Another Arpaio/Tent City Documentary
The title, "Chain Gang: Maricopa County," makes it seem as if the latest reality show to be shot in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jails concentrates on the novelty of inmates chained together. But it's more about those inmates' stories, the producer says.
"Despite the fact they may have done something that's offensive, you may end up empathizing with them," Michael Hoff said. "Just a simple twist of fate, I might end up there as well."
The hour-long special, which airs on the Discovery Channel on Monday, Oct. 5, follows a group of inmates housed in Tent City as they join the infamous chain gang. The show was filmed in June.
The network will see how the audience receives the show before deciding whether to order more episodes, Hoff said.
"If the (jail) is agreeable, we'd be very agreeable," he said.
This is the second special Hoff has created by following inmates on the Maricopa County chain gangs. The first, "Chain Gang Girls" aired on the female-focused WEtv network and followed a group of women on the shackled work crew.
"Despite the provocative title, it was very informative about the lives of these women," Hoff said.
Hoff, who is based in Northern California, said he didn't set out to make the inmates the focus of the shows, but the women's stories were surprisingly compelling.
"It gave you a microcosm of the prison system . . . and what makes it hard for people to succeed," he said. "How people can fall into potholes in life and unexpectedly end up in places.”
Hoff saw that the men have great stories, too, and shopped this idea to Discovery.
"They're different, but equally interesting," he said.
Ashley Adams, the director of photography, said there was no trouble getting inmates to talk on camera.
"It's amazing how quickly they warm up," she said.
Adams led two crews that tracked inmates in the tents outside Durango Jail and followed them as they did roadside clean-ups on the chain gang. It was her third time at the jail, having worked on the previous two women inmate specials, and said county personnel worked well with her.
Earlier this year, the Fox Reality Channel aired the three-episode "Smile! You're Under Arrest" special, which featured sheriff's deputies luring low-level fugitives into handcuffs with actors and stunts.
Here, Adams said, all her crews needed from jail staff was access. She was after "the real deal."
Arpaio was interviewed, Hoff said, but "he's not the driver of the show."
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office did not return a request for comment on the show.
As for the tents themselves, Adams said they were hot, but not uncomfortable.
"Honestly," she said, "I thought I would rather be out in the tents than in a hot, humid jail cell."
My guest blogger next Monday is Daniel Horne, the author of Accidental Felons. He spent a year in Arpaio’s Tent City, and he’ll be taking us right in there with his writing.
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Shaun P. Attwood