Prisoners riding bikes with guards and judges?!
Leave it to the French to take a scenario from the film world and bring it into real life, but with a totally amazing twist. Yes, in the 1970s there was a little known comedy called “The Longest Yard”(later remade starring Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Nelly, and some other notable dudes) about a rag-tag group of prisoners who end up forming a football team and take on the warden and guards right there in the prison yard! Hilarity ensues, of course, with Burt Reynolds playing the role of quarterback and general loose cannon.
Yes, a fictional account made real – an absurdist dream, and with a very French twist: instead of playing football, the inmates are allowed to ride bicycles! Indeed, they have their own team! As 2009 marks the first year of the Tour de France Penitentiare.
Philosophically speaking, the French have always been well ahead of the rest of the world. We have them to thank for surrealism and situationalism, not to mention Sartre's wonky eyeball, DeBord's odd cartography, and Magritte's old pipe. It is no stretch of the imagination to hear that in a French jail, there are inmates training to be cyclists. While prison may be the most un-free place in the world, these killers, thieves, and other criminals are given the chance to participate in the most free of all sports (as already established last week with our very own Bicycle Hobo-ism article). What was once a life of heavy stillness and imminent suicide, filled with nothing but cramped quarters, all-too-public bowel movements, and heaps bad food is now made a bit happier thanks to the bicycle.
To further prove the point that France leads the way when it comes to social change, and cultural evolution, I happily present the following fact: “Wardens, guards, judges and prisoners ride shoulder-to-shoulder, indistinguishable from one another in their match
ing white jerseys, helmets and cycling shorts.” This show of humanity is quite rare even among respectable people, but to extend such compassion and indifference to criminals is exceedingly amazing. Having all men wear white is mighty symbolic, no? Oui.
Some particulars about the race: “Officials chose the nearly 200 participating inmates from across France, prisoners with terms as short as two years and as long as 25. They are men and women, young and old, petty crooks and hardened criminals — including rapists and killers.” They will take the the road and accomplish a total of 15 stages, ranging in length from about 90 miles to as much as 135, with no rest days, and they must ride as a group. They will, of course, skip the fanfare and champagne though they will be finishing in Paris, in keeping with cycling lore and tradition.
The plain fact is that the French Ministry of Justice is allowing the use of a positive activity in order to help rehabilitate those in need, and that is worth all the applause in the world. As hard as it is to ignore a person's past, let alone the former transgressions of a career criminal, that is an aspect of humanity that we can all embrace and learn from. If I may tap into my own inner Frenchman momentarily and wax poetic: The past is nothing we can correct or even apologize for – but the future, the future is always something we can control. By giving these prisoners entrance into the world of cycling, they will become better humans and will return into society as helpful individuals.
Read more about the race here: USA Today article. Or, if you are up on your French, you can watch this youtube video:
And, I would just like to take this moment to pat myself on the back for not making a bad pun on ”breaking away”.