Happy New Year everyone! A quick introduction; I am Mark Andrew, one of the editors of Beyond Scared Straight. I am attempting to fill the very large shoes of Executive Producer Paul Coyne as he takes a well deserved break from writing the Beyond Scared Straight blog this week.
This week we return for the third time to the Oklahoma County Detention Center. From the first time we visited Oklahoma and wayward teen Leigh took a swing at one of the officers, this program has provided some of the most memorable moments of the series. This week is no exception as twelve year old teen girl Brion tries to win favor with the inmates by name-dropping the name of an infamous gang member from the streets. The reaction from the prisoners is far from what she hoped for.
The troubled kids going through the jail tour this week all try different methods to cope with the inmates and manipulate the deputies. At-risk teen Kennedy, who disrespects all authority, feels she is an excellent actress and will be able to fake them all out, while drug user Nik tries to answer the officers with more information than they want to hear. All along the way, the officers see through every attempt at manipulation, and keep the pressure on.
Kennedy in fact, actually believes Beyond Scared Straight is "fake," that the officers and inmates are actors and it is all manipulated as so many "reality shows" are. I have seen these claims on various web pages over the past couple years and can assure you, sorting through the footage as an editor of over 30 episodes, nothing could be further from the truth.
As Paul has mentioned before, we are a documentary series. Many shows are blurred between the reality/docudrama/documentary labels, but we take the differences very seriously. To us, documentary means showing what actually happened, with no manipulations, no creating sound bites to give a false meaning. For each episode, a trio of editors sift through approximately 40 hours of footage between background stories, interviews, b-roll (various atmosphere shots of the city and jail in general) and of course the tour itself. The tour is in general between 7 and 8 hours and shot with 2-3 cameras, so that takes up better than 1/2 the footage I see.
Needless to say, that 40 hours needs to be edited down to the 44 minutes you see every Thursday night. The trick is whittling down the footage to show all the raw confrontations and emotion, and witness how each child is affected. Nothing is altered or manipulated, but instead we focus the events so you can see the transformations that take a full day, in a fraction of the time.
And as to whether the inmates and officers are actors? Well, just watch how that goes over when Kennedy makes that accusation.
I've been fortunate enough to work on all three visits to Oklahoma. As we have seen twice before, it's a powerful and effective juvenile diversion program. I think a lot of that has to do with the vigorous physical program they put the kids through. The jail's thinking is that it is easier for kids to have a revelation about their behavior once they are broken down, physical and mentally. How the deputies get into their heads is impressive to me. It certainly helps that they are usually given a background package on the teens by the social workers who recommend them for the diversion program.
Having a police officer recognize you and know all about you on sight is unnerving. As a kid growing up in Ohio, the police came by our school frequently just to talk and to help teach safety. Our classroom received visits from Officer Green and Officer Davis about once a month. Everyone knew Officer Green and Officer Davis.
One night, I was "camping out" - sleeping over in a tent in the backyard of a friend's house. I was not a really "bad" kid, but usually these sleepovers lead to a lot of wandering the neighborhood in the middle of the night, and occasionally causing some mischief. As we were darting through peoples yards, and considered what "fun" to have for the night, we suddenly found ourselves staring down the headlights of a patrol car. Sure enough, the door opened and out came Officers Green and Davis. The first words out of their mouths were "What are you up to tonight, Mark?"
I was shocked and scared. I had never been in any real trouble, and certainly no trouble with the law, but here were two patrolmen who knew me on sight. I realized if I was known, getting away with anything was practically impossible. We told the officers we were on our way to 7/11 to buy some snacks for our campout, and they "made sure" we did just that. That marked the end of my nighttime adventures. My own version of being Scared Straight!
I think the very personal approach the Oklahoma County deputies take with each kid really makes a difference in how the program affects them. It isn't just about the physical strain and visual shocks. It's about the very real, personal approach they take with each teen. Officers Cano, McCain, Estrada and the rest really don't let the kids off for a minute. Yes, inmate "Tiny" is back again, as is D-Town. And "Twin" has some very choice words for Brion and her infamous gangster friend. The real question is, once Kennedy realizes that nothing about the prison tour is fake, will she allow what she learns to sink in and change her life for the better?