The colorful pageantry of the opening ceremony of the 1980 Winter Olympics Feb. 13 -- witnessed by an estimated 15,000 people -- was marked by two demonstrations, one of which is likely to have reverberations long after the Games officially close.
While a group from Florida hoisted Afghan flags in protest of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, a group representing the National Moratorium on Prison Construction released dozens of ballons to protest the planned conversion of the "athletes' village," the main housing for the competitors, into a minimum-security federal prison.
The prison protest was a last-ditch effort by opponents of the plan to gain publicity and President Carter's support for their cause. Previous attempts to derail the plan have failed.
A congressional subcommittee concluded that placing a prison in Lake Placid runs counter to the trend toward locating penal institutions in or near major metropolitan areas. But the Federal Bureau of Prisons has refused to budge on the matter, arguing that the price was right for the facility and that the nation's "prison shortage" necessitates the opening of the prison here as soon as possible.
One congressman familiar with the prison issue has termed the prison here a "fait accompli."
Ronald MacKenzie, president of the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee, was quoted recently as saying, "If I were a prisoner, I couldn't think of a better place to serve out my time than in the Adirondacks."
The comment is typical of the positive attitude of most of the Lake Placid community toward conversion of the athletes' village into a prison. One reason is that prisoners brought into the area on work-release programs could help provide services, such as road construction, that the community otherwise might find difficult to pay for.
Actually the prison will be located not in Lake Placid itself, but in neighboring Ray Brook.Residents there do not share the enthusiasm of those in Lake Placid for the federal facility, even though it is expected to generate more than 100 permanent jobs in the economically deprssed area.
One Ray Brook spokeman, Dr. Edward Hickson, charges that the Federal Bureau of Prisons made no effort to talk with local citizens about the prisonplan, but "railroaded" the proposal into the area.
Additionally, many Ray Brook residents cite environmental damage to the area, especially to waterways, as evidence of the Bureau of Prisons' lack of regard for the community.
It is felt by most observers that only President Carter has the power to stop the conversion of the athletes" village into a prison. The National Moratorium on Prison Construction is prepared to do much more than release balloons to gain his attention to the issue. Lawsuits are being prepared to challenge use of the site as a prison.