Beyond Scared Straight

Behind The Bars: Week 12

Tracy Santomarco, Story Producer

Fostering Change

Tracy Santomarco, Story Producer

Jail is a terrifying place. Obviously, it is designed that way because if it were like a trip to Disneyland it wouldn't be much of a deterrent. Although, I've stood in those amusement park lines and sometimes it feels like a punishment despite the cheerful music.

Each episode of Beyond Scared Straight features one jail and each jail has its own unique quality as to why it would scare a wayward teen down the road to redemption. Many times it's the inmates whose intimidating size and frightening tales of life behind bars that make these young law breakers think twice before committing any further crimes. However, in this episode it is the commanding presence of one Officer Lyle that is surely to be engrained in the minds of all those who entered this jail program.

In this week's episode, we are visiting the "Turning Point" program at the Floyd County Jail located in Rome, GA. It is a rural town located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, and is considered slow-paced and laid back which is a complete contrast to the teens featured in this episode. In fact, one troubled boy named Toby has anger issues that started at the young age of 11 when he stabbed a kid with a pencil. Unfortunately, at age 17 his fighting has only gotten progressively worse. His attempts to stare down the officers who get in his face during the visit fall short, as he is constantly put in his place by the boisterous Officer Lyle. Even the desperate wishes of 14-year-old Gordon's dying father doesn't stop his angry outbursts, which caused him to stab someone in the face. But during the jail visit, when the inmates catch their first glimpse of these kids who believe nothing can stop their bad behavior, the inmates attempt to prove them wrong. They become so enraged, they even break through the cell door where Gordon is forced to come face-to-face with a scary mob of convicts. How are Gordon and the rest of the teens rescued from such a melee? You'll have to watch the episode to find out!

Most often, viewers will use Twitter, Facebook or even emails to ask if the show is scripted and whether each inmate, officer and teen is cast. The answer is NO! We are purely a documentary show whose cameras quietly follow each officer confrontation, tearful inmate speech, or cell door slam for each at-risk youth program without getting in the way of the main goal - scaring kids straight. And at Floyd County Jail, these teens will demonstrate just how authentic these programs truly are.

In addition to providing a behind the scenes look into each Beyond Scared Straight episode, our Executive Producers Arnold Shapiro and Paul Coyne thought it would be interesting to give the blog readers a glimpse into how each staff member assists in putting together this riveting documentary-style TV program. Last week, one of our editors gave you a peek into what is involved during the editing process and now it is my turn. I am what is known as a "Story Producer" and am typically assigned to oversee one episode at a time. My main duty is to watch every hour of footage that is shot so I am familiar with each teen who participated in the at-risk youth program and everything that happened during the jail visit. I both manage and support the editors.

As you can imagine, there are numerous hours to comb through and it is my job to edit out the less intriguing footage, like watching an inmate wash 30 dinner trays, which while amazing as that sounds, surely does not make for exciting TV. Using editing software called Avid, I place all of the most interesting scenes from the footage into a long but organized and compelling sequence. Then, the editor takes that initial sequence and really makes the prison experience come to life, turning it into the captivating episodes you watch each week. It is truly a collaboration between Story Producer and Editor and I am thankful I have been so lucky to work with so many talented editors throughout the duration of this series.

Personally, I have been a Story Producer on 16 episodes of Beyond Scared and have seen numerous troubled teens participate in a variety of jail programs. One would think that being exposed to so many misbehaving kids would scare any human straight away from even wanting to wave at a kid for fear he'd target you and steal your wallet. But for me, it did the opposite. After watching hours of footage, you would see that these teens were acting out because they just wanted someone in their lives to show them right from wrong. And if a program like Beyond Scared Straight didn't exist in their hometown to show them where they were headed, then who else could help them change their ways?

I decided to volunteer and become a mentor to a teenage girl who was in foster care. Her mother lost custody of all of her children due to drug addiction and this young girl spent her childhood constantly being shifted into several foster homes because she didn't like to follow rules. I tried my best to mentor her in the best way I knew how by sharing my personal stories, watching movies and discussing the meanings of them afterward and also giving her rewards for good behavior in school. She seemed to really appreciate having a person in her life she could rely on. It was one of the best decisions I ever made to reach out and help someone who needed it. Now that the new year has begun and resolutions are being made, perhaps you may even consider volunteering. Beyond Scared Straight aims to help change kids lives, maybe you can too.