Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of a two-part series.
Producer Susan Carney has been with “Lockup” since 2005, going inside 30 prisons and jails for the “Lockup” series and nearly 50 over the course of her career. She has frequently appeared on MSNBC’s “Lockup: Raw” series, a behind-the-scenes look at how the show is produced.
We invited our Facebook fans to contribute questions for Susan, and received hundreds of responses. Here are answers to a few of them.
Earl B: What type of prep work do you do when visiting each prison?
We have a wonderful colleague, Ray, who works in our production office and he provides us with a complete packet about each facility as well as news articles about some of the inmates at those facilities. We also research the local area for crime trends, current cases and local and state laws before going there.
Alyssa J: How is being a woman going into all male prisons? Do you get a lot of cat calls and inappropriate things said to you, and how do you handle it?
You’d be surprised how many women work in all male prisons. There are female correctional officers as well as female mental health and medical workers. However, I have experienced inappropriate comments and behaviors, and once an inmate touched me in an inappropriate way but I handled that with a conversation and he ended up apologizing to me. But overall, I think being a female going into all male prisons is a plus because I feel a lot of men are more willing to open up to a woman rather than to another man. I’ve also found that most inmates just want to talk and have a connection with someone who is not affiliated with the prison.
Anthony T: Love Lockup. My question is how many total hours would you estimate you have been in prisons? Roughly a small sentence?
I’ve spent about 700 days in jails and prisons doing Lockup. We tend to work 12 hour days so approximately 8,400 hours!
Nicki S. What made you want to do this type of work?
Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”, which I read years ago, was very inspiring to me as far as pursuing this type of work. I’m fascinated with human behavior and I strive to understand why we do many of the things we do - especially the self-destructive and harmful behavior. I believe that in truly understanding the origins of these behaviors, we might be able to prevent or at least reduce the damage.
Chastity L. Why do prisoners agree to talk freely to you guys, are they paid to be on the show?
No one is ever paid to participate in the show. As to why they talk to us…I believe it is because most people want to be heard and understood and many want their life story known. Also, a lot of inmates have told me they hope that by sharing their own difficult experiences they may help others in similar circumstances.
Kathy B. What is the scariest part about spending extended time in a prison?
There really isn’t anything I find scary about this job and I assume it’s because we’ve spent so much time inside prisons that it’s a very familiar world now. I will say that at times it can be emotionally overwhelming for me and for the rest of the crew because we do hear and witness a lot of pain, sadness and despair.
Mike S: If you had the authority to make one change to our correctional system, what would it be and why?
I would make formal education and basic job skills very accessible to all inmates; in fact, I would make this a priority during their incarceration. As a member of society, I would prefer to spend my taxes earmarked for prisons and jails on education and job training in the facilities because most inmates will be released and they will return to society. It is best for all of us if these individuals have more options in life and have access to better choices once they are out. Also, staying productively busy while incarcerated helps keep violence levels down and makes for a safer work environment for the staff and for the inmates.
Ana L: When speaking to inmates, I’m sure in the back of your mind, you know this person did something potentially evil or really wrong, but can seem like such a good person. Does that change how you think of and see everyone else in society?
I still have great faith in humanity. However, I think working on this show has made me more vigilant in certain areas of life since many inmates share the details of how they commit crimes and I use all that information as cautionary tales.
Julie M: What is your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of my job is interviewing people (inmates, victims, staff members, attorneys, etc…). I am endlessly fascinated with human beings and I am always learning from everyone I meet doing Lockup.
Nicole E: Has your view of the justice system changed at all since doing Lockup as opposed to before?
Let me preface this response with THIS IS MY OPINION ONLY and it is based on my anecdotal experience inside jails and prisons. I have certainly become more aware of the inequities in our justice system since doing this program. I don’t think it would surprise anyone to learn that socioeconomics and skin color can play big roles in who gets locked up and for how long. People with financial resources can usually bond out of jail more often than those without resources and they can usually hire private attorneys who, unlike public defenders, can focus more attention on their case. All the public defenders I’ve encountered have massive case loads and rarely have the time and access they need for individual clients, especially if their clients are behind bars. Also, sentencing laws for various non-violent crimes often seem excessive and unfairly skewed against people who are poor and who are minorities. However, awareness is happening as I’ve seen more and more lawmakers and social policy makers addressing these problems with our justice system.