“Facing the Muzak—A Punishing Ordeal”

Colson, Charles W.

Breakpoint radio broadcast, 12 May 1999

“There’s a modern-day ‘punishment room’ that many lawbreakers fear and hate—and some even say it violates the law forbidding cruel and unusual punishment. But the judge who sends people to this ersatz torture chamber says he’s only making the punishment fit the crime . . . . A few months ago Municipal Court Judge Paul Sacco of Fort Lupton, Colorado, got tired of complaints from senior citizens about teenagers driving through their neighborhoods, boom boxes blasting loud enough to wake the dead. So the judge came up with a penalty. Kids who violate the noise ordinance are locked in a room at the courthouse and forced to listen to the worst music imaginable—at least, to the ears of a rap-loving teenager. One recent batch of scofflaws was shut up with the sound of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans warbling ‘Happy Trails to You.’ They suffered through Disney tunes, bagpipe music, and songs by Wayne Newton and Barry Manilow. But the teens were nearly driven mad hearing Tony Orlando and Dawn sing ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree’ and Dean Martin crooning ‘It’s Cryin’ Time.’ By the time they were let out, most of the kids probably felt like crying themselves. Twenty-one-year-old Ryan Bowles said the worst part was listening to the ‘Barney’ theme song, because the judge made sure they sat still and faced the music: ‘If you laugh, he’ll cite you for contempt,’ Bowles explained. The treatment is unorthodox—but extremely effective. Seventeen-year-old David Mascarenas says he’s already taken his stereo out of his car. And not one survivor of this punishing ordeal has ever reappeared before Judge Sacco.