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Questions On Public-Private Prisons For Immigrants
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, journalist Tom Barry, has been writing about what he describes as the
new face of imprisonment in America: immigration prisons along the border in
Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
In the late '90s, and then again after 9/11, new laws were enacted to crack
down on illegal immigration. According to Barry, the number of immigrants in
the criminal justice system has grown 400 percent in the past four years. This
crackdown has led to the growth of immigrant prisons that are owned by local
governments but operated by private corporations, financed publicly by tax-
exempt bonds and located in remote, depressed communities. Their remote
locations makes these prisons and the prisoners invisible to most Americans.
Barry visited 11 prison towns along the border over the course of nine months.
His report on how profits, poverty and immigration converge in these prisons is
published in the current edition of the Boston Review. Barry has researched
immigration for the past 30 years. He's a senior analyst at the Center for
International Policy, where he directs the TransBorder Project. He write the
blog Border Lines.
Tom Barry, welcome to FRESH AIR. Many of the people who are in the prisons that
you've been investigating are called criminal aliens. What does that mean?
Mr. TOM BARRY (Center for International Policy): Well, there isnât a real
precise definition of criminal aliens. The general definition is that these are
non-citizens who have committed crimes, either immigrants who are illegal or
legal immigrants that have committed crimes. However, the definition - the
working definition - has expanded dramatically since 1996, when they added a
whole new level of criminal violations that mean that a criminal violation is
not only faced criminal consequences for that but then is deported, but more
particularly, since 2005, that simple border-crossers, illegal border-crossers,
are now criminal aliens and are not just deported - put over the border - but
spend time in prison first, before they're deported.
GROSS: What's the logic behind the decision, stemming from 2005, to imprison
people who have crossed the border illegally and then deport them, as opposed
to just deporting them?
Mr. BARRY: Well, the standard line from the Department of Justice and the
Department of Homeland Security is that we're upholding the rule of law, that
these people are breaking the law, they need to suffer the consequences. But if
you look beyond that, the strategy behind it, they'll say, just as clearly,
that this is a strategy of deterrence.
We want to punish these people to send a message, both to them, to their
families, to people in Mexico and farther south, that they shouldn't come to
the United States because they're going to be imprisoned and imprisoned as long
as 20 years. It's generally much less, but if you cross illegally a number of
times, you could be in prison for 20 years, simply because you're crossing the
GROSS: So is that filling a lot of our prisons now?
Mr. BARRY: Yes. Both Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Marshals Service are
complaining that there's a crisis, that they can't find places for all these
criminal aliens, that it's growing, that the number of immigrants in the U.S.
Marshals Service Prisons and Bureau of Prisons is growing dramatically, 400
percent in the last four years. And to deal with that, what they do is create
special prisons for criminal aliens.
They separate them from the general population, and part of the logic of that
is that they're separated, and they don't cause any trouble because they're not
integrated with the general population. Immigrants have very few connections
with lawyers. Generally, they're far away from their families in the United
They're taken from states and brought to the far reaches of West Texas. And so
they're alone, it doesn't cause problems for the private companies that operate
them or for the Bureau of Prisons. It's a very convenient system.
GROSS: So there's basically, like, a new and growing, separate justice system
for criminal aliens?
Mr. BARRY: Yes, that's right. There's a separate penal system, certainly.
Previously, most immigrants who were picked up for crossing illegally were just
put across, back across the border. They were not charged criminally. Now, in
the last few years, since they're being charged criminally, they're transferred
from the Department of Homeland Security, which is administrative, it doesn't
address crime and punishment, to our Department of Justice, which deals with
crime and punishment so that increasing numbers of immigrants are - go from
ICE, the Department of Homeland Security, to our criminal justice and penal
GROSS: So do they have their own lawyers?
Mr. BARRY: They have lawyers. Unlike the immigration system, if you're part of
the criminal justice system, that you have a right to a lawyer, you have a
right to a court-appointed lawyer. However, they only get one lawyer, and this
one lawyer is responsible for as many as 80 immigrants. Actually never talks to
these immigrants, has a paralegal come in and write up a little thing, and then
he meets them the first time on the day of the conviction and the sentencing.
And they're convicted and sentenced en masse, that I have gone to a number of
courts where you have 50, 60, 70 immigrants all being trooped into a courtroom,
all in shackles, and all asked if they understand their rights and if they're
guilty. And they all reply, in unison, yes, and then they're escorted out of
the prison and back to the private prison that they came from. That - we
wouldn't treat citizens this way.
GROSS: The people in the prisons that you've been writing about are not just
illegal immigrants who have illegally crossed over the border into the United
States and are being imprisoned to be later deported; there's also a lot of
legal immigrants who are in these prisons. On what grounds are they there?
Mr. BARRY: They're there because since the mid-1990s, there's been written into
immigration statutes, something called aggravated felonies. If you are an
immigrant, a legal immigrant, and you have been convicted of an aggravated
felony, then you are subject to mandatory detention and removal from this
The term aggravated felony has nothing to do whether it's aggravated, or little
to do with whether it's aggravated or a felony, that these are generally minor
charges. And what I have found in the U.S. Marshals Service and Bureau of
Prisons - generally, these are small crimes, which - generally drug-possession
It's up to the discretion of Immigration Customs Enforcement to consider it, or
not, an aggravated felony. Most times, they consider any kind of crime that an
immigrant does an aggravated felony. Then they're subject to mandatory
detention and removal, and this is happening frequently. It's now routine.
GROSS: So are saying basically, like, if you're caught, say, holding a small
amount of marijuana, that could be an aggravated felony? If you're a legal
immigrant, you could be sent to one of these prisons and deported?
Mr. BARRY: That's right, but it's even worse than that. If, as a young person,
you were convicted of drug possession â only convicted. Generally, these people
were not sentenced, they didn't serve any time in prison. But if they were
convicted, it's on their record, so now as the data systems are now being
integrated between the immigration service and the FBI, these records are
picked up so that any kind of identification check - whether it be a traffic
stop or an airport security or even welfare - that it's discovered that you've
had a past conviction. You've been here most of your life - that you can be
picked up by immigration and detained and deported. This is happening
GROSS: So in other words, you'd be deported for a crime that you were already
convicted of in the past?
Mr. BARRY: That's right. It's â because of these new laws, starting generally
in the mid-1990s, yes, they're retroactive.
GROSS: Is that considered double jeopardy?
Mr. BARRY: It is double jeopardy, yes, but that term is used quite often, and
what has happened in the legal community is that they're seeing that this
merger of the immigration system and the criminal justice system, it has
created new responsibilities for lawyers because lawyers will often say, well,
you can plead this case and then, you know, get off, you're not going to serve
any time. But if you plead, and it's on your record as a 16-year-old, 17-, 18-
year-old boy or girl - that it's on your record - you never served time, and
then 10 years later, they'll pick you up and take you away from your family,
and you land up in a country you've never been to.
GROSS: My guest is Tom Barry. His article on immigration prisons in the
Southwest, along the Mexican border, is published in the current edition of
Boston Review. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Tom Barry, and we're talking
about the new prisons along the southwest border of the United States that he's
been investigating. And these are prisons that house mostly illegal aliens who
have been accused of crossing the border illegally. They also house other
immigrants who've been accused of crimes.
He's been writing about how profits, poverty and immigration converge in these
prisons. He wrote an article about that for Boston Review. He's a senior
analyst at the Center for International Policy, where he directs the
TransBorder Project. He also writes the blog Border Lines.
You call the prisons that you've been writing about part of a public-private
prison complex, and it's a really unusual and kind of confusing mix of public
and private, but one that I think is really important to understand. And you
describe this as the new face of imprisonment in America. So I'm going to ask
you to explain this public-private relationship in the prisons.
Mr. BARRY: The government, whether it be ICE, the Department of Homeland
Security, or U.S. Marshals Service or the Bureau of Prisons, they're not
building any new prisons or detention centers. So what they have to do is when
they have prisoners - and in this case, an explosion of prisoners that they're
getting because of the immigrant crackdown, where to put them - they contract
regularly with local governments, particularly in the Southwest, poor, local
governments that are interested in prisons as an economic development project.
These local governments have no capacity to run a prison, but they have
capacity to raise municipal bonds to construct a prison. And then, in that â
when they arrange the financing, and they do this with â in consultation with
the private prison industry, then they sub-contract their responsibility to a
private prison corporation to operate and manage the prison that they own.
I've talked to wardens, in two different occasions in these prisons, and they
didn't know who owned the prison. It's remarkable. And they assume that their
company owns the prison, but it's really owned by the county. And in this
bizarre labyrinth of contracts and subcontracts, what's lost is accountability,
transparency, responsibility. It's very difficult to know who is responsible,
and oversight gets lost.
GROSS: Now, the county gets into the prison business because it expects to make
a profit by doing that, and maybe to increase employment for its residents, but
have the counties been actually making profits? Has this been a profitable
Mr. BARRY: Well, I wouldn't call them profits. They're sold as economic
development projects. And they're sold by private prison consultants who go
around the country. They scour the country for small towns, looking for someone
in the town â in many cases in the Southwest, a Texas ranger, a prominent Texas
ranger or a sheriff or an economic development guy, and sell that project to
He sells it to the county as an economic development project that's going to
bring some revenues into the county, generally from one to two dollars per
inmate, and jobs that would be created in their town. And they also make all
sorts of other promises about indirect benefits, it's going to bring other
businesses and so on.
So these counties are desperate. They don't want to raise taxes. They don't
have much of a tax base and join this with very little knowledge, and with this
very little knowledge, they don't track it. They can't even find the contracts.
They don't know how long the financing goes on. They don't know what interest
rate it is. And I've gone into the basement of these county courthouses,
looking for the contracts with the U.S. Marshals Service or ICE or the Bureau
of Contracts. They can't even find the contract.
They kind of wipe their â they feel like it's all going to be taken care of by
the private prison companies that have arranged the financing and operate the
prisons and then are content to get their dollar to two dollars a day.
GROSS: So is it paying off for the small counties that are taking on these
Mr. BARRY: Yes and no. They are finding that the cost of these prisons are much
higher than they were told, that they have to maintain them, so when the roof
goes bad that they're responsible for replacing the roof. When the prisoners
are using more water than expected, they have to create new water projects. And
nobody is looking at long-term out.
These bonds that finance the prisons are 20 to 25 years at very high interest
rates because they're tax exempt and because of something that we hadn't
mentioned. These are speculative prisons, meaning there's no contract with the
federal government to provide a certain number of prisoners.
So it's a very high cost of financing, and if, as has been the case in a number
of counties, the federal government drops out for any number of reasons, then
the counties are stuck with a high debt and with lots of costs that they've
GROSS: One of the problems that you've written about facing the immigrants and
illegal aliens in these prisons is that many of them have been transferred
thousands of miles from where they were arrested, and that creates a lot of
problems both for the prisoner and for the family of the prisoner. Can you
describe what those transfers are like and why they're happening?
Mr. BARRY: Well, I asked a warden of one of the prisoners about that, saying
that just basic common courtesy to have these people have some contact with
their family, with religious workers, with people from the community. And what
he said is that, particularly about the issue of being far from home - this was
at a prison in New Mexico - these people have left their home. We're in the
business of sending them back. And I had pointed out that some of these
prisoners were from Maine, from Boston, from New York, and here they were in a
very isolated part of New Mexico with no human contact.
So the attitude is that these people have no human rights, in a sense, and have
no need for them, and we're happy â they should be happy because we're sending
them back to their home.
It is a problem in terms of these transfers because â and it's very common that
they transfer â they pick them up everywhere in the country. They have these
massive detention centers in prisons along the border, where they're isolated
in small communities. They don't have to pay the kind of per diems that they
would have to - in major cities, but they have no access to lawyers, no access
to family members. It's tragic.
GROSS: And some of these people are people who've been living in the United
States for many years. So, like, this has kind of become their home, even if
it's not their legal home.
Mr. BARRY: Oh yes, it's â you go to an immigration court, and you'll find â and
a common language is Spanish, but maybe a third of immigrants don't speak
Spanish - that are being spent back to Mexico or Honduras or El Salvador - have
been since they were children, teenagers, and are being sent back to a country
that they're familiar with, and so they â all their family members are here.
What I've found is that they're asking to be deported quickly. They're angry.
They're frustrated that it's taking so long to get deported. And the reason is
not to get back to their home in Mexico or El Salvador but so that they can be
deported, as soon as they're deported to come back to the United States, where
their wives are, their children, their husbands.
And so with all the security measures, all the penalties, all the imprisonment
- they feel that they have no choice because their lives are here. Their
families are here. Their livelihood is here in the United States.
GROSS: Are families told when one of their family members is being transferred
from a local prison to a prison hundreds or thousands of miles away?
Mr. BARRY: No. The inmates themselves are not told. They're rounded up in â
generally, oftentimes at night. They're put into buses. They don't know where
they're going. They don't know why they're going, and their lawyers are not
told. Their family members are not told.
Within the U.S. Marshals Service system, that's very difficult because there is
no way to find a prisoner. ICE is trying to do something to have a locator
system so that you can find out where your loved one is, but what the U.S.
Marshals Service, that's not the case.
So they can be sent from East Coast, West Coast, and land up in what is
commonly by the cities who â the cities and counties who own these prisons call
the middle of nowhere. And they don't even know who is holding them, which is
really fascinating because their experience - the people who are holding them
are private security companies who transport them.
They go to a private prison with the flag of the major prison corporation
flying above that. The guards wear uniforms with the insignia of these private
prison corporations, and it's possible that they can be transferred not only
within the same system - say the system of Department of Homeland Security will
transfer them, and they have a â the Department of Homeland Security even has a
term that I guess they thought humorous, Operation Reservation Guaranteed. So
that if they pick up someone, and they feel like they don't have a place for
them in a facility, detention center in Virginia, they will transfer them, at
our expense, to a detention center in West Texas or New Mexico or California -
and not considering any expense, just to make sure that that person has what
they call a bed - this Operation Reservation Guaranteed.
GROSS: Tom Barry will be back in the second half of the show. He's a senior
analyst at the Center for Immigration Policy, where he directs the TransBorder
Project. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross back with Tom Barry. We're talking
about what he describes as the new face of imprisonment in America:
Immigrations prisons along the border in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. These
prisons are owned by local governments but operated by private corporations.
Barry's article on how profits, poverty and immigration converge in these
prisons is in the current edition of Boston Review. He's a Senior Analyst at
the Center for International Policy where he directs the TransBorder Project.
What have you learned about conditions inside these prisons?
Mr. BARRY: I started out looking just at the infrastructure of these prisons
just to figure out how this outsourcing system worked. So I was in this town of
Pecos looking - trying to find the contracts that set up the prisons with, in
this case, the Bureau of Prisons with the county. And the county clerk didnât
have it. She's saying she doesnât know where the contract is. So I'm just going
through all the filing cabinets there.
She says, well, if you ever find it, let me know. But just at that time, there
was another riot and she was saying that the prison is burning again. And it
was that case, that riot in Pecos, a town in West Texas that got me more
interested in the conditions inside the prison, particularly, the case of one
man, Jesus Manuel Galindo, who died. And the riot there was basically a
solidarity demonstration by other prisoners who were saying that we can not
take these kind of medical conditions any longer.
And what those conditions are is that they didnât - they have no infirmary and
this is a prison for 3,700 criminal aliens. None of them are violent. Most of
them are there in immigration violations. There's no infirmary. If people like
Jesus had a medical problem, he's put under observation. But since there's no
infirmary, he's put in solitary where there's supposedly observation. It's
called the Secure Housing Unit, and in that Secure Housing Unit, a guard is
supposed to pass by every 30 minutes. And according to his mom and his dad and
his brother who I've talked to, that did not happen. He was not getting his
proper medication and he was concerned that he was going to die. He was afraid.
And the letters he wrote in the last four days...
GROSS: Well, he had an underlying medical condition.
Mr. BARRY: Yes. Yes. He had severe epilepsy, as the prison knew. His mother
repeatedly called the prison and insisted that he get this medication. The
prison in this case - the GEO Group, which ran the prison, was not giving him
that medication and he was, as he described in the letter, you know, I'm all
beat up and this is from thrashing around in epileptic seizures. But they put
him in there because of observation.
When he was - and this was, you know, actually it was about a year ago and he
thought that he was going to be out. He told his mom he would be out on
December 12th, because that's what he was told and that's what he sort of
believed. And December 12th was the anniversary of the Lady of Guadalupe, who
many of the Mexican prisoners is a national saint, a patron. And he thought
that he'd get out that day. It turned out that he died on the morning of
The prison didnât find him until five hours after he had died and they took him
out in a body bag and that's when the other prisoners revolted. And it wasnât
because they were demanding something for themselves or they just were so
outraged that these conditions exist, that someone who has a severe medical
condition was put into solitary, which is commonly called the hole by the
GROSS: So if I understand what youâre saying correctly, he was put into
solitary because he had a medical condition that needed to be monitored but it
wasnât monitored in solitary so he died there.
Mr. BARRY: That's right. That's exactly right. And there was no alternative in
terms of medical observation because the prison did not have one. Now that
there was a riot, that the Bureau of Prisons and the county, which owns the
prison, and GEO Group, which operates the prison, is going to put an infirmary
in. And actually, they all talked about could they get away with not putting in
an infirmary and the county judge just said well, this is why we had all the
problems in the first place. These guys were sick. They did nothing wrong. They
rioted because they were put into solitary. We have to do something about this.
GROSS: Many of the prisons youâve been investigating along the southwest border
of the United States are run by two of the biggest private prison companies in
America: CCA, which the Corrections Corporation of America, and the GEO Group.
Tell us something about these two companies.
Mr. BARRY: Well, private prisons didnât always exist in the United States. In
the 1980s, both of these companies got their start through what was then the
Immigration and Naturalization Service taking care of immigrants, that they got
contracts from the Reagan administration to hold immigrants and from there
their private prison business grew.
And then in the late 1990s, when they had built many speculative prisons and
were finding that they were not enough - that the crime rates were not as high
as they had hoped and the federal government came in and with the Bureau of
Prisons and the U.S. Marshal Service, previously it was just the Immigration
Service contracted them sometimes with county government, sometimes directly,
to build new prisons for immigrants. And that really solved the big financial
crisis that they were facing. Their stock was plummeting then. In the last
eight years, theyâve experienced record profits because of this continued flow
- rising flow of immigrants from these three agencies that weâve talked about.
It is - 40 to 45 percent of their business is outsourcing - holding outsourced
GROSS: And the GEO Group, one of the companies that you're talking about, they
used to be Wackenhut. Wackenhut used to do a lot of private security.
Mr. BARRY: That's right. They were doing private security in the '80s and then
they got into the private prison business. Wackenhut still exists but itâs
apart from GEO and Wackenhut is another corporation that figures into this mix.
So a prisoner will generally have been - be transported by Wackenhut. Wackenhut
is a major contractor for the Department of Homeland Security and the
Department of Justice.
You see - all over the Southwest you see their buses everywhere transporting
prisoners. And these are the people, as we talked earlier about the transfers,
who handle all these transfers that are done for no rhyme or reason. Generally,
because they want them in a place that is more remote, is logistically better,
near the border that they can eventually deport them and are in a prison with
all other criminal aliens.
GROSS: Some people will know the name Wackenhut because they do a lot of
private security. Some people will recognize the name Wackenhut because it was
Wackenhut employees who were hired to guard the embassy in Afghanistan and were
later - there were photos discovered of them drunk and, as I recall, in sexual
poses. So did that have repercussions for the part of Wackenhut that deals with
transporting prisoners? Did that call into question the reliability or
professionalism of a company?
Mr. BARRY: No. The follow-up question is why not? I donât know. There is very
little oversight that they keep on renewing these contracts despite major
abuses. And yes, Wackenhut is part of ArmorGroup - does guard that embassy and
there were those problems. But these problems are not particular to the
Afghanistan - that there are problems throughout this prison system of having
low-paid, generally, correctional security officers responsible for this with
very little training, very little professionalism, and that you see abuses. In
fact, we're talking about the prison in Pecos that in the last six months, more
than a dozen of the correctional staff have been indicted for various crimes of
bringing in drugs or other illegal items into the prison.
GROSS: What questions do you think we should be asking ourselves as a society
about the new laws for legal and illegal aliens and the prisons that hold
people who are convicted of breaking those laws?
Mr. BARRY: Back in the late 1990s, we created the Office of Federal Detention
Trustee that was supposed to coordinate all this detention and look out for
abuses, provide oversight. That has not happened since after - soon after this
was created. The Department of Homeland Security was created and that whole
system fell apart.
So the questions that I'm asking, the questions that many are asking were being
asked in the 1990s and we came up with a solution and it never took effect. I
think a major question too is the cost. We're spending as a country $4 billion
just in the detention and imprisonment of non-violent immigrants who are
convicted mainly of immigration violations. Is this the way - a good way to
spend our money? And then what happens to the families of these immigrants who
are taken away from communities and their family life? That - it's very
So there's an economic impact there. I think economic questions need to be
asked and they're not being asked. Because when it comes to immigrants, every
year the budget for Department of Justice and Homeland Security rises for
immigrant crackdown issues. Can we afford this? Is it good for our nation?
GROSS: Well, Tom Barry, I want to thank you very much for joining us. I know
you had to drive through a lot of snow and windâ¦
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: â¦to get from your home to the studio of KTEP in El Paso where you spoke
to us from. I want to thank you for the effort. Thank you for sharing your
reporting with us.
Mr. BARRY: Thanks, Terry. And thanks for being interested in this issue. I
GROSS: Tom Barry is a Senior Analyst at the Center for Immigration Policy where
he directs the TransBorder Project. He writes the blog "Border Lines." His
article on immigration prisons is in the current edition of Boston Review.
Coming up, our rock critic Ken Tucker reviews the new CD by Susan Boyle, who
became an overnight sensation after her April performance on "Britain's Got
Talent." This is FRESH AIR.
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Susan Boyle's Easygoing 'Dream' Of A Debut
(Soundbite of music)
TERRY GROSS, host:
Susan Boyle became an overnight sensation after her April performance on
"Britain's Got Talent," singing "I Dreamed a Dream" from "Les Miz." The 48-
year-old Scottish singer released her first album on November 23rd. Since then,
it sold five million copies worldwide and has stayed on top of the charts. Our
rock critic, Ken Tucker has a review.
(Soundbite of song, "I Dreamed a Dream")
Ms. SUSAN BOYLE (Singer): (Singing) I dreamed a dream in time gone by, when
hope was high and life worth living. I dreamed that love would never die. I
prayed that God would be forgiving. Then I was young and unafraid...
KEN TUCKER: The rapid rise of Susan Boyle illustrates a pop-culture truism: No
piece of pop music stands by itself. We also bring to any judgment of the work
the image and whatever we know about the person singing it.
In Boyle's case, we had a middle-aged woman whose dowdy, unpolished
presentation was belied by the confident power of her voice. Her media
breakthrough was at least as important as her ability. Appearing on "Britain's
Got Talent" before three judges and an audience snickering and ready to jeer,
Susan Boyle shamed and cowed the audience with the sheer strength of her
(Soundbite of song, "Who I Was Born To Be")
Ms. BOYLE: (Singing) When I was a child, I could see the wind in the trees and
I heard a song in the breeze. It was there, singing out my name. But I...
TUCKER: It takes a lot to tamp down the sarcasm of Simon Cowell, one of the
"Britain's Got Talent" judges, but Boyle did that and more. She ushered in,
however briefly, a moment in which glitz and irony were pushed aside. There was
an overwhelming worldwide response to YouTube viewings of not just Boyleâs
singing but also her humble comments about living in Scotland with her cat and,
before her death in 2007, her mother. People professed not mere admiration but
love for Susan Boyle. She single-handedly, overnight, altered the tone of shows
such as âAmericaâs Got Talent.â
Suddenly tears of gratitude were popping from the eyes of Judge Sharon Osbourne
at the mere sound of a child contestant hitting a high note with precision. The
feeling was, Boyle is real. In this sense, Susan Boyle was as much a benefactor
of the cult of authenticity as Bruce Springsteen has been.
(Soundbite of song, âDaydream Believerâ)
Ms. BOYLE: (Singing) Oh, I could hide beneath the wings of the bluebird as she
sings. Six oâclock alarm would never ring, but it rings and I rise, wipe the
sleep out of my eyes. The tears of yesterday (unintelligible) Cheer up sleepy
Jean. Oh what can it mean, to a daydream believer and a homecoming queenâ¦
TUCKER: And so now we have Susan Boyleâs debut album, inevitably called âI
Dreamed a Dream.â It showcases her clear, surging voice with tasteful, minimal
orchestral accompaniment. The songs here donât test or twist her, but then her
instantly massive audience doesnât want to hear Susan Boyle pushed into
slickness or cool song choices.
The biggest gamble Boyle takes is in covering the Rolling Stonesâ "Wild
Horses," and she pulls it off. She renders the song exactly what she calls it
in her liner notes comments, a, quote, âemotional release."
(Soundbite of song, âWild Horsesâ)
Ms. BOYLE: (Singing) Childhood living itâs easy to. Things that you wanted well
I bought them for you. Graceless lady, you know who I am. You know I canât let
you just slide through my hands. Wild horsesâ¦
TUCKER: Thereâs no humor or swing in Boyleâs phrasing, no evidence despite a
few song choices that sheâs been influenced by anything in the rock-music era.
Her album includes two hymns, a Christmas carol and Broadway musical theater.
In addition to âI Dreamed a Dream,â a version of "Cry Me a River" with all of
that compositionâs rueful vengeance drained off.
At her best, she makes âWild Horses,â the Madonna song âYouâll See,â and the
Skeeter Davis hit âEnd of the World,â into anthems of perseverance. This is the
kind of debut that confirms Boyleâs talent. Whether she can move beyond this
into an interesting singer with a wider range of emotional concerns remains to
be heard. For now, sheâs giving her fans what they want. But sheâll inevitably
have to give them something that will challenge both her audience and herself.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
Susan Boyleâs new album âI Dreamed the Dream.â
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Classic TV on DVD Makes A Personalized Holiday Gift
TERRY GROSS, host:
If youâre looking for gifts for the holiday season, our TV critic David
Bianculli has a few suggestions - recently released DVD sets of old and new TV
shows. Match the right shows to the right recipients, he suggests, and theyâre
giving hours and hours of pleasure.
DAVID BIANCULLI: The TV-shows-on-DVD landscape is changing. The economy is
down, stores have less shelf space, and producers are being more cautious about
what and how much they release into the marketplace. And year after year, there
are some omissions that frustrate me to no end. Where oh where is âThe Days and
Nights of Molly Dodd,â with Blair Brown? Where are all those missing seasons of
âSt. Elsewhereâ? But rather than complain like Scrooge about whatâs not around
this year, Iâm here to celebrate what is. There are a few releases I didnât
never expect to see on DVD, and some special complete sets that would make
great gifts for the right person. So here we go â a fast romp through my
recommended DVD holiday list, starting with a very welcome voice from TVâs
(Soundbite of archived recording)
Mr. CHARLES KURALT (TV Journalist): Hello, Iâm Charles Kuralt. Weâre off again
to meet a few people on the back roads of America. These are people you know,
not from the front pages, theyâve never been on the front pages. They're people
you know from next door down the block. Their stories are some of my favorites
from 25 years on the road.
BIANCULLI: If you donât recognize that voice, you wonât be as excited about
Acorn Mediaâs âOn the Road with Charles Kuraltâ set as you should be. Beginning
in the late â60s, Kuralt and his crew traveled across America in a motor home,
stopping in small towns in search of small but uplifting stories for CBS. Itâs
the kind of TV they really, truly donât make any more. And theyâre as sweetly
nostalgic to watch now, after all these years, as an old Norman Rockwell
painting. Another new DVD set collects TV that is even older. âThe Golden Age
of Televisionâ was a PBS series that ran about 25 years ago, presenting a small
but stellar collection of live TV dramas that had been broadcast in prime time
some 25 years before that.
So weâre talking old. But weâre also talking great â âPatterns and Requiem for
a Heavyweightâ by Rod Serling, âBang the Drum Slowlyâ with Paul Newman, âThe
Days of Wine and Rosesâ with Jack Lemmon. And from 1953, the first Golden Age
drama to realize the full potential of live TV, Paddy Chayefskyâs âMarty.â Rod
Steiger starred in that drama as a lonely middle-aged butcher who goes to a
local dance hall in search of a possible date. He meets a woman there, all
right, another lonely outcast, whom heâs just watched being dumped by her date
in favor of someone more attractive.
Marty asks the woman to dance, and they slowly, quietly connect. Itâs a
wonderful, intimate scene, made even greater when you realize the young woman
playing opposite Rod Steiger is Nancy Marchand, who ended up playing Tony
Sopranoâs horrible mother, Livia, on âThe Sopranos.â
(Soundbite of TV broadcast, âMartyâ)
Mr. ROD STEIGER (Actor): (as Marty) I guess, I guess I can recognize
(unintelligible) a mile off, you know. My brothers and sisters, they're always
saying to me what a good-hearted guy I am, you know, you donât â you get to be
good-hearted by accident, you've got to be kicked around long enough and hard
enough and then you get to be like a real professor of pain, you know? So I
know exactly how you feel. And I want to tell you something else too. Iâm
having a very, very good time tonight. Iâm enjoying myself. So you see, you're
not such a dog as you think you are.
Ms. NANCY MARCHAND: (as character) Iâm having a good time too.
Mr. STEIGER: (as Marty) So there you see, that means I'm not such a dog as you
think I am.
Ms. MARCHAND: (as character) I think youâre a very nice guy.
BIANCULLI: This is the first time this retrospective has been released on DVD,
and it comes from Criterion. So itâs the full treatment - beautiful transfers,
beautiful packaging, even an informative booklet. For anyone who cares about
TVâs salad days, itâs the perfect gift. For slightly younger TV fans, though,
there are other choices. BBC Video has just released remastered, complete-
series editions of two fabulously funny British comedy classics, loaded with
new interviews and other bonus material. One is âBlack Adder,â with Rowan
Atkinson, showing every series and movie incarnation of that bizarre character
And the other is âFawlty Towers,â with John Cleese, which I still consider one
of the funniest TV series ever made. Another quirky comedy, closer to home, is
the complete series DVD set from Shout Factory of âItâs Garry Shandlingâs
Show.â This is the show Shandling did for cable before âThe Larry Sanders
Show,â and the entire conceit of the series was an ahead-of-its-time satire of
reality television. Even the theme song was hyper-aware of itself.
(Soundbite of song, âItâs Garry Shandlingâs Showâ)
Mr. BILL LYNCH (Singer): (Singing) This is the theme to Garryâs show, the theme
to Garryâs show. Garry called me up and asked if I would write his theme song.
Iâm almost halfway finished. How do you like it so far? How do you like the
theme to Garryâs show? This is the themeâ¦
BIANCULLI: Other new complete series sets this year include the sci-fi series
âFarscapeâ from A&E, a terrifically inventive and entertaining series, finally
collected in one place. And perhaps the yearâs biggest treat of all, Fox Home
Entertainmentâs nicely packaged complete-series set of âAlly McBeal.â This is a
set that not only holds up but seems just as fresh as before. Fans of writer-
producer David E. Kelley, or of âBrothers and Sistersâ star Calista Flockhart,
will be especially happy with this one. And finally, thereâs Time-Life Videoâs
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum collection, which gathers induction
speeches, performances and jams from the Hall of Fameâs entire history â
including many that have never been televised anywhere.
The DVDs are set up so you can watch them in their entirety or just go straight
from one song to another. And Time Life gives you another valuable option as
well. The set comes as a nine-disc mammoth offering on the Internet, or with
the first three discs loaded with great music, available as a smaller, more
affordable set in stores. Thatâs where youâll hear, among other things, Crosby,
Stills and Nash with Tom Petty performing Buffalo Springfieldâs classic, âFor
What Itâs Worth.â And for what itâs worth, I recommend this set, and all the
others I mentioned, as being eminently gift-worthy.
GROSS: David Bianculli writes tvworthwatching.com, teaches TV and Film at Rowan
University, and is the author of the new book, âDangerously Funny: The
Uncensored Story of 'The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.'â
You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org. And
you can follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.