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Town’s Video Seeking Prison Spawns National Record Release

April 16, 1987

FLORA, Ill. (AP) _ What began as a campaign to lure a state prison to Flora just may put this Southern Illinois town on the musical map now that a record company is about to release the community’s rappin’ plea nationwide.

The mayor and the police chief are among members of the ″Barbed Wire Choir″ who tell the story of their town’s quest in a locally produced videotape.

The refrain:

″Is we is or is we isn’t

″Gonna get ourselves a prison?″

Producer Martin Lewis, working with Los Angeles-based Rhino Records, saw the two-minute, 20-second tape on ABC’s ″Good Morning America″ last month and decided the video might fill a consumer need.

″America, which is a little bit in the doldrums, needs a good laugh,″ Lewis said in a telephone interview Wednesday night from Los Angeles. ″I felt this was something that would cheer up everybody.″

The video is part of Flora’s effort to attract a medium-security state prison which could bring 400 jobs and a $10 million annual payroll to the town of 5,400 residents, where the unemployment rate is nearly 20 percent. Thirty- two communities are vying for the prison.

Lewis bought rights to the music and video, and an ″Is We Is Day″ ceremony is planned May 5 in Flora to mark the release of a 12-inch single record titled ″Is We Is? 3/8 (The Prison Rap),″ he said. Flora High School Band members will wear makeshift prison costumes in a parade, he said.

There will be 10,000 copies of the record made available to stores and radio stations, while the accompanying video will go to some key television outlets, including MTV, Lewis said. General distribution of the video will come later, he said.

″Is We Is Day″ had been scheduled for Wednesday, but was postponed to ensure the record will be available in all stores, Lewis said today.

The original video is being reproduced as is, said Lewis. It begins showing a man wearing red underwear and a barrel emblazoned with the words ″I need a job,″ said Mayor Charles Overstreet.

Local dignitaries take turns rapping about the town and its need for a prison. Police Chief Willie Thompson twirls his police baton as he sings, and a scene near the end shows Frank ″Meatball″ Zimmerman, a retired railroad worker, wearing a prison outfit and a ball and chain at the proposed prison site.

Lewis, a Londoner who has produced a Monty Python movie and records and videos for the rock group Wham 3/8, said the song caught his fancy.

″I was tremendously impressed that the leaders of this town were enlightened enough to produce something with a sense of humor, even at their own expense, in order to make their point,″ he said.

The video is based on a song, ″All We Want’sa Prison″ by Flora resident Bill Snyder, who runs a music-production business and who wrote the song after the town lost an earlier competition for a state prison, Overstreet said.

Gov. James R. Thompson is to decide this spring or summer where the 750-bed prison will be built.

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