(GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba) — Librarians at Guantanamo Bay’s prison detention center have had to up their stock of the popular 1990s TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, starring Will Smith, thanks to the prisoners’ newfound enthusiasm for the sitcom.
The 168 captives currently residing at the U.S. prison base in Cuba have access to an extensive entertainment selection: the main library houses 18,000 books, 2,730 movies, 390 video games, and 1,235 magazines, according to Joint Task Force Guantanamo spokesperson Capt. Jennifer Palmeri. The books and movies are delivered upon requests to prisoners’ cells or recreation rooms by guards. And if the camp doesn’t have the particular book or movie that an inmate wants, camp leadership can buy it for him or her, provided it is vetted for any potential controversy, said Palmeri.
But recently many prisoners have been asking for the same thing: Will Smith as the titular Fresh Prince.
“Fresh Prince became popular after a few people watched the first two seasons and decided to request the rest of the series,” Palmeri said.
A camp librarian identified only as Milton said the Fresh Prince show has now surpassed the previous favorite, the Harry Potter books, according to the Miami Herald, which first reported the Fresh Prince’s curious popularity. As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan wears on, entertainment becomes increasingly important for Muslim inmates who are fasting from dawn to sundown, Milton said. The Fresh Prince series has stepped in to fill the void.
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air originally aired in 1990 on NBC and ran for six seasons. The show’s popular theme song kicked off each episode: “Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down,” raps the show’s star Will Smith.
It was that lead role — in which Smith plays an inner-city teenager from Philadelphia transplanted into the posh home of his relatives in ritzy Bel Air, Calif. — that launched Smith’s career and transformed him into a household name.
And now the Guantanamo detainees apparently find him endearing as well. The inmates are separated into four security levels, based on their cooperation with guards. About 80 percent of all prisoners are housed in either the communal facility or the maximum security detention center — but all prisoners can order books or movies from the library, said Palmeri. Those in single-cell solitary confinement can watch movies on a TV installed for their viewing pleasure. Those in less-secure environments watch at a communal television, the screen encased in Plexiglas, according to the Miami Herald.
“One aspect of our mission is to provide activities to the detainees that are mentally and physically engaging,” Palmeri said. Besides reading and watching TV, inmates are offered classes on things like Arabic calligraphy and keyboarding. The art courses, however, are the most popular.
Also popular are the novels in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy, a young adult fantasy series about a violent post-apocalyptic world whose citizens are subjugated by an all-powerful government. The Guantanamo library has two copies of the series for the detainees’ perusal.
In 2005, an American Forces Press Service report noted that Arabic translations of Agatha Christie novels were hot commodities on the camp library’s shelves, according to a security official. Since then, the Harry Potter books enjoyed a period of success, as did the self-help book Don’t Be Sad, which discusses happiness from an Islamic perspective. The library even stocks video games like Madden NFL.
The detainees still at Guantanamo hail from around the world, with the majority claiming roots in Yemen, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.
The prison at Guantanamo Bay has been a hot-button political issue as President Barack Obama repeatedly promised to close the controversial prison while he was campaigning for office in 2008, but the facility remains open. A final report released by the Guantanamo Review Task Force in January of 2010 recommended that 48 of the current prisoners be held indefinitely under the laws of war.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Susan Scutti, CNN
Lauren del Valle, CNN
Lorenzo Ferrigno, CNN