Under a Rock: Lockup


Lockup: Engrossed Watching the Human Condition

Why did they steal?

Why did they kill?

Am I like them at all?

Perhaps this is what drew me in to the now-cancelled TV series Lockup. The MSNBC show ran for 25 seasons before the production company 44 Blue moved on. Luckily, Netflix picked up three of its seasons: Lockup: Women Behind Bars, Lockup: Maximum Security, and Lockup: First Timers. I have been drawn in ever since. 

The unscripted reality series documents prisons from over 60 locations, like Wichita, Kansas, to Rikers Island in New York. The crew follow certain prisoners to learn why they are in, how life is inside, and have even given cameras to the prisoners so they can film themselves, much like a video diary. Of course, there are many other documentaries and shows that have given perspectives into the correctional system: CNN’s Death Row Stories, Beyond Scared Straight, or Hard Time.  So why does Lockup stand out?

The prisoners.

They are the focus and the necessary stars. Prisoners speak directly to the viewers, gritty and raw. It’s hard to know for sure if they are telling the truth on their guilt or innocence, but you cannot deny the urge to listen regardless. Some speak primarily about their former life and how it is now in their new reality, and some use the cameras to seemingly plead for anybody to hear them out. I want to know why they are there. What happened? It’s like a whodunit except the answer is up to you and if you buy their story. The show simply films them and leaves an unbiased picture of the inmate. I love this most of all.

With the American justice system the way it is and with our large prison population, it’s no wonder so many are curious to know what happens beyond those walls. Guards also show us how their day-to-day is at work: how fights are handled, the repetitive and mundane tasks like mealtimes, and intake. It truly does seem like a whole other state of being. One action separates us from that world. Some prisoners are shown taking many actions to come back to this world. Another appeal to the series, like a twisted Cinderella story—rehabilitation. Will they make it? How long will it take? What programs are available to them?

I believe human nature makes us naturally curious about other states of being. Sometimes it is not pretty. We see the worst members of society on this show, but somehow we can empathize with some of them, cheer them on the rehab. We keep watching to learn more.

This series may already be cancelled, but it is a binge-worthy show that brings our human condition to light from the dark side of prison.

Ashley Amigoni is a freelance editor, bibliophile, self-proclaimed poet, and proud mother of two girls, residing in Illinois. She went to Lincoln College and Illinois State University for publishing, traveled to places like Singapore and Florence, and then happily put her daughters to the forefront of her life. She now is finding herself again, freelance editing for a few years now at Escapist Freelance Editing. In her free time, when not taking her children on adventures, she can be found haunting independent bookstores for literature to add to her endless to-be-read-time.

Lockup (2005) at IMDB

Lockup (1959-1961) at IMDB