Rick Hepp, Star-Ledger (Newark), Mar. 10
A skit that involved state prison inmates dressing like Ku Klux Klan members — and led to the firing of five drug counselors who authorized it — was designed by the inmates and intended to convey an anti-racist message, according to two of the fired employees.
Three inmates, two of them African-American and one white, donned white hoods and full-length white sheets during a Jan. 6 skit at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility in Burlington County, the Department of Corrections confirmed last week.
Two of the five fired employees have since contacted The Star-Ledger to say it was the inmates who designed the skit and wanted to present it as a motivational tale during a morning meeting. The two employees also said they asked the inmates twice whether any of them would object to the content, and no one did.
The plot centered around a white KKK member who had fallen in love with a black woman and wanted to renounce his membership in the hate group, they said. The other two KKK members, portrayed by black inmates, were trying to talk him out of leaving the Klan.
“The moral would be that love can conquer things like bigotry and racism,” said Shirley Robinson, an African-American who lost her job over the skit. “The idea was if you can have a Klan member denounce his membership because he is in love, then love can conquer all.”
After a corrections officer discovered the skit and stopped it, the department ordered the Gateway employees to gather their things and report to the prison’s administrative office, said another of the fired workers, Lisa Kohli. The department’s internal affairs units then conducted taped interviews with the employees before sending them home.
“To utilize racially inflammatory, socially unacceptable rhetoric and to dress in costumes worn by a hate group is entirely inappropriate in a prison setting, especially one in which a treatment function is supposed to be carried out,” Brown said in a statement. “They could have found any number of ways to portray their message.”