Prison workers remember their role in 'The Longest Yard'

By Dal Cannady - bio | email

REIDSVILLE, GA (WTOC) - Don Jarriel called a collection of framed photos in the tower of Georgia State Prison one of his biggest achievements as warden.

"To bring together the history of the staff, the stars, and everybody and what we went through in that era," he said.

The photos show prison officers and other workers with Burt Reynolds, Eddie Albert and other stars of The Longest Yard. Nearly 40 years ago, those stars and their film crews shot the movie inside the prison walls. The story pitted inmates against their guards in a football game.

Retired officer Donald "Duck" Neesmith had one of the earliest parts, escorting Reynolds through the gates upon arrival.

"I was in the right place at the right time and I guess I carried myself the right way," Neesmith recalled.

The film was one of Sonny Shroyer's first roles and the actor still remembered being mistaken for a real prisoner.

"I thought 'he thinks I'm an inmate'. For the first 5 minutes, that was kinda funny to me. For about 10 minutes after that, it didn't seem so funny," Shroyer said.

Given the culture in prisons those days, the whole thing could have turned out badly. Back then, the prison was a powder keg of violence and under federal scrutiny for mistreatment. Warden Jarriel was a teen at the time and he remembered the movie helping things as much as anything else.

"We had issues between blacks and whites and between generations. During the filming there was a peace here within the institution," he explained.

Warden Jarriel retires November 30, he hopes the pictures stand as a memorial to the real stars who worked here long after the movie magic faded.

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