Did you ever wonder what would happen if an at-risk teen featured on "Beyond Scared Straight" became an inmate, and found himself trying to convince a new batch of teens to not follow in his footsteps?
Pretty soon you won't have to wonder, but more on that later. I'm all about keeping up the suspense...
It's hard to believe that we are already at the end of our fourth season of "Beyond Scared Straight." This week, on August 1st, A&E gives you a double shot of our series, taking you behind the walls of two very different jails for a couple of brand new episodes. The finale begins at a special time this week, 9pm, and then continues with a second episode at 10pm.
The first episode airing takes us to Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Virginia, where some of the female teens fight back when confronted by inmates and deputies in their faces. We also return to Richland County, South Carolina, home to the only overnight juvenile diversion program in the country. It's an exhausting experience for the teens, who spend the night in cells and are woken up several times to exercise, hear dramatic stories from convicted criminals, and get yelled at by the hardest deputies we know.
The teens do get to rest and refresh themselves between these workouts, but our production crew isn't so lucky. Since we never know what's going to happen, the camera operators, sound mixers, and field producers stay awake the entire evening. All night. They survive on jailhouse coffee and the belief that telling these stories will make a difference in someone's life.
(Okay, I can't hold it in any longer. I HAVE BIG NEWS!!!)
I am thrilled to announce that "Beyond Scared Straight" will be returning for a brand new season this fall. We have already completed the episodes, and they just keep getting better and better. The fascinating thing about the newer episodes is that most of the teens we now feature have seen our series and think they know what to expect when they show up for a tour. Some even think beforehand that the show is fake and we hire actors to portray the inmates!
They are all convinced that they won't be scared and won't cry. You can guess how that turns out.
I think we have, in this next batch of episodes, perhaps the most intriguing episode we have ever filmed. Most of the teens we feature turn their lives around. Sadly, some do not.
For the first time in the history of our series, a teen that went on a jail tour in a previous episode shows up as an inmate talking to a new group of teens.
Yes, you read that right. He was a teen on our series and now he's serving a sentence behind bars. It is truly heartbreaking when he admits to the teens, "I was stupid. I didn't listen, and everything they told me was true. It's Hell in here."
You won't want to miss it.
As you can probably tell from reading some of the previous blogs, I am enormously proud of the people that I work with. They are like family to me. I am also in awe of the dedication of both the law enforcement personnel and the lawbreakers who work together to try to change the future of each and every teen that comes before them. The deputies don't get paid extra to do these intervention programs in their spare time. The inmates don't get any special treatment for telling the teens the realities of life behind bars.
They do it because they understand that every child has potential. Every teenager has possibility. So many of the teens come from environments that reinforce the belief that the only way to prove oneself powerful is by living a life of crime. They believe that their world doesn't exist beyond their 'hood so they fight over things as meaningless as blue or red clothing. They steal because culture teaches them that they need material possessions to prove their worth as people. Though we have met some incredible parents and counselors, many of the teens we have featured are surrounded by adults that fill their lives with negativity and defeatism.
I am incredibly lucky to be working on a show that serves a positive purpose. Long after our series goes off the air (hopefully in about 10 years or so!), the impact on the teens we have profiled will still be a positive part of the way they look at the world. Not a lot of TV series these days can say that.
Sure, we will have failures. There will be those teens that will slip back into a destructive life. However, I strongly believe that most of the teens that have walked out of those jail doors and vowed to find a straighter path will continue to do so. We saw this last season when we did a follow-up special. These are teens that were given the chance to realize the possibilities in life. They don't have to do the same criminal things their friends are doing. They don't have to settle for less when hard work and decent living can lead them anywhere they want to go, especially out of the environment that threatens to trap them each and every day.
It's incredible to me that at this point, we have witnessed close to 350 teens go through prisons and jails on "Beyond Scared Straight." It's even more amazing to think that for every teen that has turned their life around, there are countless people who won't become their future victims; there are jails that won't need to house them at the taxpayers' expense; there are millions of viewers who have witnessed and been inspired by their story. These hopeful teens, in varying degrees, will grow up, have families of their own, and maybe even convince their own children that they have the potential to be anything they want to be.
Maybe even a blog-writing TV producer.
I want to thank all of our viewers for continuing to support "Beyond Scared Straight." When we air, Twitter comes alive with your insightful and/or hilarious comments and reviews. I return to Facebook's "Beyond Scared Straight" page a few times each week just to get a sense of what touched you the most in the previous episode. I have re-tweeted many of you and have sent you replies of gratitude.
One last thing: A couple of weeks ago, one fan of the show named Matt Sizemore became so excited that I responded to one of his Tweets that he announced on his page that he was thrilled to be talking to the producer of "Beyond Scared Straight." Unfortunately, none of his friends believed him, saying I was just someone pretending to be the producer. I guess I should be flattered that his friends would think I was famous enough that someone else would pretend to be me! Sometimes I don't even pretend to be me! Matthew, I hope this mention helps. Maybe they'll believe you now.
See you all back behind bars in the fall!