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Lockup producer Susan Carney answers your questions (Part 2)

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.

If you string out all the days producer Susan Carney has spent inside jails and prisons shooting "Lockup," she’s been behind the razor wire nearly two full years (days, no nights)!  Die-hard fans of the show have seen her over the years through her appearances on our "Lockup: Raw" series, but how much do you all really know about her?  We’ve been asking you for questions and Susan has a lot to say, including how truly grateful she is for your thoughtful inquiries. 

Here’s a bit more of YOUR interview with Susan.

Tammy G: What security measures are taken for you to interview inmates?

We always have correctional officers assigned to us as our security when we are in the facilities. We are also being watched by the staff working the surveillance cameras. 

Morgan M: What is the process you choose to interview an inmate and go on to air his story? Obviously, you don’t force anyone to talk to you, but do you wonder if you are missing the more reserved inmates?

There are various ways we come to interview an inmate for "Lockup." Sometimes they approach us with a story we feel would be relatable for the show. Other times, the stories fall in our laps when an incident occurs in the facility (a fight, a contraband find, etc…) and we follow that story and meet the inmates involved. Also, we may be told about a certain individual by staff or inmates and we ask him or her to participate. Of course, there are those people we meet who we’d like to interview for "Lockup" but for their own reasons, they decline. As far as the stories making air, we usually film more stories than can fit into the "Lockup: Extended Stay" series so we often air those stories in the "Lockup: Raw" shows.

Robbie C: Do you ever have nightmares about being in prison?

Honestly, no. I only have nightmares about the work aspect of my job (doing it well or not doing well!) but not about the actual prisons or the people in them.

Aleksander S: What was the most uncomfortable filming/interviewing situation you’ve been in so far?

This is a hard question for me to answer because there have been moments in a number of interviews that were uncomfortable for various reasons. Usually things get uncomfortable when an inmate becomes angry with some of my questions. They become a little verbally combative or there is tension in the air while I wait for them to answer…or not answer. Sometimes, the interview becomes emotional for not only the inmate being interviewed but also for the crew when painful subject matters arise, and this can be uncomfortable as well.

Erin L: Was there ever a time you refused an interview because of the nature of their crime?

No, that wouldn’t be something I would ever do because I always want to know “the why” of every person’s story we encounter - even the most disturbing ones.  I may not always learn it but I do try.

Lindsay M: What has been your most emotionally taxing moment?

There have been a few that have taken a toll but two come immediately to mind; one was with a Colorado inmate (Jonathon Hall in the Limon Colorado facility) when his toddler son came for a visit. Witnessing the child’s inability to comprehend his father being behind glass along with Jonathon’s sudden softness and awe in seeing his little boy – was heartbreaking because we all knew that it would be a long time, if ever, that father and son would be together in life. Another emotionally difficult one for me was a serial rapist I interviewed in the New Mexico Penitentiary. He admitted that he had many more victims than what he was convicted for and he gave detailed accounts of his attacks. I was haunted thinking about all his victims and worried about how they had dealt with his brutality.

Melinda B: What is the greatest thing you’ve learned about society/America at large from documenting our prison system?

I’ve seen an increasing amount of mentally ill inmates as well as inmates addicted to drugs and alcohol in the jails and prisons where we film. My hope is that as a society, we find better ways to treat these individuals before they get locked up for long periods of time. Most of the mentally ill and drug addicted inmates I’ve met weren’t even aware of what they’d done to get arrested. Unless we’re willing to pay for mental health resources and addiction treatment in ALL jails and prisons, I think it would be safer and more economical to treat these people BEFORE they commit a crime and end up locked away without proper treatment.

Kerri R: When interviewing prisoners, how do you get around the “convict code”? It seems they are often willing to say things on camera they would not say anywhere else not to COs or judges or even other prisoners because they would be considered “rats” or “snitches.”

I think they open up more with us because we are NOT correctional staff or judges or other inmates: instead, we’re this outside entity facilitating the telling of their life experiences. I do ask pointed questions and there are times they will not answer me because of the convict code or fear of legal repercussions and we always respect that since they have to live in that world and we do not.

Thomas M:  Do you feel sympathy even knowing that these people have broken society’s laws?

I would say I feel compassion for almost everyone I have interviewed.  I seek to know where they come from in life and inevitably, we learn there was a childhood of violence, abuse and abandonment and even though that does not condone or excuse their behavior, it can explain it. I do have sympathy for their victims. 

Sara F: Have you ever had a moment inside a prison that made you consider doing something else with your career?

The only moments like that I have (and they are becoming more and more frequent) are ones where I want to take what I’ve learned from doing "Lockup" and expand on that to include more solution oriented projects when it comes to incarceration in this country. I believe that is the next step in my career.

Chels W: Why are you so awesome?

You are so kind! I think being fortunate enough to make a living doing something I love and am proud of as well as working with people I like and respect shows in how I work…at least I hope it does!

Read Part 1 of the interview with Susan here.