Next week, a very special extended episode of Beyond Scared Straight will revisit several memorable teens from previous seasons to find out if they have changed for good. Don't miss it! But first...
On January 31 at 10pm, Beyond Scared Straight returns to Boston, Massachusetts for an explosive episode that I'm especially excited about. I grew up in Massachusetts and for this episode we were able to film in my hometown.
Among the teens that tour the Nashua Street Jail, a huge facility located in the heart of Boston, are Bobby, 15, who is into drugs and trespassing (and in an incredible scene, loses his cool and tries to attack several inmates). Football prodigy Glen's penchant for stealing may cause him to fumble his gridiron dreams. Nick, who has grown up surrounded by crime, dreams of being a rap star and thinks that prison time will only improve his talent.
Did I mention Bobby tries to attack several inmates?
Last up is Jesse, a troubled 15-year old whose drug use and tagging threatens his continuance in school. Jesse fashions himself a bit of an artist but his biggest creative outlet comes from the graffiti he leaves on local fences and bridge underpasses. Jesse's mother seems to believe that boys will be boys and perhaps Jesse would be better off quitting school and working at the local pizza place.
Jesse comes from the suburban community of Milford, Massachusetts, a quintessential New England town of about 26,000 people. Milford has been around for a long time. A century ago, it was known for its rock quarries, which produced pink granite. That stone was used in the construction of a number of buildings in Washington, D.C., New York and Paris. Because of the quarries, Milford is made up largely of Italian and Irish residents, descendants of the original stonecutters. Many of the family names in Milford stretch back 150 years. It is literally a community set in stone.
Milford is also the only town in the United States to have an authentic Irish Round Tower. I don't expect you to know what that is. I only know about it because I used to ride my bike past it on my way to work at Burger King.
You see I grew up in Milford. I delivered the Milford Daily News. I worked after school at Central Cleaners. When I graduated I was voted Most Artistic at Milford High, where my camera crew has now returned thirty years later to document Jesse's struggles for our Boston Boys episode.
It has been a lifelong dream to film something in my hometown that could reach a national audience. I'm proud to have grown up there. It will always be my home.
People from Milford are loyal to their community. Many of the people I graduated high school with still live in the area and though it has changed over the years, it's still a great place to raise a family. I love that about Milford, although I knew from an early age that it was not the future for me.
When I began working at Burger King, I already had a passion for film. I saved up my first few paychecks and purchased a Super-8 movie camera. I shot Star Wars spoofs around town, at the quarries and in the local cemeteries. It was a hobby that eventually became a career.
And luckily for me, my parents never told me I was crazy to think I would someday make it to the film and TV business. Occasionally, my mother would tell me to stop watching movies and instead go outside to play, but that was the extent of it.
Although I regularly shoplifted comic books and candy from a downtown convenience store, and once got in trouble with the local cops for vandalizing a bulldozer, I eventually cleaned up my act and went after a dream.
I paid my own way through college by working various overnight jobs and when I finally moved to Los Angeles, I worked for free just to get my foot in the door. The only person I knew in Los Angeles, other than the wonderful woman I married while in college, was a graphic artist at Disney Studios. I called him up and asked for some pointers, which he was happy to give.
Because he too was from Milford and it's a rule in Milford that you have to help out a neighbor in need. I learned that in the Blizzard of '78, when my parents were lost for three days and the neighbors cooked all the meals for my siblings and me.
We talk a lot in the Beyond Scared Straight offices about the struggles of today's youth. Are kids today living more on the edge than they were when I was a teen? Or does working on the series just make it seem that way? Have parents become more lax in the last couple of decades? Are kids out of control or have they always been that way?
One thing I believe: the baddest of the bad kids on our series are far worse than the baddest kids I grew up with.
I have seen a change in the way a lot of teens approach their future. It's not the same for everybody but I do see a difference in work ethic, in hopes for the future, in looking beyond their home turf to see worldwide possibilities.
Maybe it's because they have grown up in a modern world that is much more image-based, where competition shows teach us that there is a faster way to the top. (Sorry about that. I worked on a few of those!) Maybe it's because hip-hop culture offers what I think is a false image of power. I don't know. A lot of teens don't seem to try as hard and reach as far these days.
I believe, and always have, that no matter where you come from, if you have the right support, if you are taught to believe in yourself by parents, teachers or friends, you are capable of reaching your potential.
The teens we focus on in the Boston Boys episode all hail from different backgrounds. Some come from troubled families and others do not. One has dreams of becoming a rap star and after this prison tour, he may finally decide it is time to follow his dreams - or give up on them completely.
If it's truly his passion, I hope he continues to follow it.
Milford High School seems to be doing all it can to point Jesse in a positive direction. As in many schools, there is a juvenile intervention program in place, here named Pathways, which strives to show teens a better way. Most schools offer support, especially if a student realizes he needs it.
Whether Jesse listens to the advice of his school counselors is something you must tune in to discover. There is another force in his life pulling him in an opposite direction. What he finally decides to do may surprise a lot of viewers. Or infuriate them.
So, welcome to Milford, my hometown.
Incidentally, my mother was on hand to watch my crew in action while they filmed in Milford. It's a good thing I didn't listen to her when she told me to stop watching movies.