Larrys Corner

scared straight

99 SEK
A film by Arnold Shapiro
Peter Falk narrates this documentary about criminally inclined youths visiting a prison and getting to talk to actual inmates who are trying to scare them straight. It is the Rahway State Prison in New Jersey. The year is 1978. It is called the "lifers program". The inmates get no special compensation for participating in the program, but they hope that this program will help keep some kids out of prison. 17 teenagers are sent to the program, it was a sort of a last stop for these kids before prison. These aren't good kids, they have committed theft, arson, armed robbery, assault, and more. The inmates are some of the worst convicts in the prison system, nasty men who have done nasty crimes.
Scared Straight is an uncensored look at this session in the prison. The inmates come in and they each take turns talking of their experiences, but rather than just a dry account of their prison time (and how they got there) this is highly emotional. The inmates yell at the kids, curse at them, and explicitly tell them exactly what will happen to them if they end up in prison and exactly what the prison culture is like. It is violent, always threatening, and every day is a risk of being the prisoner's last. The inmates gave every possible detail, more than you might want to know but everything you would need to know. Going to prison may seem like a game, a short easy ride, but these convicts set you straight. Some of the kids appeared to be near tears and visible intimidated by the convicts. The inmates explained what being intimidated would get them in prison, too.
This was a powerful documentary. It won the Academy Award for Best Documentary and it should be required viewing for any kid who starts getting in trouble with the law. Perhaps it should just be required viewing in high school. There is a follow-up with the kids 20 years later. Amazingly enough, 16 out of 17 of the original group have stayed out of prison. It was an incredibly successful program and the men (and women) said that if it wasn't for the lifer's program, they probably would have kept committing crimes. We also get to see some of the convicts 20 years later, the ones who are still alive. Some have been able to finish their sentence and stay clean, others had some problems and remain behind bars.
This is an incredible documentary and I don't think it lost any of its power 20 years after it first aired. This should be required viewing for any teenager and I highly recommend this documentary.