Beyond Scared Straight

Behind The Bars: Week 13

Paul J. Coyne, Co-Executive Producer

Back to the Future

By Paul J. Coyne, Co-Executive Producer

Greetings Cellmates!

After a few weeks' vacation from this blog, during which time my talented associates filled in with fascinating words of their own, I am back to tell you about a very exciting episode that will be airing in a few weeks. It's the one everyone has been asking for since the beginning of Beyond Scared Straight.

But first, tonight we visit Portsmouth, Virginia, and once again try to better the lives of a handful of at-risk youth (and hopefully touch the lives of millions of viewers). The teens include dope-smoking Justin, who has no problem arguing with his mother on camera and ripping off his microphone when he doesn't get his way. He also has no problem breaking into a freestyle rap about the experience when thrown into a holding cell. This kid is a trip.

People often ask me why we return to these kids only a month after we tape the jail program, and not 5 months or a year later. A lot of that has to do with the schedules and budgets we are under in order to deliver the series on time, but for the most part it's because after a month, we feel like we get a pretty good sense of whether the teen is now on the right path. Still, for some, change is a thought process that can take time. A seed may have been planted on the jail day that may not sprout for several months.

For the last few months, we have been assembling the most ambitious and epic episode of the series. For those of us who work with these teens every day, it is also the most rewarding.

We have decided that it was time to go back in time and revisit many of our most memorable teens and inmates and see what changes have taken place in their lives since they first were released from the life-altering clutches of the intervention experience.

In a few weeks, A&E will present a 90-minute BEYOND SCARED STRAIGHT FOLLOW-UP SPECIAL. We will visit with thirteen of our most memorable teens, going all the way back to the very first episode we shot, to see where their lives have taken them since jail day. In our offices, we try to keep in touch with as many of the kids as possible but after shooting 43 episodes, that is nearly 300 teens. We couldn't possibly speak to each of them every day. There are some we hadn't spoken to in almost three years.

Featured on the special will be Brandon, from Oakland County, Michigan, who famously squared off against Deputy Sharma in the halls of the jail. Their screaming match became one of the most talked about scenes in the history of the series, as his crying mother interrupted and revealed how fearful she was that he was going to soon be killed. Brandon was eventually kicked off of the tour when he went toe-to-toe with an inmate. Now, we return to him a year later to find out if there is any improvement in his behavior. However, he will get the biggest surprise when someone unexpected shows up on his doorstep.

We also meet Jose, the cocky hood who toured Mecklenburg County Jail, but was more interested in looking good for the cameras. Jose met an unstoppable force in Sgt. Nina Garrett, a blustery female officer who refused to fall under Jose's spell, and who also refused to give up on him. I can honestly say that of all the return visits we made, the turn this story takes is the most surprising. We never saw it coming.

From Oklahoma County, we revisit Tori, who was brought to tears after inmates such as Tiny, and a vicious inmate from the Aryan Brotherhood, forced her to her knees and punished her with mandatory exercise. Tori was so shaken by her inability to comply that within a month after the tour, she had lost 30 pounds through fitness training and diet. Did she keep to that regimen of good health and no more drug use?

After three years of searching, we finally located Sahn, so memorable in the first episode we ever shot. Sahn was only 12 at the time, an adorable, sweet-faced kid who had a "passion for fashion" and was known as Bam-Bam because he often "knocked people out." After we filmed the initial episode, we were unable to reach Sahn for an epilogue shoot. Due to a prior charge, he was stuck in the legal system and could not be filmed. We then lost track of him completely, since his family moved and we had no way to find him.

After exhaustive research, we finally located Sahn and his mother. It is shocking to see how much older Sahn has become in just a few years. The journey his life has taken since the jail tour is heartbreaking, heartwarming and yes, kind of epic.

There are many other people we visit. Some are failures, some are successes, and all are fascinating. Ashley, the gang banger from San Bernardino County, Treszura from Queen Anne's County who forced a whole tier of inmates to get on their knees and beg for her to change, Jeiza from Mecklenburg County who finally revealed to an inmate that her problems stem from witnessing the abuse her mother endured at the hands of her now deceased father - they are all here.

So are identical twins Josh and Armando, who all the ladies seemed to love. By the way, do you know how hard it is to edit a show and keep track of which twin is which? Not easy.

We also meet with Larry from San Bernardino County. Larry met Officer Frank Navarro during the tour. Navarro quickly assesse that much of Larry's issues came about because years ago his father left the family and has had little contact since. Navarro promised he would help Larry try to track down his father. On this episode, we may finally see the results of that search.

One story shocked us and brought many in our offices to tears. We certainly expected that some teens might be in jail or others may be off to college. For one teen, however, one small moment changed the course of his life forever.

It is an episode filled with joy, sadness and wonder. You will feel frustration and elicit sighs of relief. For those of us who work on the show, it is once again confirmation that the inmates and deputies who reach out to these kids, really do make a difference. As is said so often, even if one kid changes for the better, it is worth it. Well, far more kids changed than just one.

The episode also features some of our favorite scenes and inmates. Can you ever get enough Diabla and Ice Mike? (In person, the answer is probably "Yes.")

I wish we could include updates on every kid we ever filmed. It would be a fascinating 50-hour special!

So tune in the Portland episode tonight at 10pm on A&E. I'm sure at least one of these teens will be featured on our next follow-up special.

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