By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Swanny has some serious directives when it comes to his role as a jail-reform clown--directives based on compassion.
"I would try to have a more personal contact with the inmates, in the sense that we're all people in this world together. Some have taken misguided routes, they've done wrong, yes, and I don't think we need to treat them really well, but the point is we certainly have to be humane. And I think there's a possibility we've gone over the line."
But Swanny knows well that philosophizing only goes so far; he's all for hands-on action.
"I would try and make 'em laugh," he says of the inmates. "Maybe make a couple balloon animals and give 'em to 'em, ask them about their kids or whatever. I have several hand puppets I use; they interplay and talk with the people I deal with. I've got a koala bear and a skunk and a raccoon."
Of course, it might take more than a twisted balloon, a painted face or a talking koala bear, skunk or raccoon to right the wrongs of the Valley political and prison system. But, as the clowns have said, perhaps an old-fashioned thing like a hug or a laugh from a person with a huge wig and a garishly painted face might make a little difference. Maybe what the clowns are telling us is something our politicians have forgotten: "Hey--drop your troubles, drop your cares, drop your problems. Just don't drop your smile."
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