/ 5 July 1996

Blank: A tale of two worlds

The excitement this week over the release of Greg Blank seems to have less to do with the merits, or otherwise, of the parole system than the general sense of frustration in the country over crime and punishment. As Blank himself has complained, he is “white and rich” and as such a ripe target for moral indignation. But it is difficult to understand why he was sent to prison for eight years in the first place. The desire of the judge to make an example of Blank — and send a message to others of his ilk — was understandable, but his method of doing so was inappropriate. A suitably savage fine and sentence of community service would have sufficed. As it is, the message which the judge has conveyed is that a long-term prison sentence can be both short and fun.

And what fun Blank had! It is the stuff of a film script. Robert Redford could be offered the part. Disgraced financier makes good at San Quentin (face facts, Hollywood would never make do with Krugersdorp). He saves another prisoner (Redford fights desperate duel for life of a stool-pigeon with sharpened spoon) and wins the ear of crusty governor (Morgan Freeman). Persuades governor on the course of prison reform. Starts a boxing club (self- respect and a few bops on the nose are the surest way to rehabilitation). Follows up with a fully equipped gym (boxers need muscles). And a hair- dressing salon (pugilists don’t like getting their curly locks mussed). His final triumph is the introduction of free pay-television in all cells, selling the concept to the governor as a means of control: anyone sodomising a cell-mate without benefit of a state-sponsored condom will be docked three episodes of Baywatch.

The story culminates 22 months later with Redford being wakened at 4am one chilly winter’s morn by the governor who declares regretfully: “Time’s up, Blank; you’ve saved too many lives, reformed too many old lags to enjoy our hospitality any longer ….” Emotional scenes follow as Redford shuffles down the corridor, convicts with rippling muscles and permed hair weeping behind iron bars to see their hero go.

But no, it will never sell. Sure, the boxing club, the gym, the hair-dressing salon, the television network really did exist. But even Hollywood would balk at a storyline that has the local business community donating R500 000 out of the goodness of their hearts to fund it all.

Unless Redford has the lowdown on them, of course …