Bringing Laughter to Prisons
They say that laughter is the best medicine. Not only does it help to lift our spirits and overall well-being, but it is beginning to become apparent that laughter may actually be of real, therapeutic value in some cases. Letting loose on a nice belly laugh can help increase your immune system, relax your muscles, release endorphins relieve pain and stimulate your heart and lungs.
It can relieve stress and improve our overall mental health, even at times when we feel the least like laughing, listening to a good joke or a sharply pointed jab thrown at you or a buddy can make even the most staunchly opposed listeners crack a smile.
Laughter is, in that way, therapeutic. It helps us manage when times turn difficult–often those who are diagnosed with debilitating diseases or find themselves put in extremely stressful situations seek humor to help them cope with the stressors going on in their lives.
What more stressful a place is there than a prison? Behind bars, you may not expect to hear much laughter. Prisons are, as you may expect, a tense, stress-filled setting. They’re filled with murderers, fraudsters and drug dealers, violent criminals and nonviolent criminals. But they’re also filled with people.
Comedian Jeff Ross, most famously known for his work “roasting” celebrities on Comedy Central’s specials, decided he wanted to delve directly into this issue. About a year ago, Ross entered a prison–the only prison that would allow him to perform– in Texas to do standup comedy and make fun of prisoners directly to their faces.
Though he claims he was absolutely terrified, constantly in fear of being attacked by one of the inmates, the gig seemingly went well. Both the men and the women (he did shows for both groups at the prison) seemed to take his often disparaging and offensive jokes well.
“I learned inside every orange jumpsuit is a human being who needs to get their life back on track, who needs to get back to their family,” said Ross in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. And that prison reform is something that is really, really important and going into the election season, I hope that this becomes an emergency.”
To Ross, the trip wasn’t about simply booking another gig or getting cheap laughs out of a group by exploiting them, it was about showing that prisoners, like the rest of us, are people too. In a piece penned for the Huffington Post, Ross wrote “I admit I roasted these people for sheer entertainment purposes — but also to get myself a glimpse into the American prison system…Weeks later, Wayne Dicky, the jail administrator, told me morale was still very high among his inmates, especially the women.”
Even if it is for just a short period of time, humor and humanization can make a difference to prison inmates.