JDI IN THE NEWS - 2006

Frank Green: New prison comedy no laughing matter, The Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, VA), November 25, 2006.

Prisoner advocates are protesting a new film that makes light of what an expert has called one of the major untreated human-rights abuses in America today.

"Let's Go to Prison," a comedy released by Universal Pictures this month, is being marketed with the phrase: "Don't drop the soap."

That has angered Keith DeBlasio, founder of AdvoCare Inc., a nonprofit organization promoting criminal-justice reform, prompting him to write a Nov. 19 letter to Vivendi Universal Entertainment's president and CEO, Ron Meyer.

DeBlasio asked: "Would you promote a comedy that makes fun of women being raped? I hope the answer is, 'No.' Would you use the sexual molestation of a child as a way to gain a few laughs? I don't think so. So why is it so easy for you to chuckle at something that is so devastating to the actual victims?"

"I am one of those victims," wrote DeBlasio, who has also called the company's public relations offices. Other groups, including Virginia Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants and Stop Prisoner Rape, are upset by the movie.

Universal representatives did not return calls yesterday.

The movie's Web site, letsgotoprison.com, notes that there are about 2.2 million inmates in U.S. jails and prisons and then states that, "While a sad statement on poverty, crime and our legal system . . . it also provides a few writers with very twisted senses of humor one undeniable thing: fodder for dark comedy."

Statements like that bother Jean Auldridge, Virginia CURE director.

"This movie is making light of a very serious and tragic thing. ... It's not a joke," she said.

In a statement released Monday, Lovisa Stannow, co-executive director of Stop Prisoner Rape, complained, "Sexual violence in detention shatters human dignity and derails justice, but as long as late-night television shows, sitcoms, and movies deem this type of abuse amusing, there will be no public outcry to end it."

Stop Prisoner Rape, a Los Angeles-base group, says a recent study of prisons in four Midwestern states found that about one in 10 male inmates reported that they had been raped.

In 1996, two years after DeBlasio entered the Federal Correctional Institution in Milan, Mich., the leader of a gang started making passes at him. DeBlasio was convicted of interstate trafficking of forged securities and embezzlement.

The 6-foot, 2-inch, 210-pound DeBlasio, who would later serve time in a Virginia prison, was forcibly raped more than 30 times over two months by the inmate, who was armed with a knife and had AIDS.

In 1998, DeBlasio was released from federal prison and was transferred to the Virginia Department of Corrections, where he served until 2001 for credit card fraud. He said he was not attacked in Virginia prisons.

DeBlasio, 39, lives just over the state line in West Virginia. He is now HIV-positive and on disability. In addition to AdvoCare, he does volunteer advocacy work with groups such as CURE and Stop Prisoner Rape.

Frank Green is a staff writer at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.