This Band - They'll Kill 'em!

Posted: October 17, 2002

CHRIS BISSEY is a double murderer.

Back in 1995, Bissey killed two girls on the campus of my alma mater, Lehigh University. In June of that year, 15-year-old Mary Orlando and her 17-year-old friend, Jennifer Grider, were at a lookout on campus when Bissey, then 18, shot and killed them both. He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms. That's where the story of his life should end, but sadly, there is more.

Bissey is also a wannabe rock star.

He should be playing air guitar waiting for a meeting with Old Sparky, but in our depraved world, he's going prime time.

From Graterford Prison.

Bissey is a back-up singer in Dark Mischief, a prison band that will be featured tomorrow night in the inaugural broadcast of a new VH1 cable show called "Music Behind Bars." Everything about this is in bad taste, including the band's name.

VH1 claims the program shows both the brutality behind bars and the power of music. I don't need to see it to know that I don't like it. Even if VH1 portrays the prisoners as the degenerates they are - which I'm sure they won't - by putting guitars in their hands and letting them play for Generations X, Y or Z, VH1 elevates them to rock-star status.

Just what we don't need: a cross between Mumia and Eddie Van Halen.

Graterford Deputy Warden David DiGugielmo is quoted on the VH1 Web site as saying, "Not giving inmates things to do is dangerous. They need outlets."

OK: How about hitting the rock pile?

Dark Mischief has been together for 11 years. In addition to Bissey, the band includes a guitarist named Buli who is doing life for murder. The lead singer, Troy, is doing 25 years for armed robbery.

It'd be one thing if Graterford offered a music class to keep the inmates occupied. But putting a prison band with characters like this on national TV is an extreme example of somebody's priorities being out of whack. It should be about victim's rights, not those of perpetrators.

You would think VH1 would be ashamed of itself. No chance. VH1's "producer notes" proclaim that "the guys in the band that we spoke to were all cooperative, interesting, and yes, human."

How reassuring! The notes are silent on the pain and suffering of the victims of the heinous crimes committed by band members.

Northampton County DA John Morganelli, who prosecuted Bissey, has correctly stated that the "victims of these crimes do not expect to be entertained by their attackers."

As if you needed more evidence that VH1 doesn't get it, consider that the network has a Web poll asking if the prisoners should be allowed to perform music in jail? Earlier this week, 28 percent of respondents said "yes," that expressing themselves through music can help with rehabilitation.

The other 72 percent said they're criminals, and creative outlets should be reserved for the law-abiding.

VH1 doesn't even know what question to ask. It's not whether prisoners should play music in jail, but rather whether a cable network should elevate career criminals to star status. I'm sure that even those who support the idea of prisoners playing music don't necessarily agree with televising their concerts - shrinking the 28 percent even further.

In a future episode of "Music Behind Bars," the venue will be the New Hampshire Women's Prison, featuring Pamela Griffiths, an inmate serving a two to five years for possession of crack.

After that, who knows? Maybe it will be "Al Qaeda Live at Budokan," featuring Zaccarias Moussaoui, John Walker Lindh and Jose Padilla. *

Michael Smerconish's column appears Thursdays. He can be heard weekdays from 3-6 p.m. on the Big Talker 1210/AM. His e-mail address is mas@mastalk.com.

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