20/20 Prison Weight Lifting / Weightlifting Special Part 1


20/20 Prison Lifting Special - Part 1

6 May 1994




05/06/94 ABC 20/20

Headline :

`Bigger and Badder?' - Banning Weight-Lifting in Prison


Abstract : John Stossel reports on a growing movement to remove strength-training equipment from prisons.

Topic(s) :

Bodybuilding, Physical fitness, Prisoners, Prisons, Weight lifting

Format : News;


Transcript # : 940014494


HUGH DOWNS: American teenager Michael Fay took his lashes this week in Singapore, four of them, a stiff penalty for his crimes and a marked contrast to the way criminals in this country are usually treated. Here many inmates are given free access to the kind of luxuries they couldn't afford on the outside- music lessons, ceramics classes, a college degree.

Now, these are harmless pastimes, but there is another prison privilege that is making a lot of people nervous now. John Stossel went inside to show you why.

TORRENCE HILL [sp?]: My name's Torrence Hill [sp?]. I started lifting 180. Now I'm up to 200.

JOHN STOSSEL: [voice-over] Torrence Hill is building up his bulk in prison because he was caught burglarizing an office. While he serves his time, we are paying for what he's doing with his time.

SYLVESTER TOLLIVER [sp?]: My name's Sylvester Tolliver. I started off at 175. Now I'm up to 225.

JOHN STOSSEL: [voice-over] Sylvester Tolliver was jailed for stealing a car. He, Torrence and all these men live here in the house of corrections, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The county makes extra sure they stay inside the fence by surrounding the prison with razor wire and armed guards with attack dogs. Still, most of the 1,400 people inside will be released within two years. I don't know what they'll do when they get out, but many of them will have more muscle to do it with because this jail, like many in America, has a weight room. In fact, prison weight rooms are often bigger and better equipped than those in expensive health clubs. This big outdoor weight-lifting area is at Vaccaville [sp?] State Prison in California. Prisons all around the country consider weight lifting a kind of staple, a good way for men to pass time and burn off steam while they're locked up.

[on camera] Lately, however, some people have started to ask, `Why should we taxpayers pay to help these guys get bigger and stronger? It's just going to make them scarier criminals when they get out.'

Rep. DEBORAH PRYCE, (R), OH: We have unwittingly been mass producing a super breed of criminals.

JOHN STOSSEL: [voice-over] Recently, Ohio Congresswoman Deborah Pryce tacked on an amendment to the House crime bill that would ban weight lifting in all federal prisons and some local politicians are trying to get rid of the weights in their jails. Here in Milwaukee, for example, county supervisors voted to eliminate this weight room.

TONY ZELINSKY [sp?]: I don't think government should be in the business of taking criminals, making them bigger, stronger, more dangerous and then releasing them back onto society. It just doesn't make any sense to me.

JOHN STOSSEL: [voice-over] Tony Zelinsky and Roger Quindell were among the majority who voted for the ban.

ROGER QUINDELL: Weight lifting goes hand in hand with gangs and physical bulk to intimidate other people. That's the purpose of it.

JOHN STOSSEL: [voice-over] The convicts who weight lift say that's not what it's about. Shane Covel's [sp?] here for stealing car radios. SHANE COVEL: In here, you learn, you know, the discipline to work out. It's something that's rigorous. You know, you feel good about yourself when you're doing it.

JOHN STOSSEL: Taxpayers put you in here because you broke the law, not to make you feel good about yourself.

SHANE COVEL: True. It doesn't promote anything bad.

JOHN STOSSEL: Well, it makes you a bigger criminal, so we put you in here small and you bulk up and we release you and now you're a much bigger threat.

SHANE COVEL: Muscles don't rob banks. If you really wanted to, you could watch a T.V. program and see how to rob a bank.

JOHN STOSSEL: [voice-over] Philip Shaw [sp?] is here because he pulled a shotgun on his girlfriend.

[interviewing] This is just going to make you a bigger, scarier criminal when you get out of here.

PHILIP SHAW: Well, but-

JOHN STOSSEL: Why should I pay for that?

PHILIP SHAW: I came in here big. All I did was tone up.

JOHN STOSSEL: Well, I don't want you toned up. I want you weak.

PHILIP SHAW: Crimes are committed by- with guns, okay? They're saying in every major city in the U.S., they're buying back guns. They're not buying back weights.

JOHN STOSSEL: How much can you lift?

MICHAEL COATS [sp?]: What, max? Three, three-fifteen.

JOHN STOSSEL: Three hundred, fifteen?

MICHAEL COATS: Three, three-fifteen.

JOHN STOSSEL: So how big are your arms, 16 inches?


JOHN STOSSEL: [voice-over] Michael Coats is here on a drug charge. His T-shirt, you may notice, is stamped `XXL'- `extra extra large.' Now, he's scheduled to be released in a year. Do you want him to be this big?

[interviewing] You're coming in here and you're going to leave a bigger, scarier guy.

MICHAEL COATS: But I'm not a violent person.

JOHN STOSSEL: [voice-over] Maybe not, but Hollis Jones is here because he beat someone up. Jones says prisoners have to have something to do.

HOLLIS JONES: In order for him to feel better about himself, you have to give him something to do to feel better. It helps you to learn self-discipline.

JOHN STOSSEL: Exactly! And it's not my job to make you feel better. You-

HOLLIS JONES: Well, you should want me-

JOHN STOSSEL: You beat up a co-worker.

HOLLIS JONES: -to feel better.

JOHN STOSSEL: I don't want you to feel better! I want you to be punished! I want you to-

HOLLIS JONES: Well, if I'm punished, well, then, I'm coming out of here angrier. I'm coming out of here with an attitude.

JOHN STOSSEL: [voice-over] Weight lifting is one subject on which the convicts and the guards are in total agreement. Todd Ashworth helps run the prison.

TODD ASHWORTH: It's a control tool. I mean, if- if you look at this dormitory, you see 70 beds, which has 70 inmates, to one officer. If you take things away, privileges like weight lifting, you then still have to control the population.

JOHN STOSSEL: But their lifting weights makes them manageable?

TODD ASHWORTH: Yes, because it releases frustration. It releases tension. It makes them tired.

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