12 male prisoners, all convicted of non-violent crimes, are coming up for their parole hearing at the Baker Correctional Institute near Jacksonville, Florida. They will be put through a battery of tests to find out who might be an asset to society and who remains a liability. At the end of a grueling and exhaustive process of elimination, in which viewers will have their say, two prisoners will be given their freedom months or years in advance of their release dates. The show will secure a job offer with a local business and low rent accommodation for the successful inmates and this will serve the light at the end of the tunnel, or “prize”, for the duration of the show.
Unlike previous TV shows that have merely been a fly-on-the-wall observation of the machinations of State Parole Boards, Reality Prison Break employs its own experts, conducts its own tests, rigorously interviews inmates, continually pushes them to justify themselves, to apologize to their string of victims, family members and friends who they have let down. And most important of all, it places squarely on them the burden of explaining why they should be set free and released back into a society that is sick to death of criminal regression. For the first time ever on television we will put rehabilitation to the acid test and make offenders understand that they are not entitled to redemption: they have to earn it.
The title sequence is a dynamic montage of a prison layout, razor wire, cameras, prisoners, guards, cell doors opening and slamming shut. One prisoner is being lead towards a distant door. At the end of the sequence, as the music builds to a crescendo, the door is opened and a brilliant white light streams in from the outside. The prisoner steps into the light and disappears. FREEDOM!
This graphic package will be used throughout the series to define OUR prison. The images will be a mix of prison reality and our virtual prison, which will help to explain where the 12 prisoners are in attempting to gain their liberty. We will fly through the CGI 3-D view of the prison to find our prison ‘contestants’, their guards, the parole board and our own panel of judges.
The show starts with a crosscutting sequence. We see hundreds of male prisoners in an exercise yard. They are all dressed the same – it is hard to define one from the other. This is inter- cut with our panelists who are about to put them through their paces. They are scanning through files – we see photographs, names, crimes committed, sentences, and time served. We cut back to the exercise yard and the camera isolates the 12 contestants. A graphic sequence shows us each of the ‘contestants’, providing information on the crimes committed and the length of their sentence.
The 12 are individually moved to a separate quadrant of the prison. They are put into cells with 2 to a room. The 12 prisoners will have already agreed to take part in Reality Prison Break and each cell is wired with 24-hour CCTV. Apart from their toilet, their every action will be recorded over the next twelve weeks. We will be able to listen in as they discuss their lives and their futures to a fellow inmate. We, the audience will begin to get to know each of the 12 and formulate our own opinions about them.
During the day psychologist Dr Bennett Williamson, (http://drbwilliamson.com/drbwilliamson/home.html) and his team of psychiatric professionals, will put the inmates through a variety of recognized psychiatric tests, including the Minnesota Multi-Phasic Personality Inventory 2 test. (MMPI-2.) This court-approved, multiple choice psychological test is the gold standard for assessing personality traits – good and bad – and picks up on liars and frauds with astonishing ease and accuracy. He finds out how each inmate would fit into the real world again.
Some of the 12 have spent large parts of their adult lives behind bars. The world is a very different place now compared to the one they left behind. Who will survive in this brave new world and who will fail? The tests will provide answers for the audience and our panel of judges.
The panel will be made up of an expert parole officer and three celebrities who have direct experience of the prison system. A star who was/is imprisoned, like rappers Lil Wayne (still behind bars but will be out by the time of this show) or T.I. aka Clifford Harris, and a campaigner for prison reform like Tim Robbins or Woody Harrelson, and a conservative commentator like Ted Nugent.
They will be housed in the Control Centre of our virtual prison studio. Large video screens, prison cages, stark lighting and an ominous soundtrack will give us an eerie feeling of being inside a maximum security prison.
The panel will review footage of the prisoners in various activities, patrolled by prison security and our psychiatrist. The prisoners have to work on tasks both in groups and individually. In the exercise yard they will be forced to work together in teams of three or four. They will build structures, break up rocks, and play sports together as a team. Dr Williamson and his analysts will be watching for the cheats, the slackers, the team players and the team leaders. The winners of these tasks will be rewarded with special privileges, like a mobile phone for two hours, the Internet for an hour, or a conjugal visit. But the pot of gold for the inmates who participate is the promise of a good job on the outside, paying a living wage, low cost accommodation and support from non- profits.
Many state governors have announced plans to reduce the prison population. It has caused outcries in some communities concerned that potential criminals are being released only to re- offend – especially in these economically trying times.
Reality Prison Break will highlight that many people are imprisoned for relatively minor crimes – but they carry mandatory minimum sentences, so the judge’s hands are tied. They might be a student caught with marijuana, the single dad who turned to forgery after losing his job or a doctor who wrote illegal prescriptions for a friend.
Real life examples of the type of inmates doing time in Florida we would focus on are: 28 year-old John P Allen Jr, currently serving two years for passing forged checks, or Anthony Alvarez, 36, serving one year for giving false information to a pawnbroker. Both are due to be released January 2011 but may qualify for an earlier release date from the parole board depending on their behavior.
The audience will be taken on an emotional roller coaster each week as we gain in-depth knowledge of the 12. We will learn and better understand that good and evil rarely describes anyone. We all have something to be ashamed of but in each of us there’s something good and vital. The series is designed to find those offenders who will be a credit to themselves, their families, and their communities after they are released.
In the two-hour Season Opener we will get to know the prisoners, and their restricted world. We’ll have extended interviews with them in their somber surroundings where they’ll explain their crimes, their motives, their remorse and their hopes for the future. Some of them have ambitious plans for when they finally leave; others simply want to be free.
They will also meet our panel. Sitting in the Hot Seat, under intense lights, the inmates will be cross-examined by our panel of four judges about their crimes and what they’ve learned during their sentence. The audience will begin to formulate opinions about them. The network’s Internet system will allow for public voting and commentary throughout the series. It will start to become clear who are the country’s favorites and who are the villains.
From Episode 3 the public, assisted by our panel, will vote for inmates to be eliminated. Each week at least one inmate will be chosen from two or three nominees to be returned back to prison. For the unlucky ones we will interview them and learn of their huge disappointment of being eliminated. Then the cell door is graphically and dramatically shut, locking them in tiny cells. ‘Parole Denied’ is stamped across a graphic ID card.
To help better understand the inmates, we will meet with their friends and families. We’ll find out their good and bad points from the people who know them best. We’ll see home videos, photographs and memorabilia of each individual. We’ll talk to teachers and social workers that have followed their unfortunate paths to prison. We’ll meet with ex-employers and former co- workers. It will give us the first complete and human impression of these people.
From episode 7 onwards the path to freedom gathers pace. The psychological tests become ever harder, the questioning by our panel becomes ever more probing and we reveal facts from the past that will paint each of the inmates in a new light, but one that is rarely flattering. As the stakes increase so does the tension. There is rivalry between the contestants. Guards keep a careful watch for any potential violence.
Finally, after ten episodes the original 12 inmates are now down to 4. In the penultimate episode they must face the gauntlet. The tests are much harder, and the inmates are pushed to their limits. Tempers flare. In front of our panelists, like Ted Nugent, they are pushed and challenged on everything. Tests of moral consequences inform the audience in much more detail who these four hopefuls really are.
These four are then presented to the Parole Board for their final decision. The families of the four are present. The Parole Board reviews the material that the audience has already seen. Doctor Williamson gives a detailed assessment of the four hopefuls. Each of the inmates has to answer questions to the Parole Board.
It’s an action packed finale – with a lot of tension, elation and disappointment. The two who are finally eliminated are escorted back to their prison cells and are clearly shattered by the decision. They are given a phone call with their families. It’s a teary and sad farewell. But for the two who have been given their freedom life couldn’t be sweeter. They pack their paltry belongings and say their goodbyes. Then each is individually led out through the door to FREEDOM.
In the final episode, the 11 previous episodes are reviewed, ending the first half hour with the release of the two men. The rest of the show is dedicated to their first week of freedom. We see them as they meet with their extended families for an emotional reunion. The following morning they are given $500 to buy some new clothes. They are surprised by the change in fashions. Then the next day they start in a blue-collar job organized by the show. We follow them for a couple of days. They tell us how it feels to be free and having self-respect again. They promise to keep their noses clean and make a real go of this opportunity. We leave them with the sincere hope that they will succeed.
Episodes 1 & 2 (Two-hour Special). We get to meet the twelve prisoners, the psychiatrist, the parole board, and our panel of judges weighs in. We see the prisoners doing a battery of tests with Dr. Williamson. Our panel of judges makes valuable comments. Interviews with the guards help separate truth from fiction.
Episode 3 – 10. Each week at least one inmate returns to his cell. Competitive games are held, as well as psychological profiling. The winners are given presents such as access to the Internet and conjugal visits. etc.
Week 11. – Down to the last 4 hopefuls. They carry out stringent tasks. Tension mounts. They are put in front of our committee. Two are disappointed – Two go free.
Week 12. – A review of the series followed by the two who have been released. They reunite with family. Then next day start the blue-collar job that the TV series has found them.
We have an initial “yes” from the Correction Departments of three states: Florida, Wisconsin and Montana. Montana has a novel system for rehabilitating offenders with an outer perimeter set up around one of its main prisons. Inmates nearing parole hearings and release dates live in dorms and complete a battery of courses to prepare them for re-entry into society. They are very excited about working with bus on the show.
Season Two starts with how the 2 men fared after twelve months of freedom. And our cameras move into a women’s prison where 12 convicted female criminals are up for parole.
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