By Paul J. Coyne, Executive Producer
Welcome back to another bunch of words assembled together in some kind of order to tell you a little bit about how we put "Beyond Scared Straight" together.
Remember!!!! Like our sixth season premiere last week, "BEYOND SCARED STRAIGHT" now airs Friday nights at 10 PM Pacific and Eastern/9 PM Central on A&E! I hope you were as excited about our premiere as I was to bring it to you. As usual, you tuned in, took to Twitter and Facebook, and let me know what you loved (and were frustrated by) in the episode.
This week, our intrepid documentary producers return to Douglas County, Georgia, one of the toughest programs we have filmed. After several years of shooting this series, we thought we had a good handle on overcoming all the hurdles that can arise while filming. This time, however, nothing could prepare us for the direction in which one of these stories tragically turned. There isn't always a happy ending and, certainly, this episode details the most gut-wrenching ending imaginable, as one of the teens we filmed with lost a life to gun violence before we had returned to film the one-month follow-up.
This is a true story you will never forget. Hope found a way to blossom for another person we filmed with through the ashes of such unimaginable destruction.
Among the teens we encounter is Asia, 14, who has chosen to ignore how incarceration has touched other members of her family. We meet 16-year-old Diamond, who is known in her ‘hood as the Big Bad Wolf, but in jail all eyes see her as easy prey. 15-year-old Christian fights just for fun but, behind bars, he quickly realizes that he is nowhere near as ferocious as the inmates in his face. "Claiming Crip" comes easy to streetwise 16-year-old Laron, but once inside the jail, his boasts quickly deflate as is he faced with the threats of a true Blood.
We have met hundreds of parents making this series and, regardless of their own fallibility (this is not a condemnation - none of us is perfect and we all influence our children), all of them truly are desperate to see their children head down the right path, to live a better and more hopeful life, and to survive and become a thriving adult.
As the single father of the most precious 4-year olds on the planet (if I do say so myself), I cannot imagine the unbearable pain of losing a child. Not only can I not imagine it, I don't even like the idea crossing my mind as I write this.
On the mean streets of America, young death is all too common and has become part of the growing pains of living with today's urban culture. Kids are indoctrinated into gangs at an increasingly young age, and teen death is occurring in increasing numbers.
We have met kids who started smoking pot at the age of seven, teen girls who lost their virginity at 11, young men who committed their first burglary at 12, and dozens of teens who have witnessed murder and death firsthand. One teen we spoke to even thought our producer was lying when she informed the teen that no, she had never been in jail. The teen responded, "I thought everybody goes to jail at some point. Everyone I know has been to jail." She also told us she was too smart for it to happen to her.
That same teen has since spent time in jail. We can't save everyone, I guess.
Between filming the tour for this episode of "Beyond Scared Straight," and returning for the one-month follow-up to see if the jail tour had made a lasting impact, we learned that one of the teens we filmed with, someone who had actually changed for the better, had been killed as a result of gun violence. The family was devastated and we asked if we could at least dedicate the episode to this young person who had so much life to look forward to.
To our surprise, the surviving family invited us to return to film an epilogue anyway, so they could share the teen's story and perhaps set an example and give hope to other families in the "Beyond Scared Straight" audience dealing with similar struggles.
I've dealt with my own share of loss in the past. I married my first wife while we were still college students. I proposed to her only two weeks after we met. Together, with no money, we came to Los Angeles from across the country in hopes of finding work in the TV or film business. Only two years later, at the age of 24, she was diagnosed with cancer and passed away when she was 26.
That loss changed the course of my life and my career. I have spent a great deal of time raising money for childhood cancer patients, established scholarships in her honor and, most importantly, dedicated my career (which I don't always have control of!) to working on productions that try to improve and celebrate life, acceptance and potential.
I hope that if you are in the same circumstances as the teens featured on our series, that you take this family's story of change, loss and eventual hope, and use it to fill your life with positivity and potential. I have always believed that one life can make a difference to many more.
While I have you (if I still do) I wanted to let all of you know about an exciting episode coming to you next season - and I need all of you to help us create it.
We will be producing a "Best Of" episode and you, our loyal viewers, can weigh in on what you think should make it into the episode. Within the next few weeks, A&E will reveal various categories, including Most Memorable Inmate, Most Emotional Scene, Greatest Confrontations, and several others including, naturally, Most Memorable Moment Of All.
Once these choices are revealed online, please take the time to tell us your favorites. And, let me know if there are things we left off on any of the lists.