Beyond Scared Straight

Behind The Bars: Week 19

Paul J. Coyne, Executive Producer

Questions & Answers

By Paul J. Coyne, Executive Producer

Welcome back for another exciting week of temporary juvenile incarceration. This week we visit the Western Tidewater Regional Jail in Virginia where the diversion program and deputies are intense, the inmates are ferocious, and the at-risk teens are unrelenting in their defiance.

One such teen is Tysharaw, 14, who calls herself a "risk-taker." She fights guys twice her size and is barely intimidated by the deputies she encounters at the jail. Within the first minute of her arrival, this self-proclaimed bully goes after the biggest deputy of them all.

Then there's Maura, 16, a habitual shoplifter. Surprisingly, Maura comes from a privileged family that seems to provide everything she needs, including her own car. Still, Maura claims that she has stolen everything she owns, including a very expensive dress that she has never worn.

Tysharaw promises to physically battle her way through the program while Maura plans a more sensitive employ fake tears so that the inmates and deputies go easy on her.

(Coincidentally, I use those same two approaches when dealing with my staff at "Beyond Scared Straight.")

As I've mentioned before, I try to keep up on all the Facebook, Twitter and comments and questions. It's impossible to answer them all...but between work, raising my daughter, and an occasional nap, I do my best. Some of the same questions pop up quite often, so I thought I'd take the time right now to answer a few of the more common ones.

1. "Why don't the inmates ever hit the teens? Wouldn't that turn them around quicker?"
The main reason is because assaulting a child is a crime, even when you are an inmate! Their goal is to turn these teens around with fear, by example, and with compassion. I know there are a lot of differing viewpoints on this but many of these kids already come from painful backgrounds. I've worked on documentaries about child abuse and all it does is continue the cycle of pain.

2. "I heard it's all fake. Are the inmates told what to say? Are the teens actors?"
"Beyond Scared Straight" is pure documentary. We don't script or "produce" any moments, but instead try to capture truth on camera. Though we watch a jail tour prior to the one we film, that is only so our camera operators know what to expect. The jail programs we film have been in existence long before we arrive so we just stand back and let the inmates do their thing. I WISH I were talented enough as a writer to make up some of the colorful things the inmates say.

For the most part, all of the teens on the series are already enrolled in the jail tour before we even contact the jail and ask to film. They are not actors. If they were, they'd all deserve Emmys.

3. "You should film an episode in my town!"
We would love to! All you need is a good-sized jail that has a juvenile deterrence program and will allow camera crews to film them for a national TV broadcast. If you have that, we'll be happy to come by and check it out.

Also, it has to be something people would want to watch. I visited one jail program that was just a slide show, after which the teens took a written test. At one point an inmate spoke to them about how much he misses pizza while locked up. Not a very gripping hour of TV.

4. "My son needs to be on your show so he can turn his life around!"
It's not being on TV that will end his life of crime. If he needs it, seek out a local jail or prison to see if they have a deterrence program that might help him. More importantly, continue to be an involved parent. After a jail tour or counseling, that's what is going to keep him out of trouble.

5. "When is 'Diabla' from Chowchilla going to be on the show again?"
Never. California, where "Diabla" is imprisoned, no longer allows filming inside their state facilities. We want "Diabla" in every episode!

Now I want to hear from you, the viewers. What are the most pressing questions you have about our series and how we put it together? What would you like to see more of in future episodes? Which deputies, inmates and teens have most intrigued you as characters?

Most importantly, how has "Beyond Scared Straight" changed you? If you are a teen, has it made you try to live a better life? Do you think everything in the series is manufactured for the cameras? If you are a parent, do you watch the show with your own teens and talk about it afterward?

This is your chance to reach out to us and tell us about how the show has impacted your life. And thanks again for watching. Spread the word that we are back!