Love Behind Bars in Sin City

By: Elise Kirk, Hard Time Production Crew Member

When we discovered David and Marcella were carrying on a courtship of sorts from across the jail, they became an interesting through line to this hour of Hard Time. We first met David in 2P, a high-security module pushed by construction into the open dorms of the South Tower. We spent a few days warming up the dorm, seeing who would be willing to talk to us, and David opened up pretty quickly. He was in on strangulation charges, which put him in the close-security module of violent offenders and ex-cons, even though he’d never spent more than a few days in jail before this time.

He stood out as a bubbly guy in the bunch, though conversations would later allude to a temper. He agreed to talk to us about how he passed his time in jail, and we soon learned about his letter-correspondence with his girlfriend Marcella, one floor up and a tower over, in the women’s dorm. At first, Marcella didn’t want to talk on camera. Like many repeat inmates in on drug charges, she was still having very low moments of withdrawl and depression about being back in jail. She pointed us towards some other women in the unit who would be good to talk to, and the more we filmed in her unit with those women, the more Marcella, too, began to share her own story with us.

Unlike David, she’s spent a lot of time in prison, so much so that being locked up has become not only a fact of life, but a way of life. Eight years ago she had her daughter in jail, a daughter that Marcella’s mother is raising because of Marcella’s drug addiction. It is that addiction that keeps bringing her back here, and she admits she’s only ever sober in jail and prison–making it the most memorable part of her life–life on the streets fades into a blur. Repeat offenders like Marcella often get too comfortable in jail, and with that comfort comes rule-breaking and talking back to the officers.Marcella’s outbursts (“I don’t follow the rules!”) land her in the Hole where she does her pre-prison time in isolation.

For Marcella, like so many other inmates, the isolation provides too much time to think about the life that lead here, and, in Marcella’s case, her fear of returning to it once she leaves prison. She’s not sure she has the strength to stay clean on her own. Marcella’s relationship with David takes an interesting twist behind bars. For the first time in their courtship, they are sober together, getting to know each other through letters. And now they’ve been locked up longer than they were together on the streets. It raises a lot of questions for their future together. How long until they can settle their charges and be reunited? Will they make it together – clean and anger-free, once they both get out?

Tune in to Hard Time: Love Behind Bars tonight at 9P.


  1. Steve Davis
    New York
    September 18, 2012, 9:15 pm

    I’d like to know what happened to Christina. That clown she was with is worthless: he has no money, no job, not even a hustle, can’t find anything to eat and can’t funagle a place to stay. A total bum, and he’s cracking up (in the end of the documentary) ‘he can’t handle it’. What did this clown have to handle? What does he have to offer? Living on the street is hard, but people who live out there DO SOMETHING DAILY to survive. This sucker didn’t even have a corner or a block to panhandle on. I konw personally, if you just put out an old coffee to you can get food money. She must really be desperate to hang on to that clown, he has no plan, and expects her to be as poor and busted as he is; just sit there and do nothing. Is food and money gonna fall out of the sky?

  2. Wondering
    September 26, 2012, 6:04 am

    I’d like to know what happened to christina as well.

  3. Also wondering
    September 26, 2012, 1:46 pm

    I am also wondering what happened to Christina?? Surely you guys can do a follow-up show on some of these people?

  4. kathy fingar
    whitefish montana
    November 29, 2012, 7:22 am

    I am related to Marcella stroup by marriage. Would like to know if you plan on doing a follow-up on her? Know her mother and brother….. her background is very very troubling there was no doubt in my mind while she was coming up that her future is what it is now.

  5. zDCzx
    November 29, 2014, 6:05 am

    i know its 2 years down the line, but i watched this episode today on NatGeoHD and am wondering what happened to her too. Her story was very moving…..

  6. Tatiana Pineda
    May 12, 2015, 3:20 am

    I am watching his episode in May of 2015. I would love to know an update on Kristina please. I know it’s being 3 years but I would like to know how is she doing. Thank you!