Going undercover behind bars for Reality TV
New TV docu-series offers look at what life in US prison is really like
Would you give up 60 days of freedom to be locked up with criminals in jail? That is what seven innocent "undercover" participants did in the US for a TV show.
A new docu-series, 60 Days In, shows them entering the dangerous world of incarceration at the Clark County Jail in Jeffersonville, Indiana, in an effort to expose internal issues and illegal activity.
They were handpicked by the jail's Sheriff Jamey Noel, who devised this experiment following a rise in vice and corruption.
These volunteers - two women and five men - lived among the facility's general population for 60 days without officers, fellow inmates or staff knowing their secret, while around-the-clock cameras captured what really happens behind bars.
60 Days In premieres on April 9 at 9pm on Crime + Investigation Network (CI) (StarHub TV Ch 403).
The New Paper caught up with one of the men, Zac from Tennessee, over the phone yesterday, but his full name, age and exact location were not disclosed due to "sensitivity" issues.
The former military man was so serious about his mission, he left his wife and newborn son for two months in exchange for a unique education in criminal psychology and the jail system, which he hopes could prepare him for a career in law enforcement - he wants to be a Drug Enforcement Administration agent.
He said: "The biggest eye-opener for me was that there were several people in there who aren't necessarily bad people - they just happen to have made a bad choice."
He added that although he did meet friendly individuals, he also got involved in some sticky situations that could have been dangerous.
ALMOST BEATEN UP
In one episode, he narrowly escaped being beaten up after calling an inmate "bitch", a crucial mistake for which he quickly backtracked and apologised.
In 2009, Zac was a combat engineer in the US Marine Corps Reserve and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010.
"My time there was tougher, hands down.
"In Afghanistan, you don't know who the bad guy is, but in jail you pretty much know that everybody in there is willing to break the law, so you treat them all the same.
"In Afghanistan, you have to treat everyone like your friend until they prove (to be) otherwise," he said.
Zac gave his view on five common myths about prison life that we commonly see portrayed on the small screen in popular shows like Prison Break, Orange Is the New Black and Oz.
Prison guards can be just as corrupt and violent as inmates
"From what I saw, the guards were held to a very strict standard and they have to abide by the law.
"They did not allow themselves to be brought to the level of the inmates so I would say this is not true. They take an oath just like any other officer takes to uphold the law and protect the people around them."
Food in jail is terrible
"Having served in the military, I'm used to eating really bad food, so to me, having three meals a day was really good for the situation I was in.
"The food was pretty tasty and most of the inmates I talked to said that the food in that particular jail is better than most jails around. So I think I got lucky."
Inmates get stabbed all the time with shivs (a knife-like weapon)
"There is definitely violence between inmates, but generally, the guards do a pretty good job of keeping anything that can be used as a weapon away from them.
"Generally, people don't get stabbed on a daily or weekly basis, but it is dangerous and there are fights quite often, but they happen without the use of weapons."
You're pretty much dead if you don't join a gang
"You don't have any protection if you don't join a gang.
"Even if it's just becoming a group of friends to protect each other, without actually calling yourself a gang, it's tough to make it through your time in jail alone without having someone watching your back.
"There are definitely inmates in each section of the jail who basically have placed themselves in a position of authority and pretty much run things and decide who gets punished or what happens to certain inmates. The way they get this status sometimes is gang-related or because they've been there so long so they know how the system works... so they gain that level of respect from other inmates. There's definitely a pecking order."
Inmates get raped by other inmates
"In my experience, I can't say, because I didn't see any. I don't know if they did occur while I was there."