Sunday, October 7, 2007

Prison Shows: Or Why I Should Probably Get Out More

Since I started grad school I have had a weird obsession with prison documentaries. I don't know if the two are related or not. Maybe I empathize with people who are locked in to the system, and can't go home anytime they choose. Or perhaps I'm just super lame now and I have spent more Saturday nights at home, primetime for jail shows.

I started with MSNBC's Lock Up. This series profiles life inside America's most dangerous prisons. Each episode takes us across the country to a new correctional facility where we learn about the gangs, the worst offenders, the food, the homemade shanks and what happens once people leave. Now, MSNBC is doing extra episodes at San Quentin. The series, Lockup San Quentin: Extended Stay, discusses everything you always wanted to know about this place. There is even a whole hour dedicated to the conjugal visit, and trust me, those things are a lot different than you'd think.

Last night, I watched a similar series on the Discovery-Times channel called Locked Up. (I guess prison documentaries are running short on names.) This series profiled inmates at the Dixon Correctional Institute in Louisiana. From what I can tell, this program only has three episodes titled, "Settling In," "Doin' Time,: and "Getting Out." Each one provided insight into life in Dixon. It was surprisingly more interesting than expected because in Louisiana, every prisoner is required to do hard labor. The show followed new arrivals on their first trip to chicken processing plant. Yikes. One guy almost threw up from the smell. In a different episode, workers who earned trustee status were highlighted. Their jobs included training and grooming horses on a ranch and working as a custodian at the state office buildings.

These documentaries not only showcase an intricate system that most people know little about, but it also humanizes a population that is too quickly forgotten and/or brushed off.