This week, Beyond Scared Straight visits Lake County, Florida, home to alligators and a bunch of slightly more dangerous convicts.
People sometimes ask me what special treatment inmates are granted because they take part in a juvenile intervention program. Why do they work so hard to change the teen's lives? Do they get better food? Early release? Blankets that don't feel like steel wool? Toilet paper that doesn't feel like their blankets?
The answer is simple. "None."
Inmates that meet with the at-risk teens and try to send them down the right path in life are afforded no extra luxuries behind bars because of their participation. This is the case in every jail or prison we have visited for our series. So why do they do it?
In some ways, despite their criminal activities, inmates are no different than you or I. No one, not even a lifer who has been in and out of jail his whole life, wants to see a kid follow in his incarcerated, orange-Croc-wearing footsteps. Nobody wants to see a life full of potential given over to the streets.
All of these inmates have children, or nephews or cousins that are at the age of the teens who attend the jail tours. We have seen time and again, in several of our episodes, teens being brought into a jail only to discover a close relative.
As producers, we never know when this is going to happen. It would be impossible to do a family tree on every inmate in a jail, trying to locate teens that they once had Thanksgiving with. It's a sad statement on the world these teens live in that some are barely moved when they meet up with an uncle in jail. To many, that's just the way of the world.
I also personally believe there is a significant level of guilt these inmates feel toward the crimes they have committed and the victims they have created. They would never cop to this because being perceived as weak in any way does not inspire fear or loyalty in other inmates. I think that there is something down deep inside of all of us, even if we think of ourselves as lost causes, that wants to know that our time on this big blue marble actually left something positive behind.
This goes for all of the inmates we have met, and not just those that are featured prominently in the episodes. When you see shots of crowds of inmates screaming from their cells, it is because the entire jail joins in on to help change the teens. We have never asked for this kind of mob participation. It's just what the jail population does, whether our cameras are there or not, to try to help the next generation.
However, one thing we never forget is that one undeniable fact: these people are in jail for a reason. They are killers, rapists, thieves, sociopaths, psychopaths and violent gang members. They have killed women, they have robbed from the elderly, they have sat behind the wheel while drunk and have taken innocent lives. These are not heroes. These are not "good people" trying to change lives. They may be human beings, but they are also inmates. And they have been locked away because the law decided that was the best thing to do to protect society.
Inmates have victims. As producers, we are always aware of that. We never try to sensationalize inmates and make them TV stars. We do not decide which inmates are on the jail tours and which are not. To this day, I am asked when certain inmates are going to appear on the series again (DIABLA! GREEN EYES! ICE MIKE!) and that is not a question that pleases me. These are not recurring guest stars.
Prior to the day of the jail tour, we will sit with the main inmates and discuss the technical side of filming the jail experience. We tell them that our large cameras tend to slow things down a bit because we need to do things like run in front of the teens when they are walking through a cellblock but that they should never stop just to wait up for us. We tell them that swearing is okay because we will bleep those words, but there are certain words we wish they would stay away from. The biggest note we give them is kind of an anti-note. We tell them that we are here to document their program and we don't want them to do anything different just because we are filming the day.
When we have these meetings, as much as we respect the work they are doing in saving teens, it is impossible to forget that we are sitting next to a guy who strangled an old lady, or someone who shot a rival gang member. Or someone who killed an innocent teen.
These are bad, scary guys. They know it and we know it.
One of the scariest guys we have ever seen shows up in tonight's episode in Lake County, Florida.
He is enormous, and with a full set of gold teeth. When one of this week's teens, Nick, encounters the inmate for the first time, the inmate is behind a cell door, separated by a thick piece of glass. Nevertheless, he is so intimidating that when he yells to Nick "I will eat you alive, boy! Cry! Cry little baby! Cryyyyy!" Nick promptly does just that. The inmate then picks up his small cellmate like he is a ragdoll and tosses him backward into the cell. He is a living nightmare.
Sitting in front of the inmate, on his knees, is another, more terrified convict who is screaming "They got me in here with killers, man!"
It still gives me the creeps.
This has been a rough week for all of our fans on the East Coast who are suffering through the effects of Hurricane Sandy. We know people are pulling together to restore those parts of the country that were hit and all of us at beyond Scared Straight send you our wishes for a quick recovery.