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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Not ready for a closeup

Inmate advocates blast 1-day lockdown

By Luther Turmelle
North Bureau Chief

An advocacy group that says it represents inmates in Connecticut’s prisons is claiming prisoners at the Cheshire Correctional Institution were kept locked in their cells all day on May 23 as film crews shot scenes from the Robert De Niro movie, “Everybody’s Fine.”
The Hartford-based group, the Clean Slate Committee, is urging the state Department of Correction to disclose any money that it was paid for use of the vacant North Block at the Cheshire prison. Nikki Brown, a spokeswoman for the advocacy group, said inmates told the Clean Slate Committee they were kept in lockdown for 23 hours that day while the film was being shot.
“They were very upset because they couldn’t come out into the yard, they couldn’t have visits from their families, they couldn’t take classes or anything,” Brown said. “They should be compensated in some manner for being placed under such conditions.”
The group contends that inmates at the Cheshire facility were kept locked in their cells on several other days leading up to the filming.
Brian Garnett, a Department of Correction spokesman, said the group’s version of events at the prison is misleading. Garnett said that while no visitors were allowed at the Cheshire prison on May 23, no such measure was implemented on any of the other days before or after film crews were at the prison.
“We limit visitors on certain days for a number of reasons,” he said. “Our concerns on May 23rd was that there were so many people around, both inside and outside the prison, that we wanted to keep things secure. But things were back to normal over the remainder of the weekend.”
Garnett reiterated that the Department of Correction did not receive any form of financial consideration for the filming that was done in the North Block, which was renovated earlier in the decade to accommodate prisoners only in the event of fire or other disaster at one of the other state prisons. Uniformed corrections officers who were limiting access to all roads leading into the prison on the day of the movie shoot were paid by the film production company. Brown said she was skeptical that the Department of Correction made no money from the movie being filmed at the Cheshire prison.
“Why wouldn’t they make any money from it?” she asked rhetorically. De Niro, who was not a part of the scenes shot at the prison, plays a widower in the film who realizes his deceased wife was his only connection to his children. His character decides on a whim to take a road trip to reconnect with each of his grown kids, discovering that their lives are far from perfect. The scene that was shot at the prison was a nightmare sequence in which De Niro imagines his son as a young child being held in an adult jail, according to Patrick Holland, a Cheshire resident who was an extra in the movie. Scenes from the movie have been shot at several Connecticut locations, including New Haven’s Union Station last month. Additional scenes were shot at Yale University’s Woolsey Hall on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Luther Turmelle can be reached at lturmelle@nhregister.com, or 789-5706.

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