Despite some dire predictions from my seventh-grade teacher, I never ended up going to prison. Let's face it, they don't put you away for answering questions without raising your hand. Still, since those days, I've had an obsession with real criminal behavior — a fixation fully satisfied by Lockup, MSNBC's docu-series that follows prisoners' lives behind bars. This show has robbed many weekend nights from me, as I obsessively watch the exploits of very bad men who, I'm guessing, didn't raise their hands in class, either — instead they kidnapped the teacher and burned down the school.
Desperate to understand my fascination with guys so clearly afflicted with poor impulse control, I asked Rasha Drachkovitch, Lockup's executive producer, to explain his show's allure. "People love Lockup because it's real," he says. "Unlike 'reality TV,' we don't do retakes to up the drama. You can't say to a prisoner, 'Hey, can you hit that guy again?' This stuff really happens. We capture it. And it fascinates people."
Although the inmates usually don't break out, the ratings have. It's one of the news net's highest-rated weekend series. Producers also note that they have over 153,000 "Likes" on their Facebook page.
Stars, too, have taken a shine to it. Oprah Winfrey once devoted a show to Lockup's Eric Wrinkles, who broke into his brother-in-law's home and shot and killed his wife and two others. He was later featured in an episode of Life After Lockup making peace with his daughter before his execution. Chloë Sevigny and Mark Wahlberg are also avowed fans. Singer Taylor Swift said recently, "I love [Lockup because] I just am really afraid of getting in trouble." And NBA lightning rod Metta World Peace is such a Lockup junkie that he told producers he "falls asleep to it" when he was pitching them his own idea for a show.
Filming the series is hardly a glamorous affair, however. "At first, the inmates threaten us, so it's scary," says Drachkovitch. "Over time, they come to trust us. Perhaps too much. Sometimes, when we're interviewing them, they'll confess to crimes they're not even in for. Then we have to turn those tapes over to the authorities to see what the legal ramifications are."
Field producer Susan Carney claims she's had no trouble: "A lot of inmates have seen me on TV, so that's given me a certain credibility. I've had a few inmates ask for my autograph. Nobody's ever tried to hurt me. If they did, my crew would protect me." Still, one thing scares Carney about prison: "I could never live in a place without my own nice bathroom."
There's much to love about Lockup. The brilliant editing. The riveting plotlines. But the real appeal is: Jail's a fun place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there. So to that seventh-grade teacher? If this show keeps your "bad" ex-student from landing in the slammer, is that so wrong? Whatever works, right?
Lockup airs Friday-Saturday on MSNBC (check local listings).
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