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THE BLOTTING OUT OF TIME
Rick Telander
April 28, 1975
It is there, always too much of it. At the very least a year and a day, or these convicts would not be in this maximum-security prison. For some it will mean serving a lifetime. And so emotions fester and the prisoners often grow belligerent in the monotony. "Sport is the best outlet for the hostilities and energies of most of these men," says the Supervisor of Recreation at the Illinois penitentiary at Stateville. "Our main motivation is not rehabilitation, but the safety of the institution." A profile of sport at work—and prisoners at play.
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April 28, 1975

The Blotting Out Of Time

It is there, always too much of it. At the very least a year and a day, or these convicts would not be in this maximum-security prison. For some it will mean serving a lifetime. And so emotions fester and the prisoners often grow belligerent in the monotony. "Sport is the best outlet for the hostilities and energies of most of these men," says the Supervisor of Recreation at the Illinois penitentiary at Stateville. "Our main motivation is not rehabilitation, but the safety of the institution." A profile of sport at work—and prisoners at play.

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He eyes the 660 pounds, the front end of a small car, that lies before him. He grips the bar and bends at the knees, glaring at nothing, and heaves. At first the bar only bends—the weights are rooted to the platform. Then, slowly, the plates rise from the wood.

Jumbo's eyes are clenched shut and his teeth are bared. One can see the ropes and great slabs of muscle beneath his skin, and for a moment it seems that Jumbo's entire body is transparent. As the man and the bowed iron bar slowly rise, noise fills the room. For a moment Jumbo appears to be frozen solid; there is no motion except the wild dancing of the spectators. Jumbo stands up. Straight. The judges signal thumbs up. Jumbo drops the weight with a resounding crash that punctuates his feat and, stone-faced, chest expanded, strides off the platform.

The meet has been a success. The prisoners have new goals to strive for; Jumbo's accomplishment lends a feeling of hope. But anxiety still lingers and problems remain.

The visitors line up and file out shaking hands and waving, and then disappear behind the thud of metal doors. The prisoners remain—each with his own thoughts, each with his own calendar minus one more day.

What will happen in the future at Stateville is impossible to guess. Some say things are advancing as well as can be expected. Indeed, a new warden—a power lifter himself—has taken over. A huge musclebound man sometimes called the "white Jumbo" by inmates, he is said to understand the value of athletics. He is responsible for the new gym that some say cost $100,000. Yet there are people who still predict trouble.

Whatever takes place the prisoners know that in all things, whether it is weight lifting or protest, they are individuals whose lives, like stained glass, touch each others' only at the edges. In a few minutes they will march to their cells to ponder their own private visions and to sleep, gaining there, perhaps, the peace that eludes them by day, proving once more Joseph Conrad's words: "We live, as we dream—alone...."

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