Beyond Scared Straight

Behind The Bars: Week 20

Paul J. Coyne, Executive Producer


By Paul J. Coyne, Executive Producer

Greeting fellow cellmates! Thank you for all of your questions last week.

This week we visit a jail in Lake County, Florida, a pretty dark place within the Sunshine State. I've been waiting eagerly to share this episode with you, our loyal viewers, since it holds some of the most dramatic and emotional scenes we have ever filmed. Honestly. It's the closest we will ever get to a soap opera. Think of this episode as "The Young and the Arrested."

This episode, airing June 20th at 10pm on A&E, pits a tough older brother, Anthony, against a trembling younger sister, Alissa. There is a moment in this episode when Anthony is presented with the choice of either saving or failing his sister and what finally happens is unforgettable. Add to that a final twist at the end of the episode and you've got the makings of a deeply moving hour of TV. Put down your remotes, sit back, and watch it all unfold.

Anthony, 14, has already been charged with armed burglary, grand theft, and regularly uses drugs and alcohol. His sister Alissa, 12, is following in her brother's footsteps...smoking cigarettes, stealing, and fighting. They care about each other, but Anthony already seems like a lost cause. Their mother is terrified that if Anthony continues down the wrong path, she won't be able to rescue Alissa from the same fate.

So many of our episodes deal with the parent/child relationship. We see parents distraught over their child's destructive behavior. We have also met parents who deny any responsibility for their own part in what led a child to embrace criminal and anti-social behavior. Some of these at-risk teens come from broken homes or from families wrapped up in gang culture and past criminal activity.

Anthony and Alissa have their own issues to deal with, but it seems that Alissa is searching for her brother's love and acceptance. Anthony keeps his emotions in check and rarely expresses sadness or joy. All Alissa wants to do is gain Anthony's respect.

In the past, we have featured several sibling pairs on the series. There was a trio of girls from Texas whose mother flew them 1000 miles to take part in an overnight tour in Richland County, South Carolina. There were the twins, Armando and Josh from California, who many of our female viewers found dreamy, despite their criminal activities. In Oklahoma County, two sisters entered the jail but only one of them took a swing at a deputy and was wrestled to the ground and handcuffed for her actions.

I find the dynamic of siblings in jail fascinating, and never more so than in this episode. Usually, the younger teen is following in the path of the older one even if he is unaware of that. Will they be there for each other during the tour? Will they change together? Will only one teen change, making it more difficult for the other sibling to stay on the right path? How will they support each other once the day is done?

I have one older brother, a younger sister, and an even younger brother. The Coyne brothers often tried to convince my sister she was adopted, but since she looked so much like us, she never really believed us. My younger brother would terrorize us after school, threatening us with bodily harm if we asked him to do the dishes one more time. My older brother, since he was the first to drive and go out with high school friends, took the biggest brunt of my parents' fears.

We all got into trouble and we all survived. At times we were there for each other and at times we couldn't stand each other. My sister claims I once tried to stuff her in the clothes dryer but I choose not to believe her. My younger brother once drank the brown dirty water from my watercolor painting assignment, thinking it was flat Coke. I may have implied that, but again, I choose not to believe that.

We now all live very different lives. I live in Los Angeles and my sister lives in a small town in New England. I discuss film history and my brothers rant about the latest Patriots trade. We are different in so many ways but in the end, no matter how we are getting along at the time, we have been there for each other through every up and down in life.

Anthony is presented with that dilemma when he comes face to face with an inmate who could be Charles Manson's twin. By this point in the episode, Alissa is almost having a meltdown (though she is also a champion liar so you can never tell what is real with her). I have never before seen a teen so shaken by what she sees in jail. Anthony is defiant throughout the tour and even punches a wall after threatening one of the inmates. When he is told to comfort his sister, his reaction is shocking.

I've watched this scene probably 40 times and I'm still on the edge of my seat every time it's on.

Also in this episode is Will, 13, a football player who hits his mother and has stolen from his family and local church. Twice during the tour, Will comes close to throwing a punch at inmates and deputies. Then there's Jade, 14, who runs away, steals and smokes pot. She also has great hair.

Oh, and an inmate does something with his tongue in this episode that you will never get out of your head. Sorry for that.

This is not our first time visiting Lake County. Previously, we met Heather, a cute girl who was hanging out with the wrong crowd and got into huge arguments with her mother. She thought the jail tour was faked but soon found out that it was more real than she could handle. At the end of the episode, Heather had cleaned up her act and was determined to leave trouble behind and follow her dream of becoming an actress.

We are happy to report that Heather's dream has come true. She moved to the west coast and after many auditions, booked her first commercial! Following is a link to her debut. She appears at about 24 seconds:

Thanks for watching, and please spread the word that we are back!