One Million Prison Inmates Can’t Be Wrong

Charlie Sheen is a national hero!

In June of this year journalist Johanna Piazza asked me what I thought might account for Charlie “Bad Lieutenant” Sheen’s – and by extension Two and a Half Men’s – soaring popularity among incarcerated men in America. In light of Sheen’s episode yesterday at The Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, I thought I’d expound a bit here on my answer, but let’s first consider some of the on-line hell and hallelujahs he’s caught as a result of his one-man riot.

TMZ Commenter “Lisa” apparently believes that the actor is an “arrogant and dangerous sociopath,” adding that he “should be in jail.” Someone posting as “E” wrote, “How do I get this guy’s life?? Plenty money, hookers, cocaine and a hot ex wife. Where do I sign up….” “Lynn” over at declared, “What a loser – lock him up somewhere…PLEASE.” And back at TMZ, a bright bulb posting as “Ha-HA!!!” wrote simply, “$$$$$Party on, Charlie, party on!!!$$$$$$$.”

Funny thing is, all of these comments point to the same answer I gave Piazza: Of all the actors out there, Charlie Sheen – through good behavior and bad, in character and out of it – is the epitome of “one of us.” Inmates of all stripes have engaged in much of the same behavior as Sheen has, from the alcohol and drug abuse to the prostitutes and handcuffs, walks-of-shame, and second, third (and counting) chances. If regular folks tend to root for his character, double that for inmates, whose affection for him is no less than personal.

Two and a Half Men’s writing team is highly regarded by both colleagues and television critics. The episodes contain fast-paced, snappy dialogue, which is often crude, insult-heavy, and almost always focused on another character’s shortcomings. Such banter is the envy of those who carry internal “wish-lists” of things they could’ve, would’ve, and should’ve said throughout their own trials and tribulations.

Finally, while Sheen’s character Charlie is, in many ways, the pinnacle of the selfish, self-centered, narcissistic ass, he nevertheless takes care of his brother, loves his nephew, even loves his mom – just like every inmate in the audience wishes he could, would, or claims he does. There’s redemption in that, and along with a strong, collective opposition to child-abuse, it’s a fundamental value that brings all inmates together.

So again, even anonymous comments like this one in the New York Post, suggesting we should “…throw the louse in jail…he thinks he’s about the law. He isn’t. He’s a coke addict/sex addict just like the homeless fellow standing outside the studio gates…” won’t dampen inmate enthusiasm for Charlie Sheen. What three-term parolee hasn’t been similarly dismissed? What convict hasn’t been verbally lashed this way by family members or other casualties of his or her bad behavior? What jailed junkie or drug offender hasn’t raised his or her drink or crack pipe to the music of every addict’s ears, “All these negative posters are just jealous – with their fat overweight, overeating, overbearing wives waiting at home…”

Praise from men convicted of crimes similar to Sheen’s work-a-day antics should come as no surprise. To these guys, and obviously to a good portion of the posting public in this country, Sheen needs no excuse. I guess that’s why the one his publicist belatedly issued, that he was suffering from an “adverse reaction to medication,” was so flimsy. Who cares? Why should he change? He’s everything America validates. And yeah, Lisa, Lynn…that means “us” – all of us – whether you choose to admit it or not.