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Stacey Dooley in the USA: Girls Behind Bars

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Xavier Alford Xavier Alford | 10:00 UK time, Monday, 22 October 2012

America is the world leader in locking people up. Today in the land of the free there are more prisoners per head than anywhere else in the world.

So back in July our TV development team thought that if we could get access, a women's prison could be a fascinating place for Stacey Dooley's next documentary for BBC Three, Girls Behind Bars.

We decided to focus our cameras in one unique institution: Lakeview Shock Incarceration Facility in New York State.

It's the only prison boot camp for women in America. It offers women with less than three years to serve for non-violent crimes the chance to get out in just six months.

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Prisoners at Lakeview Shock Incarceration Facility get just three minutes to shower

But there's a catch. The prisoners have to endure extreme levels of military style discipline where they are put into platoons, have to shave their heads and get punished for the smallest deviation from the strict rules.

It's called doing Shock. It's tough and above all, it felt very American.

Other than anything that could breach security nothing was off limits to our cameras.

Our crew of four (including Stacey and me the director) were with the inmates from the moment they were woken up before sunrise to the time they went to bed at 9.30pm.

We were able to film all of their gruelling daily routine from the two hours of exercise before dawn to the timed three-minute showers and regimented discipline in the canteen where they are given eight minutes to eat. Without talking and no 'eye-balling' the male inmates.

Initially while we were filming aspects of the regime did feel harsh. Many of the women who had suffered years of abuse were being shouted at by male drill instructors and pushed until they sobbed.

The 56 women at Lakeview are encouraged to share their life stories with their platoon.

We became an extension of the group therapy sessions which could be intense.

The inmates quickly became used to talking about their lives in public and openly shared their experiences with us on camera and off.

It was hard to watch and film some times. Seeing a woman revealing publicly something that has been secret and incredibly painful for so long in front of a group can be tough.

Stacey Dooley at Lakeview Shock Incarceration Facility in New York

Stacey Dooley with inmates at Lakeview

All of us had tears in our eyes when inmate Shameek Brown talked about her experience of sexual abuse and so did half the room of inmates.

One correctional officer even admitted he sometimes has to walk out of the room during therapy sessions because he cannot allow the inmates to see him crying.

The subject matter revealed in the session was so sensitive and deeply personal we had to be absolutely sure that Brown was comfortable that we had filmed it - and was fully aware that she was sharing her story not just with the inmates and staff, but the TV audience.

Stacey spoke to her on her own in the dormitory afterwards and for the first time since we'd been filming her she seemed relaxed, relieved even.

She told Stacey she was glad it was out in the open and she was genuinely touched by the support she'd felt around her.

And that seemed to be the point of these sessions in Lakeview. They give these inmates a chance to address issues while they are locked away from the issues that got them in prison in the first place.

And for some inmates it seemed that this was why they are terrified of leaving the facility at the end of their sentence.

As we spent more time in Lakeview we realised that the officers who initially appeared to be bullies in fact cared about these women.

Shock Incarceration is something they believe in and they have stats to back up its effectiveness. They didn't want the women to quit no matter what.

Many of the women said they were tempted to quit Shock and spend their full sentence in a regular prison.

They craved the relative freedom, the chance to get out of bed and shower when they want, the chance to fight people who annoyed them.

We needed to visit a regular prison and ended up filming in Bayview, slap bang in the middle of Manhattan.

The contrast with Lakeview was startling.

Here we were with more serious offenders: murderers, women who had spent most of their lives behind bars, women who had killed their own children and repeat offenders who couldn't break the cycle of offending.

It was a claustrophobic environment made worse by the oppressive New York summer heat.

We had no idea who would be willing to talk. But it is easy to underestimate the break from the norm a BBC film crew provided the inmates with.

Many women agreed to be filmed almost out of curiosity.

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Inmate Offley gets angry with Stacey's questions

Inmate Tyffane Offley, who tells Stacey she will never understand prison unless she commits a crime and does some time, was drawn to us on our first day on the recreation area on the roof.

She seemed to take pleasure in teasing, almost flirting with Stacey and making her uneasy before telling her that she had done time for beating up a prison officer.

The sergeant of security explained that for many inmates control is the one thing they crave, whether its control over when they eat, when they sleep, what they do and Offley was letting Stacey know that she was the one who was in control here.

Xavier Alford is the director of Stacey Dooley In The USA: Girls Behind Bars.

Stacey Dooley In The USA: Girls Behind Bars is on Monday 22 October at 9pm on BBC Three. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Oh no, not yet another substandard programme with Dooley stumbling her way through an important topic and making a mockery other people's actual dramatic lives? With so many truly talented, educated, passionate young journalists out there why oh why does the BBC insist on using her? You would have had a much more respectful and engaging programme by just letting the women tell their own stories. Such a bad example to the youth of today that you can truly stumble your way into a tv career with no apparent effort, education or skill. Makes me feel truly sorry for having to pay taxes and tv license.

  • Comment number 3.

    #2 - Did you watch the same programme as me??? I thought Dooley was great in interviewing the inmates and they seemed to genuinely like her presence and personality which showed in how much they were willing to open up and discuss some extreme personal stories to her and the cameras. I can accept that Dooley might come across as an inexperienced (innocent?) journalist, but I saw this type of interviewing in a Louis Theroux kind of way - unorthodox but effective.

  • Comment number 4.

    This programme could be OK. It's let down by Stacey Dooley though who's simply dreadful as the inmates are significantly more articulate than she. In my view a decent interviewer would fulfil the unarticulated needs of viewers, coax responses from reluctant subjects and probe for sensitively for revealing responses. Stacey Dooley simply offers 'tea & sympathy' and did a similar hatchet job on a muslim fundamentalists program. What could have been a revealing, insightful overview turned into an episode of 'Um..well...'erm....hmm...I don't really know....Cut ! Please Give this kind of material to Louis Theroux or some budding journalist with a genuine human touch rather than a pretty'ish 20 something who can only tinker with human interest.

  • Comment number 5.

    Boot camp didn't seem effective or good treatment to me just another bureaucrats idea of a good idea and a way to waste money. At one point a girl was being poked in the head, how is this appropriate behavior from a person in authority. A young women was forced to explain her sexual assault in front of others as some sort of tinpot therapy. Degrading people and breaking people is never right. The problem is social and economic, its about breaking cycles of behavior in a humane way. From what i have seem lately, there's a lot of disrespect for women in America.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    i mean she is an attractive girl - personality wise i like her gushing style especially in the border wars episode where she hid behind a patrolman and was clutching his hand - they must have been nonplussed - so show off what you have girl

  • Comment number 11.

    Huonoa and jamiecruz, I couldn't agree with you more. I only managed about 30 minutes of "Girls behind bars" before turning off. Dooley is a cliche spouting teenager, aged mid twenties. She irks me so, that I've come to hate her voice. The Janet-Street-Porter-school of elocution minus the brains and insight.


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