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James Cromwell Reflects on ‘Symbolic’ Jail Time as He Heads in for Sentence: ‘People Are Getting the Message’

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James Cromwell is ready to face the consequences of his actions — and he hopes people are inspired by it.

The 77-year-old Babe actor is starting a 7-day jail sentence on Friday after he was arrested during a protest in 2015. The actor is spending time behind bars instead of paying the $375 fine and 16 hours of community service ordered at a July 1 court sentencing.

But Cromwell tells PEOPLE he’s not scared to serve time for his beliefs.

“Once you commit yourself to commit an act of disobedience, you know there is going to be consequences,” the actor says. “They imposed this ridiculous fine and 16 hours of community service. What seemed incongruous to me was why should I admit guilt and thereby besmirch the whole idea of what we were doing and the importance of it. So I said I’m not gonna pay the fine, I’d rather go to jail.”

Cromwell was one of six environmental protestors found guilty of obstructing traffic when they staged a sit-in on the site of Competitive Power Ventures’ prospective natural gas-fired power plant in Wawayanda, New York. They used a defense of necessity, arguing that the carbon emissions that would be emitted by the CPV power plant would pose an imminent threat to the local environment and accelerate climate change.

Erik Gliedman/Times Herald-Record/AP
Cromwell being cut out by law enforcement during the sit-in in 2015

Though the actor is prepared for his jail time, he understands that it is “symbolic” and does not compare to the disproportionate “hard time” millions of people are serving for non-violent crimes. “I’m doing symbolic time, but people are getting the message that you can actually affect the change and you can live through the consequences,” he says.

But when it comes to nerves about the reality of being in jail, the actor admits he is “excited” about the experience.

“It’s like when you feel nerves before going on stage — it’s excitement,” the actor says. “So yes, I’m excited. I’m excited because I will have had an experience that not a lot of privileged white people have, what it’s like to be in there. What that system does to people who have no choice of how long they’re in there — they’re not gonna be in there for a week, they’re gonna be in there for years.”

And Cromwell is not letting this set him back — the actor already has more things planned after his release.

“I can’t really talk about them, but as soon as I get out of jail, I’m going somewhere else to do another action,” he reveals. “I don’t separate things in my life. Who I am is what I do — I act, I practice my craft and I also stand up for the things I believe in. That’s what we all have to do.”

Cromwell is set to star in Fallen Kingdom, the sequel to 2015’s Jurassic World, which began filming in London in February. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard will reprise their roles from the hit reboot.