By Ron Singer
Dr. Jerome J. Ayler
Director, Facilities & Programs
N.Y. State Department of Corrections
Building # 13 ½
27220 Washington Street
Albany NY 12224
(cc. Dr. Thomas Paine, Director of Federal Prisons)
Dear Dr. Ayler,
I am writing to propose an innovative and mutually beneficial use of prison yard space. The benefits to the DOC would be revenue enhancement and prisoner rehabilitation. The benefits to my two-dozen associates and myself would be a new venue for our favorite game – squash.
You are perhaps unaware that, even as the number of squash players in New York City and other metropolitan areas continues to trend upward, facilities are fast disappearing. In an era of rising rents, by converting squash courts to exercise-machine rooms, health clubs are able to exponentially enhance their cash flow.
This is why we have decided to approach the DOC. If you could see your way toward doing a minimal conversion of a prison yard in a facility near N.Y. City (e.g. Bedford Hills, Taconic, or Sing Sing), and then leasing said yard to us, we would be willing to “join” the prison, as if it were a health club. The financial details could be worked out, but generally speaking, the going rate per individual member runs to about $2,400 p.a., or a total of about $60,000. We would offer to share conversion costs.
What about inmate recreation time? There are two possible solutions. We could restrict our play to hours when prisoners are not using the yard, or work out an arrangement by which we would teach them the game. In that case, our membership fees could, perhaps, be adjusted.
As to our suitability for coaching, several of us have extensive experience. Furthermore, two in our group already know their way around the prison system, having done “time” (albeit in a federal facility). As they can attest, there are currently no squash courts in U.S. prisons, so that, during their incarceration, they were reduced to playing tennis. (To address this need, I am cc.-ing my proposal to Dr. Paine.)
“What goes around comes around.” Let me remind you that squash was invented three centuries ago in the Fleet, an English debtors’ prison. Then, as now, the high walls provided a ready-made court. (Not to mention the continuing connection between debt and incarceration.) Conversely, the game has long been associated with wealth and prestige, an association that may recommend it to your wards.
There are numerous other sources of appeal. Many squash professionals have nicknames similar to those of prisoners. For instance, two recent women champions were dubbed “Pink Panther” and “Duracell Bunny.” Among male champions have been “The Wolf,” “Hammer of Thor,” “German Tree Chopper,” “Marksman,” “Dark Prince,” and “Predator.”
Of signal relevance to my proposal is the game’s aggressiveness, sometimes compared to the behavior of real-estate operatives. (Three of our players, myself included, are brokers, including one – not me – with prison experience.) In both squash and real estate, location is everything. Squash proficiency requires domination of the center of the court, known as the “T.” (To assert such control might also be compared to being a “Wolf” in the yard.) Squash teaches maximum strategic aggressiveness within a set of strict, but bendable, rules, an essential virtue in capitalist society.
An important measure of squash fitness is the ability to “run the diagonal,” i.e. to traverse the court at the longest distance. I would respectfully suggest that a large proportion of your wards spend most of their lives running “diagonals.” Furthermore, since many prisoners are inveterate boasters, they might easily master the “boast,” a tricky shot off two walls. Other concepts and terms that would resonate are “killer drop shot” and “slam” (as in “slammer”).
Squash offers several basic emotional and physical benefits to the prison population. Known to elevate endorphins, the game is a major morale booster. At 600 calories per hour, it is also an outstanding fat burner. Or consider the problem of inmate violence. Even if this outlet for aggressive energy did not turn out to reduce the incidence of violence, injuries might reduce the capacity. For instance, tennis and golf elbow, which result from incorrect swings, are bound to weaken shiv thrusts. Regarding substance abuse, it could not but be salutary were convicts/players to switch from the cornucopia of currently popular, dangerous drugs to less harmful ones like power shakes.
Let me anticipate two or three possible objections to this proposal. Rather than reduce violence, might not squash, in fact, exacerbate it, especially between prisoners of different races and ethnic groups? To avoid this outcome, I would suggest a system of segregation. “Nativist” prisoners (often overweight), such as members of the AB (Aryan Brotherhood), could be directed to the American game, with its small court and bouncy ball; and inmates of color, to the international version (large court, dead ball).
What about the danger of “civilians’” sharing an enclosed space with violent offenders? Squash-ers already do that – with each other! Finally, you may argue, to discourage recidivism, prisons are meant to be punitive. Ha! Ask any squash player about the agonies we undergo during a single game! As we say, “No pain, no gain.” So …
UP WITH SLAMMER SQUASH!
Hoping to hear from you soon, I remain,
– Satire by Ron Singer (www.ronsinger.net) has previously appeared in numerous publications, including The Brooklyn Rail, defenestration, diagram, Evergreen Review, Fiction Week Literary Review, The Higgs-Weldon, The Journal of Microliterature, Mad Hatter’s Review, The Story Shack, and Word Riot. His eighth book, Uhuru Revisited: Interviews with Pro-Democracy Leaders (Africa World Press/Red Sea Press, 2015), is available in about a hundred libraries across the U.S., and beyond.