Several thoughts occurred while watching Inside Teen Lockdown, a frighteningly effective Court TV special that shows what life is like in the Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility. (Yes, Pendleton, Ind.) In no particular order:
• Good for Superintendent Michael Dempsey for allowing cameras inside for the first time. The public needs to see what the worst teen offenders in society look and act like. And Inside Teen Lockdown isn’t some PR piece designed to show the facility in its best light — one section of this hour-long documentary includes security-camera footage of attacks on guards.
• Whatever prison personnel are paid, it’s not enough. There’s a scene here where five guards have to carry out what’s called a “cell extraction” — getting one of the students (they don’t call them inmates) out of his cell and confiscating a broom he intends to use as a weapon. The 16-year-old’s rage and the guards’ fears are palpable as they subdue him, cuff his hands and feet and pull his shirt over his face so he can’t spit at them or bite. “The staff is incredible,” Dempsey says. “What they do is amazing at times.” Agreed.
• These kids have figured out how to pass information between locked-down cells (it’s ingenious), how to stop the security cameras from monitoring them and how to create weapons from anything they can get their hands on. If they could harness their anger and energy and do something positive, who knows what they could accomplish.
• Excellent work by the producers, camera people and others who were at risk in unpredictable, potentially dangerous situations. It’s chilling what they saw, and what they brought back to show us.
• Finally, if you want to scare someone in your life straight, show them this. The unrelenting noise inside the facility, the destruction (one kid breaks through bricks and mortar) and the nonstop danger should be enough to make even the hardest cases pause.