Shooting Court TV's Guilt by Association airing tonight at 9 pm/ET was wretched for Mercedes Ruehl. She stars in the teleplay as Susan Walker, a widowed mother who unwittingly dated a drug dealer and, due to an unjust technicality, wound up sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison. What did Oscar-winner Ruehl learn from portraying this true tale?
"To stay out of prison!" she laughs. "Let me tell you, I was brought up Catholic to believe there was a stratification you know, Heaven, Purgatory, Hell. I no longer believe that. I believe that Hell is right here on Earth."
Guilt was filmed in a medium-to-maximum security prison, where Ruehl got a realistic feel for life behind bars. Sounds like it was a little too authentic for her taste! "We saw the prisoners around there," she recalls. "We shot the film in their facilities, including dorms, dining areas, bathrooms, latrines. And I can only tell you, it is somebody's vision of Hell. It was tremendously depressing."
Before receiving a pardon from President Clinton
, Walker endured very tough times in the slammer, which Ruehl suspects only Walker's kids could've gotten her through. "Without the mandate of children," says the actress, "I don't know how you could sustain in there without really serious thoughts of committing suicide of just ending it. So, it was an eye-opener of massive proportions."