There are many things that a middle-aged white man like myself could have as guilty pleasures - banana milk shakes, lobster rolls, Katy Perry songs, Nikki Minaj - but for me it is the weekly documentary on MSNBC - "Lockup." I love watching Lockup. If my wife and I are home on a Saturday night, she knows (begrudgingly) that it's highly likely that our television will be tuned to MSNBC at 9 pm.
For those who haven't had the pleasure, guilty or otherwise, Lockup takes the viewer inside a correctional institution over a significant period of time where you meet prisoners who receive focus during the Lockup season. Currently, this season of Lockup is taking viewers inside the Bergen County, New Jersey Jail. Depending on the season, the shows producers spend months of time inside either a prison or a jail getting to know the inmates and telling their stories to the viewers.
Why do I watch? It's really not easy to explain. In some respects, it's like the proverbial car wreck - once you start watching, you can't avert your eyes. In other respects, the stories are fascinating even if they are being told by those who are despicable and have either committed (in prisons) or been accused of (in jails) unspeakable crimes.
Several elements of the shows are worth mentioning. From a technical standpoint, the show is excellent. The sound and pictures come through clearly and crisply which is amazing in some scenes where cameras, microphones and crew are filming and recording in tiny prison cells inhabited by one and sometimes two inmates. More importantly, the storytelling is done almost flawlessly. Imagine trying to elicit interesting and compelling dialogue or commentary from people whose stories are being told to an audience that, for the most part, despises them. In fact, if you watch, you may find yourself actually feeling even a small level of empathy for some of the prisoners while also gaining or increasing your appreciation for the people that work in these institutions.
A brief example of what you're missing if you're not watching Lockup.
Probably the most compelling reason that I continue to tune into Lockup on a regular basis is the gnawing feeling in the back of my mind trying to remind me how fortunate I am to be who am I am where I am. And, but for circumstances that I never had any control over like my family, neighborhood and environments of my youth, that could be me behind those bars. Correspondingly, I can't help but wonder how I would do or, better yet, possibly survive, a day, week, month or years behind bars. Verdict: I couldn't do it.
I watch the show and hear the producers talk about one of the prisoners having been sentenced to 20 years for theft. TWENTY YEARS IN PRISON. Separate from all the arguments about sentencing, rehabilitation, and the efficacy of our correctional system, try this --- Watch Lockup and imagine yourself spending 20 years in a cell, inside a prison. Chilling.
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