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CNN “Hero” Susan Burton Tells Why Prison PlaySets for Kids are a Lousy Idea

January 11th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


FUN TIMES WITH TOY PRISONS FOR THE 4 AND UP CROWD

“Imagine my shock and alarm to see that toy prison play-sets are being sold and were SOLD OUT during the holidays!” wrote Susan Burton in an email she sent to friends and colleagues on Thursday.

Burton, who is the executive director of A New Way of Life Reentry Program, was talking about the Playmobil “Police Prison Extension” toy, literally a small “prison” that can attach to a Playmobil Police Station.

“The fact that there is a toy available that allows children to ‘play prison’ tears at my heart and saddens my soul,” Burton wrote of the item that, according to the manufacturer, is aimed at kids ages 4 and up.

As it happens, Burton knows quite a bit about prison. A New Way of Life, the non-profit she founded in 2000, runs five transitional residences in Los Angeles to aid women in restarting their lives after incarceration, helping them with lodging, food, legal aid and job training.

She also knows a great deal about prison on a purely personal level. For two decades, Burton cycled in and out of lock-ups after her 5-year-old son ran into the street and was struck and killed by a passing motorist. A grief-stricken Burton began dulling the pain with drugs, got badly addicted to crack cocaine and served six prison terms in a row for drug offenses.

Finally, in 1997, after she was released for the last time, Burton entered a rehab program and managed to get herself clean and sober. Three years later, with the aid of friends who recognized her drive, charisma and talent, she started A New Way of Life to help women like herself. Ten years after that, she was named one of CNN’s “Heros.” Other honors have followed.

So, no, Burton doesn’t think prison is a healthy play activity.

“Lessons learned from the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment that traumatized its student participants still do not resonate with a public that seeks to incarcerate rather than rehabilitate,” she wrote, referring to the famous 1971 psychological experiment at Stanford University in which some students played “prisoners” and others “guards.” The experiment, which was to have lasted for two weeks, had to be shut down prematurely after six days when the “guards” began behaving sadistically and the “prisoners” showed signs of depression and extreme stress.


SO HOW ABOUT THOSE NEW, COLLECTABLE SLAVE AND SLAVEOWNER DOLLS?

Fanya Baruti, who works for Burton in an offshoot of A New Way of Life, and who has also served time, was equally appalled by the toy. “Our youth do not need to be taught to play prison games.”

Baruti pointed out that the Playmobil prison wasn’t the only bad taste toy this past season— and brought up the controversy over the Django Unchained action figures. “Seriously, slaveowner dolls!” he said.

In case you’ve missed this charming bit of news, all the main characters from Quentin Tarantino’s film— prominently including the slave and slaveowner characters played by Kerry Washington and Leonardo DiCaprio—have been faithfully reproduced in high quality plastic, for ages 15 and up.

In response, a growing list of people, like LA activist Najee Ali, of Project Islamic Hope, called for the things to be removed from store shelves.

Since this story was researched and written after regular business hours, I was not able to reach anyone at Playmobil or NECA, the action figure people, to ask them what the thought of the objections to their products.

I assume that Playmobil, which is a division of the Brandstätter Group, headquartered in Zirndorf, Germany, would justify the prison for kindergartners as a logical companion piece for their police station, and might rightly point out that little kids playing at being police is a perfectly positive healthy activity. So why not the prison play too?

And perhaps if the U.S. didn’t incarcerate a larger percentage of our populace than any other nation on the planet, we might more easily buy that logic.

On the other hand, according to Wikipedia’s Playmobil entry, things could be worse. It seems that, in the past, some of the toymaker’s proposed sets have included “Chinese Railroad Workers and a Grave Digger for the Western theme, as well as a Medieval Torture Room.” The company went so far as to make prototypes of these cheery items before someone mentioned that they might be “considered insensitive and inappropriate for young children.” (Ya think?) Whatever the case, they were never released.



AND IN OTHER NEWS….

AT SCHOOL SHOOTING IN TAFT, CA, A TEACHER & AN ADMINISTRATOR DISARM THE SHOOTER AFTER ONE STUDENT IS CRITICALLY WOUNDED AND THE ARMED SECURITY GUARD IS ABSENT DUE TO SNOW. See story by Reuters for the details.


DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR FOR SHERIFF BACA’S YOUTH NON-PROFIT HAS TIES TO MARIJUANA DISPENSARY Robert Faturechi and Martha Groves have that story for the LA Times.


HOSTAGE SITUATION AT NORDSTROM RACK IN WESTCHESTER’S HOWARD HUGHES SHOPPING CENTER GOES ON INTO THE NIGHT, CAUSING ALL CITY LAPD TAC ALERT, WITH BYSTANDERS LOCKED DOWN IN NEARBY MOVIE THEATER FOR HOURS BECAUSE OF FLUID AND DANGEROUS CIRCUMSTANCES. One woman being held by two armed men. Mother of hostage at nearby movie theater, frantic. More hostages gotten out earlier, it seems, but details on when exactly, still sketchy.

BY 3:30 am, the SWAT action was over. All hostages okay, including woman with scared mom waiting, but evidently no arrests.

There’s more.. Dennis Romero of LA Weekly has a good stream of minute by minute updates.


Posted in LAPD, prison, racial justice, Sheriff Lee Baca | 1 Comment »

One Response

  1. Marie Callahan Says:

    The sterile prison toy does not look like real monolithic prisons and it does not include the isolation cells that torture prisoners. The execution chamber is missing. The toy misleads children about prisons and is completely inappropriate. It is sickening for a company to make money from a toy that exploits the misery of others.

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