"There’s not a Sybil Danning, Catherine Oxenberg or Tanya Roberts to be found in Lockdown: Women Behind Bars, one-third of the National Geographic Channel’s three-hour tour of life behind bars (8-11 p.m. Sunday). Not a woman you’d want to see strip-searched and terrorized by a sadistic, leather-clad female warden or marched around in a teddy for the pleasure of the male guards or engaged in a group shower scene.
Among the women shown here, there are moustaches and tattoos to rival any man’s. The typical inmate’s greatest skill may be fashioning homemade weapons from melted toothbrushes and discarded razor blades. And they’d gladly kill you for sport.
OK, so there’s nothing here for us perverts. But there’s more than enough information and compelling stories to keep you riveted to this hour, which follows inmates at the Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, Calif.
Valley State is home to 3,900 violent female offenders, and from that group we meet a power-broker, an exceedingly vicious prisoner who must be separated from the others, a pregnant former methamphetamine addict and a 37-year-old who’s about to be paroled after spending 30 of those years in one state facility or another. (She started her career at 7 by stabbing a classmate with a pencil, paralyzing him.)
Their ingenuity for smuggling, hiding contraband and brewing Pruno (prison alcohol) is astounding. Their ability to cope with the daily stresses of life is nonexistent. One unforgettable scene shows two women beating each other so brutally that it takes tear gas and rubber bullets to stop them.
Women Behind Bars is the middle hour in an evening that includes a rerun of Lockdown: Gang War at 8 p.m. and a second new hour, Lockdown: Total Control, about a high-tech maximum-security prison in North Carolina, at 10 p.m. It’s an evening that’ll scare you straight.