes, I was, and I felt that it was needed. It was needed to the women and men that was in the production because you know, let's look at where we're at. We're talking about people who are serving life sentences, who are serving a long stretch in prison, whether it's life or not and, they could have been doing other things. They all agreed to do this production because they felt that this gave them an opportunity to be able to give back to society. It gave them a chance to be able to show people that they were not that person that they were when they first went to prison. That they have changed. And also to be able to prove to their families that despite where they are at, that they can make the best out of a bad situation.

Of course, I was able to recruit people from all walks of life in the prison. Also, that we're talking about some people that had disciplinary problems and I knew these guys. I knew that giving them a chance, an opportunity, I could help transform them. I like that I had opportunity to interview and audition, you understand, these guys, because I opened it up to the prison population and I was getting, if you consider the worst of the worst, and to hear these guys say, "Give me chance. Let me prove myself." It's like people asking society, "Give me a second chance." So, I heard their cries and I gave them that chance. I found them to be the most committed and dedicated actors that I had in the production.

Scheer: Even though as you say in the movie, many of them knew they were only leaving that prison in a casket?

Tyler: Yes, yes.

Scheer: Who was Jesus in your play?

Tyler: Jesus was performed by a guy named Bobby Wallace, who now is out.

Scheer: And the performance, is it an open area in part of the prison?

Tyler: Yes, but it was performed in the Rodeo Arena.

Scheer: Tell me about the audience because it was a lot of family ...

Tyler: It was open to the public and the public, family members, people from various universities and schools. It was -- We had a very resounding attendance from the public. Before the ladies and men stepped on that stage I was able to talk to them. I let them know that this was their moment, not mine. It was theirs. I did everything I could to help them. I gave them the best of me so now everything was in their court and it was, understand, it was their time to shine and fortunately, they rose to the occasion. They went out there and the performed like champs.

Scheer: When I watched the movie on the play, I had a sense -- I wouldn't say I believe any more in a heaven, a hell and an afterlife, I certainly did feel it was inspirational. I felt touched, touched. I wonder if you felt, having spent so much time with this material, whatever you think about religion, you're dealing with the basic issues of human existence. What is the meaning of life? What is right and wrong? What do I stand for? Who am I? Did you become, were you influenced by it?

Tyler: Yes, of course. You're influenced by everything that goes on in life and doing this production wasn't any difference to me. I always felt that even though I wasn't a religious man, that I was a spiritual man. I'm someone that I can accept anyone for who they are and what they believe in. Because I feel that to accept people for who they are, it gives you an opportunity to get to know them, to be able to appreciate them. And having to work with the men and the women of these two different prisons, what it did was that, it helped educate me. It helped gave me a profound appreciation of working with people, you understand, from various backgrounds. I can set here and tell you those very people, regardless of their belief, they have showed me that they have changed. That they are not the people they were when they first went to prison.

Scheer: The interesting thing about this film is it's also a documentary. You see scenes from the play but, you also see people having arguments. You see somebody who you go visit in his cell and he's falling off, right? He's gotten involved with some druggers ...

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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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