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November 28, 2009

Scared Straight (1978)

Filed under: Documentaries — Tags: , , , — @ 4:12 pm

Scared Straight

“…3 guys will slide into your cell, wrap your ass into that blanket, and I don’t care how tough you think you are or how strong you might be, they are gonna kick your ass over the side of that bed and do bounty of your asshole by sticking a dick in it. So what do you do? I am gonna give you five options you can take: One, you go to the cop, you tell the officer three guys just ripped me off and you come back with the cop and say: that white guy, that black guy, that black guy…these three guys are going to the hole for 30-60 days and then the’ll be back in population, but the administration won’t let you into population for one of these guys associates will cut your ass from A to Z, so they gotta do something to protect you. Right up there on floor 2, there is a place called P.C., Protected Custody, we call it punk city, and there is were you are going to be all your time, and when you are in PC, you are locked 23 of the 24 hrs a day, you got 1 hr for exercise, and that’s it.But I can see a lot of tough guys right here, and when you are ripped off, the first thing you wanna do is to get even and after you cut one of them and you kill him, you are getting life in prison. Number three is deciding to shut up and keeping that to yourself, but these 3 guys have associates and these will also want to rip you off, and the associates of these associates also. Number four is the one that you all are gonna take, in the 10 years I’ve been here, I’ve seen it a thousand times: you are gonna walk around this joint or any joint you may be in, and you’re gonna find the guys that is real quite nobody bothers him and he don’t bothers nobody, he’s got all the respect in the world, you are gonna approach this guy and say hey my man, I got a very serious problem, Can you help me?

Scared Straight

And after you …he is gonna tell you yeah, and you’ll see that five minutes after he said yeah,  after he said yeah, like somebody got in the P.A. system and told 1300 wild maniacs not to bother you. And now you’re telling you something, hey, this guy was alright, he got all this pressure off from you, and now he only did nothing, the only thing this guy did was to tell the whole population that you are his property, you are his kid, and when you become somebody’s kid in one of these joints, there are some things you will do: you gotta get up in the morning and get his coffee, you gotta clean his cell, you are gonna wash his drawers and sucks, and if he want some head, you are gonna give it to him, and if he wanna fuck you in your ass, you’ll let him, and if he wanna sell you to another prisoner, he’ll do that too…and he is here over a week, and became somebody’s kid, and did it for over a year,and the pressure of day to day living in one of these stinking joints crushed in it, makes him get into his cell, took his sheet and one around the pipe and another around his dumb mother fucker neck and he hangs himself, so now he is even, he ain’t gotta do that life beat, he ain’t gotta deal with this police and he ain’t gotta put up with his pimp…”

Scared Straight is a documentary from the seventies directed by A. Shapiro and narrated by Peter Falk.
This documentary takes place in the Rahway, New Jersey’s maximum security prison, a well known penitentiary establishment due to its dome on top of the building, visible from many places around.

The producers of Scared Straight gathered several youngsters from bad neighborhoods of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and took them to pay a visit to the well known prison. The purpose of the visit was to sit the juvenile delinquents in front of some of the most dangerous inmates and try to straighten them so they won’t end up in a cell block.

Scared Straight

The youngsters were interviewed right before their visit to the penitentiary in order to tell a thing or two about themselves . They would introduced themselves and explain about their past felonies and what their expectations and plans for the future were. All of the teenagers seemed very amused with breaking the law and getting on with it, were self secure and had low expectations from the future.

The inmates to be, at the time they were conducted into the prison’s strolls and were placed for several seconds inside of a real cell, after they had been eyed raped and verbally molested (“gimme that one over there, I wanna do that one real nasty”) by the real inmates. Now you could tell they were not that comfortable with it, but this was just the beginning of their experience at Rahway.

The real lesson came when the young offenders were placed in a hall filled with high risk, high profile crime offenders: a drug dealer from Westchester County by the name of Mikie C., an arsonist and bomb builder from Bridgeport (Jon Shipiro), a gang member from Jersey City (Jerome Watts) and car thief from the Bronx (Jesus Rodriguez), among others, and life and death were the price they would pay for it. These inmates were the “lifers”, a group of hard core delinquents who made themselves into a program which goal was to deter potentially high risk youngsters to become themselves.

Once in the hall, the lifers would tell their horrific stories and their insides about hell in prison, waving their hands and shouting in order to scare the hell out of the kids, but this was nothing but the real thing, this was not acting, that was the scary part of it, these lifers were telling truths one again the other, no theater. The would explain about their stupid decisions who took them to dead roads and ultimately into the prison they are in, the real crime and hatred school were you don’t want to step. The real punishment are not the walls, the wardens or the conditions, the real hell is: the other humans, filled with depression, anger, hatred and in such high levels, that they need to share it with you, their victim.

After the visit the kids were really scared and were again asked about making that turn in life 180 degrees from that jail: all of them acknowledged to do so so they don’t have to see neither that dreaded place again nor their grotesque tenants.

At the second part of the documentary, after 20 years of lapse, again the cameras visit the once youngster in order to check on their whereabouts, whether the effect of the program was still vivid in their minds and more importantly, whether the program has preventing them from breaking the law. The results were still quite amazing: most of the youngsters then had no families of their own, were law abiding citizens and still kept a solid residue of the first part of the shooting. And I said most, for some were to become long term prison visitors and even find there his old “lifer”. Both teacher and student had failed.

This doc was released in 1978 uncensored, causing a big impact in viewers, the academy (this piece got its ward from the academy in 1979 for best documentary and 1 Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement – Informational Program to the film editor, Bob Niemack and another one for Outstanding Informational Program to the producer A. Shapiro) and even the law enforcement community, for many states introduced the scared straight program to many other high risk areas.

Scared Straight was only one of the many juvenile awareness programs for preventing juvenile delinquency and it was hardly criticized by A. Petrosino by gathering data in his study to prove that Scared Straight’s effects on youngsters were just the opposite of what it intended to be: it was in fact attracting the teenagers to commit more crimes.


  1. These documentaries are the most entertaining shit I’ve seen in a long time.

    Comment by C — December 24, 2009 @ 3:31 am

  2. Scared Straight was and remains to this day an eye opener for anyone, young or older, stupid or on the boardline of doing illegal activities, from staying away from committing a crime. Cons like Dominic, the bull-devilish-looking con, the one-eyed one, Joe, who tells the kids,”When you see us, you better see yourself. Because this (prison) is the future for youse.” and Willie, the tall black inmate with the vicious overbite, exists in jails and prison all over the country and they will committ a violent act on a target in there. The documentary remains a lesson against crime and a warning about it’s REAL rewards. In fact, one inmate said it best. “Degradation, aliention, humilation, aggrevation, extermination. That’s all prison half to offer a m.f. (person!” No doubt.

    Comment by Sheldon L. McCormick — September 2, 2010 @ 8:33 pm

  3. Sheldon,

    I totally agree with you. This documentary totally demystifies the “cool” part of being an inmate. There is no such part. All goes down hill for you when you are in. Jails are to keep you apart, not to tech rehabilitate you, it is the worst and best crime school on the planet. I hope many youngsters watched this doc., for it is a real walk on life lesson we all must learn.

    Comment by Mark — October 4, 2010 @ 9:28 am

  4. Jestem policjantem i pierwszy raz w życiu widziałem film, który naprawdę mógł oraz zmienił życie młodych ludzi. Codzienne rozmowy z zatrzymanymi nic nie dają ci ludzie wracają i wszystko się powtarza. Moim zdaniem, jest tak dla tego, że młodzież w trakcie rozmów i dawanych im rad widzi w nas tylko i wyłącznie “psy” szczekające, próbujące umoralniać. Tylko jednej rzeczy Ci młodzi ludzie nie zauważają z po za munduru. Każdy z nas kiedyś był młody i różne rzeczy robił, bójki, miał różnych znajomych między innymi złodziei, narkomanów, sprejarzy itp. Lecz w pewnym momencie swojego życia wybieramy drogę, którą będziemy kroczyć. Jedni drogę dobra inni drogę zła. To jest jedyna różnica między nami. Super film byłoby super gdyby pokazywano go młodym osobom wchodzącym na złą drogę ku przestrodze. Pozdrawiam producentów.

    Comment by Christopher — January 15, 2011 @ 8:18 pm

  5. How do I contact you guys ? I need my 14 yr old brother to get in this provram

    Comment by Leilani Fairhurst — January 21, 2011 @ 1:01 pm

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