Filming Behind Bars: Women on Lockdown

blog post photo

It’s early morning at Metro State Prison for Women in Atlanta, Georgia. A line of police cars waits outside the gate, bringing with them the next set of inmates who will embark on their time in the state’s prison system.  Inside the gates, in the prison’s sallyport, we stand alongside the officers… waiting, watching, and ready to record the first few unforgettable moments of life behind bars.

One by one, the women step through the back gate and then file into line alongside the other newcomers.  Several wear the uniform from their time in county jail – green, blue, orange – while a few others wear their clothes from the streets.  I can’t help thinking of this as an ironic final moment of individuality.  Soon, they’ll turn in the old uniforms and street clothes for a white jumpsuit and black boots… and while here, they’ll exchange their names for an inmate ID number.

At first glance, the world of Metro seems closer to a military boot camp than a prison.  The officers set the tone from the very beginning – giving instructions and barking orders like Marine Corp drill sergeants.  With the offenders’ diverse crimes – from shoplifting to murder – it’s a way to standardize the procedures, instill discipline, and make sure the new arrivals stay in line.  By the end of the first day, the phrases “Sir, by your leave, sir” and “Ma’am, by your leave, ma’am” seem to have been repeated several thousand times, and the marches and cadence play on loop in our heads for the rest of the night.

But this intake day is not exactly like the others.  Today, there’s a National Geographic Film crew documenting each step of the process… standing alongside as a silent observer.  As outsiders to the system, we exist in the narrow space between officer and inmate… in the sort of “no man’s land” of the prison world.  It’s this neutral quality that allows us to best listen, observe, and document the stories of doing time.  And for us, intake is also a beginning.  A way to make eye contact, establish our presence, and meet the people who will share their lives with us over the next several weeks.

But even as we observe the first day, I’m reminded that filming inside a prison is a process not only of watching, but being watched.  In the same way we move through the environment, feeling out different dorms, talking to new inmates, and taking the temperature of the world behind bars… we are also on display.  And while male inmates tend to ignore the presence of the film crew and go on about their business, from the start, the women at Metro are full of questions.  Where are you from?  How old are you?  Are you married? Do you have kids?  The questions seem to revolve around the same thing as the female prison world: relationships.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll film everything from the most significant moments – from arriving in prison to being released – to the most mundane elements of life behind bars – chow time, daily inspection, and the daily marching.  We’ll see women laugh, cry, and tell their stories with great honesty.  We’ll document the passage of time, inevitably witnessing women who are making a change… and those who possibly never will.  But it all starts with an introduction… a nod, a glance, and today, a morning intake.

Written by Peter Hutchens, Producer/Writer/Cinematographer

Be sure to tune in to Hard Time: Women on Lockdown tonight at 10P et/pt. Here’s a sneak peek from tonight’s episode:


  1. Cesar
    February 28, 2012, 8:27 am

    I think your last pagrraaph really makes the point that you need to use both blogs and email newsletters and combining them provides the best of both worlds.Here are a few ways I like to combine blogs and email newsletters:- including blog post summaries as articles in the newsletter- creating a weekly/monthly email that contains a list of most popular posts (by page visits, comments, or Tweets/social shares)By using email as a way to communicate the info on your blog, you’ll get the SEO benefits of having the blog content on your site combined with the distribution channel that makes it easy for people to receive the info and act on it when it’s convenient for them.Sharon Mostyn@sharonmostyn

  2. Sinn
    Flint, Michigan
    March 10, 2012, 1:08 am

    when it comes to Lockdown, the moron that constantly refers to JAIL time and JAILS as “Prison Time” or “prison” is a bloody MORON! JAIL IS JAIL! PRISON IS PRISON! I did 19 years IN PRISON! I get soooo pissed when you morons refer to JAIL as Prison. Get your $hit together!

  3. little john
    May 28, 2013, 10:03 am

    I was in the adjustment center for 2 years attempted to escape with other BRAND members the shipped to PBSP-SHU for 11years committed numerous crimes have exclusaive video of me beating cellie into coma as well as court ordered re-enactment video all used in an attempt to prosecute me know all the staff and inmates from show.been out 7 years got leg shot off with shotgun 2 years ago.but I haven’t murdered any one since getting out.have family and ten acre property where I grow weed.but if you want to see some never before seen video from inside the shu and hear some good stories give me a anyone from PBSP and ask them about little john.