Greetings, faithful viewers.
On this week's emotional Beyond Scared Straight, we visit the jail in San Bernardino County, California. San Bernardino is just outside Los Angeles and the gangs that infest much of LA have their grasp on the teens of San Bernardino. Many LA families moved to San Bernardino, hoping to get away from drive-bys, Bloods and Crips but instead of escaping that life, it followed them.
This week's show focuses on four troubled teens who are dealing not only with life on the streets, but also with darker issues at home. Alexis, who dyes his hair in bold colors, always demands to get what he wants. Once, when things didn't go his way, he called Immigration on his parents, attempting to deport them back to Mexico, even though they were in the process of getting their green cards.
Baby-faced Andrew loves weapons and claims that he isn't afraid to use them. He is also a fan of Angry Birds, which he describes as a videogame with "Birds... and they look kind of angry." Louis, like so many other teens in our series, is following in the footsteps of other family members currently behind bars.
And Larry, sporting a full head of spiked hair, holds a deep pain because of the mysterious absence of his father in his life. For Larry, help and support will come from an unexpected source once he enters the jail.
Oh, and be forewarned, a couple kids throw up because the lunch in jail is so unappealing. I've tried that lunch. I don't blame them.
The allure of street life makes these at-risk teens hard to transform, and it sometimes takes extreme measures. We have visited this jail before on our series and one of the most memorable aspects of this tour, you may recall, is a visit to the county morgue to experience what a parent goes through when identifying the body of a family member.
When the large metal door to the morgue opens, you will see kids hold their noses, look away and even gag over the smell. I have been standing right where they are and that is not an exaggeration. The smell hits you like a pillow soaked in sour milk.
As you watch the episode that airs this week, at 10pm (EST) Thursday on A&E, keep one thing in mind. When that door opens, there is a camera inside that dark room, the one that contains the recently departed. Holding that camera is a cameraman who has been huddling in the cold with the departed for a few minutes, waiting for the door to open so he can capture the horrified reactions of the teens.
Our camera teams are the best in the business. And the most fearless.
Most of our shows are shot with just a couple of cameras. Just two (physically fit) people must capture every moment, story and personal development - and that really is an impossible task that they somehow make possible each week.
Think about it. These cameras are big. And heavy. And have all kinds of buttons and meters and dials and settings and lights and all that technical stuff that I can't begin to understand.
Jails are tight, claustrophobic environments. There is barely room for the inmates, teens and deputies. Somewhere in that cramped jail cell is a guy with a big, bulky camera trying to keep things in focus, watching other teens out of the corner of his eye, trying not to include the other camera operator in the shot and most of all, trying desperately not to sneeze during a very intimate conversation.
Our camera operators don't get a chance to take much of a break once the jail day begins. The jails and prisons we visit do not really allow us to get in the way of their mission - to put the teens on the right path. We can't ask them to stop for a minute while we check baseball scores. We are a documentary series so if we miss a moment, it's gone forever. No retakes.
Because of that, they go into the jail day knowing that it will be a marathon. They must be as vigilant the last minute as they were the first. Our show is not just about the big moments when an inmate is flexing his muscles and cutting a teen down to size. When we see a change in a teen, you see that change happen in his eyes. Our camera team is always paying attention and tries to feel every moment that the teen is feeling. It's like composing music while it's being played at a concert hall.
I don't know how they do it but they always seem to be pointing the camera in the right direction. They always find the right shot.
I can barely find my way out of a 7-11 parking lot.
One of our camera guys (we use camera gals as well, by the way) has earned the nickname "Spiderman." He somehow defies gravity, scales walls and practically hangs upside down just to get the shot. He has been shooting this series since the very first episode two years ago and the power of the images in our series has much to do with how we shot that first episode.
I have a photo of our Spiderman, one foot on a window ledge, one foot on a wall, five feet off the ground, shooting an intense exchange with one of our featured teens. Under his legs, on the floor, is the other camera operator. This is, quite literally, "fly-on-the-wall" documentary filmmaking.
I think the greatest superpower the camera operators have is their power of invisibility. Distracted by screaming deputies and towering inmates, it is no wonder that the teens that are brought into the jails quickly forget that there are cameras rolling. They really do, and you can see it happen within minutes of entering the jail. Becoming an invisible presence during the jail day is essential to our capturing all of the honest and sincere moments that take place in those few hours behind bars.
One of those moments occurs in this week's episode.
Larry, an angry teen who rebels as soon as he enters the jail, has a personal pain he has lived with for most of his life. His family was torn apart by divorce when he was very young and he no longer has any contact with his father. This pain has turned into destructive behavior. He fights back and thinks that the way to get ahead in life is with his fists.
During the lunch on the jail tour, Larry meets someone who will reach his heart, someone who makes him a promise that may finally resolve the issues that have driven him to violence. Now, Larry will have to find it within himself to turn his life around.
The lunches in the jails are always difficult to film because with two cameras, it is impossible to film every teen at once. The camera operators and producers need to make quick decisions about which teen to film at any given moment.
Luckily, Larry became the focus for those few moments; moments that will change his life forever. And our cameras caught the tear that rolled down his young face when he realizes he has made a friend within the walls of this cramped, terrifying place called the San Bernardino County Jail.