Earlier this morning, I reposted a blog article I wrote in January 2018, when I discovered A&E’s reality TV show, 60 Days In. I suspect I was bored one day, flipping through Apple TV, and noticed what looked like an interesting concept for a television program. I binge watched the first couple of seasons and continued to watch somewhat faithfully, until COVID-19 struck.
To be honest, I initially found the concept of the show kind of baffling. As I wrote in my first post on this topic, I don’t know what in the world would compel someone to volunteer for jail for two months. I later found out that the participants are paid to do their time, where they are supposedly treated like everyone else is. The object is for the contestants to blend in at the jail and tell sheriffs what’s wrong in their facilities and offer them a chance to make changes. I do see the value in doing that, but I also wonder how in the world they can hope to keep the participants’ identities under cover when there are camera crews following them around. Plus, some of the real inmates were interviewed on camera. How could they not know that the jail was participating on 60 Days In?
I’ve now watched seven seasons of 60 Days In, and I think season 7 was probably among the best of the lot. Why? Because this time, the show was shot at the jail in Henry County, Georgia, and each of the participants had previously done time. In prior seasons, the participants were mostly people who had no actual experience in jails or prisons, and it showed. Most of them were too “pretty” for the job– they weren’t trusted by the other inmates. But in season 7, the participants didn’t have that “TV ready” look, and they were able to act much more convincingly as they interacted with people who were legitimately in jail.
Another reason why season 7 was especially interesting to me is that it was shot during the height of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which started in March 2020. It’s now May 2023, and the World Health Organization has just declared the global health emergency “over”, although I understand people are still getting COVID and some are still dying from it. I had a feeling the emergency would end in 2 or 3 years, because historically, that’s how long a lot of global health emergencies seem to last. A lot of cynical people are saying that the pandemic was all a sham. They are not people who have studied public health. I am someone who has studied public health extensively, so this news is neither shocking, nor am I feeling like I was tricked. COVID-19 was– and still is– a very real thing. It has nothing to do with politics, particularly involving Donald Trump. If this were about American politics, there wouldn’t be people in Germany still wearing masks just to be able to see their doctors in their doctors’ offices.
Because of the pandemic, there were some unusual rules in place at the jail. Sheriff Reginald B. Scandrett, who seems to perpetually sport a bow tie, had implemented some pretty tough conditions for the inmates. New arrivals were locked down for fourteen days in tiny cells with their bunkies, with only one hour outside of the cell every day. That hour was to be used taking showers, calling family on video kiosks, and getting very brief exercise. The rest of the time, they were stuck in their cells, basically listening to people go insane.
As more than one “inmate” pointed out, the conditions in the jail were disgusting. The cells themselves were filthy. One inmate said there were pubic hairs that weren’t his all over his mattress. Another complained about being forced to wear the same unwashed jumpsuit for a month. One time, there was a flood in the jail, and there was raw sewage all over the floor with no means of cleaning up the mess properly.
One of the women spoke of only getting a couple of maxi pads for dealing with her menstrual flow. I could certainly empathize with that. My own periods seem to finally be on hiatus now, but there’s no way a healthy woman with normal periods can deal with regular menstrual flow in a hygienic way with only a couple of pads. Never mind the women who bleed heavily. The lack of feminine hygiene protection seems especially dangerous from a public health standpoint, as a lot of chronic and/or fatal diseases are spread via blood.
Inmates had medical face masks to wear, but it didn’t appear that they were changed on a regular basis, nor were they worn properly. Several inmates wore them under their noses or chins. One of the show participants showed how the metal wire in the masks could be used as weapons.
The quarantine/23-1 lockdown seemed pretty pointless and cruel to me, given the lack of attention paid to other public health issues in the jail. And, as some of the participants noted, it was very hard on their mental health to be locked down for that amount of time. One participant, Lynn, had done eight years in prison, but she couldn’t tolerate the quarantine and had to quit the program. She said that she had worked very hard to overcome drug problems and the insanity of the jail made her want to start using drugs again. She also pointed out that medications were handed out to help inmates sleep, but she couldn’t take them, because they would threaten her sobriety.
Just as a side note, it surprises me that the show’s producers would risk having someone with a serious drug addiction come on that show for that very reason. Sobriety is a fragile thing for a lot of addicts, and relapses are brought on by stress. Being locked down for 23 hours a day in a place where people have unaddressed mental health issues would certainly threaten someone’s ability to stay sane– and sober. The lights are left on 24/7; there’s constant noise; and people have to be on high alert at all times.
One early quitter in Season 7 was a guy who had done federal time starting in 2004. I was reminded then that 2004 was a long time ago! This guy kept saying he wasn’t a “young buck” anymore. He probably would have been able to complete the program if not for the lengthy lockdown in the cell. But, as it was shown in the program, he was feeling really sick and stuck in a cell with a guy who kept farting. He had to make a quick exit. I couldn’t help but wonder about the people who don’t have a choice and must endure in those deplorable and unsanitary conditions.
Another participant– a guy who went by the name Chase, but was famous on Tik Tok under the handle “Lucky Chucky”– was complaining that there wasn’t enough milk or fresh fruit for the inmates. I don’t think he understood that a lot of people in jail are actually experiencing a lifestyle upgrade, although one participant said that she was more comfortable when she was homeless. This guy also brought up prisons in Norway, which I’ll agree, are pretty posh by most world standards. Norway has a very different culture than the U.S. does, though, and doesn’t have the same problems the U.S. does. So it’s hard to compare the two systems, although the prison system in the United States definitely does need a major overhaul.
I think the season was pretty much summed up at the end, when there was a two part “aftermath” episode. Soledad O’Brien facilitated the session during which the participants discussed their experiences on the show. The journalist literally and repeatedly had to tell two participants to “shut up”, because they were arguing with each other. One of them was slipping back into being an actual inmate and was sliding back into being a criminal. They had to pull him out for his own good, because he was about to “catch charges” that would have put him in the jail for real.
I think Season 7 of 60 Days In is one of the best of the series. It’s not a show I particularly “enjoy” watching. I find it interesting for a lot of reasons, but there’s also a part of me that cringes when I see their living conditions. I find it kind of stressful just to watch that show. I can’t imagine being a participant. In fact, I don’t think there’s any amount of money that would convince me to do it. That’s pretty crazy, though, since it’s so easy to be arrested in the United States and land in jail. Plenty of regular folks have “volunteered” for that experience just by committing petty crimes, and either not having enough of their own money, or not having sympathetic friends or loved ones with money they are willing to spend on them, to bond out of the jail.
In any case… I’m glad I finished watching that series yesterday. I look forward to moving on to cheerier entertainment today. Or, maybe I’ll make another video or two. The ones I did in honor of Gordon Lightfoot are doing surprisingly well.