America’s Toughest Prisons Review: One Hour Of TV Jail

September 7, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews


If you’re feeling miserable, Five is usually the channel to cheer you up – there’s nothing quite like a programme about some poor woman with no face to make you appreciate how lucky you are.

Just behind that person in the misfortune rankings would be the dudes that live in Statesville Penitentiary.

The fact that these hapless fools brought their hellish fates upon themselves makes little difference and how I cherished my freedom as the narrator introduced us to life behind bars in the US.

Little did I realise that despite my liberty, for the next hour I was about to become a prisoner in my own brain as I watched a programme with a formula that has done more time than Charles Manson.

When we begin to hear the inmates stories it comes as no surprise that most of them are just advertisements for a life without heinous crime.

The brief highlight of the show arrives when it breaks with tradition and interviews two gay prisoners. Interestingly their tales could not be more different, one fell in love behind bars and is looking forward to his release in a couple of years, the other has not left his cell for several weeks for fear that he will be assaulted by the other inmates.

It also strikes me that for one of the toughest prisons in the US, there is a noticeable absence of trouble and during the programme we hear of just one assault – which is disappointing. I was expecting to see at least a couple of gang scuffles for my trouble, but alas no.

As sad as it is to see a man ponder his 60 year prison sentence, we have seen nearly all of this before, most notably last year when Louis Theroux travelled to San Quentin with his disarming brand of journalism.

Luckily for us, when this show comes to an end, we are free again.

Sean Marland