Thursday, February 17, 2011

Beyond Scared Straight

 © 2010 Leighann Lord
Before I was married, I used to love falling asleep with the TV on. Just set the timer for 30 minutes and drift off. However, when my husband goes to bed he needs complete silence and utter darkness. He is not remotely comforted by the glow of the flat screen or the lilt of late night commercials. He can't even drift off to TV shows he likes. That actually makes it worse. If he likes the show he gets caught up and then has to see it through to the end. So when I travel it’s a treat for me to turn on the TV and wait for Morpheus. That’s how I happened upon A&E's "Beyond Scared Straight." It's the 2.0 version for a new generation of wayward teenagers brought to a prison to see their future if they don't get it together in the present. Not exactly a new concept but this particular episode featuring teenage girls had me rivetted.

They looked like ordinary girls. They could have been anybody's daughter, niece, sister, cousin. But these young ladies were stealing, fighting, drinking, doing drugs or as they put it: "Just smoking a little weed. What’s wrong with that?" Apparently nowadays, girls will be girls. 

Well, these Young Ladies had run afoul of the law so many times they’d earned themselves invitations to "Beyond Scared Straight" and an opportunity to parade their pain in prime time. It could be worse. They could be hoarders, ice truckers, 16  and pregnant, or little people in a big world. But these were street smart chics. A trip to the local penitentiary would be like a day at the mall, right?

When the Young Ladies arrived on site, I was confused. "Wait a minute," I thought, "Why are they taking them to a mens prison? Oh, wait. Those aren't men." Severe fades and tattoos aside, these are the hardest women I've ever seen. They may have played it up a bit for the camera, but it wasn’t that much of a stretch.

At this point, if it had been me, it would have been a very short show. I’d of stayed in the car, seat belt securely fastened.  "No, thanks, I'm good, deeply sorry for any trouble I’ve caused. I'd like to go home now, read a book, get a job and pretend this never happened. You had me at 'Beyond.'"

But the Young Ladies, full of bravado, still thought they could tough it out. I guess they had to. Signed releases notwithstanding, just because your mouth writes a check that your ass can't cash, doesn't stop people from trying to collect on it. As someone said on the show, "It's one thing to act like a stone cold killer. It's another to meet one."

I felt bad for one Young Lady whose face seemed plagued by a perpetual faint smile. Clearly an involuntary nervous reaction, the Inmates thought she wasn't taking the program seriously. "Oh you think this is funny?" said a woman pulling an 18-to-life stretch for first degree murder. "I will fold you like a piece of paper." I get chills just typing the words. See, this wouldn’t have happened if Smiley had stayed with me in the car.

Another Little Toughie who was giving her father and step mother a hard time thought life would be so much better if she could go live with her mother. Turns out, her Mom was back in prison and just in time for her daughter’s “Scared Straight” visit. This is TV gold. I bet the producers of the show practically peed themselves silly when they learned of their good luck. Emmys all around.

As the Young Ladies stood silently on the yard — at a distance not nearly big enough for my liking — The Inmates mercilessly teased and taunted them. In the cacophony, Little Toughie's Mom cried out to her daughter: "This is not what I wanted for you! This place is hell! You don't know what goes on in here! Don't be like me."

Seriously, can we just get back in the car? At this point I dropped all pretense and turned off the TV timer. I was officially caught up.

Part of the process was determining whether or not the Young Ladies had learned anything from their visit. If they could demonstrate they had, they'd get to go home at the end of the day. If not they'd get an orange jump suit of their very own and stay at the prison for another 72 hours. One by one, they each appeared before an American Idol-style prison panel of judges. 

The oldest of the visiting group, Miss Mouth, was a 17-year willful, wild child with an alcohol problem who'd been verbally and physically abusive to her mother. The Inmates questioned M&M about this. Not surprisingly, she didn't have a lot to say by way of a credible defense, which earned her an orange jumpsuit. Her new cell mate promised to “be both Mother and Father,” and to deliver the ass whupping her parents had clearly neglected to give her. When brought back before The Panel, a shaken and teary eyed Miss Mouth mumbled, "I want my Mom." So did I.

As with all TV shows like this you wonder if the right people are really watching. After all, this show wasn’t for me. Or was it? Sometimes I wonder how much I’ve missed out on by being Ms. Goody Two Shoes. Not all roads lead to prison but if it’s possible, I was scared even straighter.  

ith such an effective format, they should consider developing a version for potential white collar criminals. Perhaps a chastened Bernie Madoff scaring young, up and coming fraudsters. “Don’t be like me! It’s not worth it! Oh, you think this is amusing? I will drop you like a bad investment! Put on the orange blazer!”

Dude, you should have stayed in the Lexus.

The Inmates participating in “Beyond Scared Straight” weren't all rough neck lesbians, most looked like ordinary women. They could have been anybody's mother, aunt, sister, daughter. I don't know what they received by way of compensation for being part of the program, but it wasn't freedom. Their message was loud and clear: Learn from my mistakes or be prepared to put on the orange jumpsuit.

I didn’t fall asleep until long after this show was over. I was wide awake thinking of all the people who had been a positive influence in my life. They took the time to put me on the right path, and hoped I had the good sense to follow it because there are no guarantees. We each make our own choices. Next time, I might choose to read before I go to bed.

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. Check out her upcoming shows @ Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

1 comment:

Sean said...

That is miles beyond wonderful. Wish you would come to London and explain it to teenagers here too.