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Series / Beyond Scared Straight

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Beyond Scared Straight was an A&E reality show that followed state-sponsored programs that sent at-risk teens into prison to get a glimpse of what their lives would be like if they continued down the paths they were on. The series, which aired from 2011 to 2015, was based off the famous 1978 documentary, Scared Straight!

This show provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Various examples from both the teens and the inmates they meet. Some of them are the physically-abusive kind, but that's pretty rare; more often than not, the kind of abuse being presented is neglect. As in, the parents aren't involved in their children's lives or schooling, or have tried to be and been pushed away. There's also examples of emotional abuse, such as put-downs or taunting their children about how they'll end up like their imprisoned parent.
    • Willie's mom. She basically admits that she verbally abuses and hits him regularly, and that Willie was only charged with domestic violence for "hitting back".
  • Affably Evil: Believe it or not, some inmates are like this towards kids once they change for the better.
  • And Then What?: Kids who proclaim their toughness usually get a taste of what a real fight in prison would be like: completely unfair. The inmates and the officers frequently take turns asking something like "It's [X]-on-one, you're the one. Your attackers all have at least a hundred pounds on you each. It'll be at least five minutes before the guards will even know you're in trouble. How do you think you'll get out of that alive, let alone win the fight?" There's usually no answer from the kids, which is framed as the kid not having thought that far ahead.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Guards and prisoners have a habit of giving these to kids in the programs.
    • One example is a guard saying "You say you're always mad! Why aren't you mad now?!" to a teen who proclaimed that he was always mad. The way the shots were framed made the teen look like a Paper Tiger that can talk a big game, but can't back it up.
    • Fights in prison aren't fair. At best, the kid will have to fight one-on-one with someone who's stronger, faster, tougher, more experienced with violence than the kid. And again, that's a best-case scenario; an actual fight is going to be at last half-a-dozen prisoners all that same size against the one kid. And it will take at least five minutes before all of the deputies can respond in time to break up the fight. The armor-piercing question is thus "How are you supposed to win that fight?" The answer — "you can't" — is sometimes spelled out, and it's sometimes left for the kids to figure it out.
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    • Almost Once an Episode, when a kid shows disrespect, the kid will be asked "Whatcha gonna do?" by the guards, the inmates, or both. When the kid has multiple people in their face, their options are to just sit there and take it, or take a swing at someone, which will result in a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown and handcuffs being slapped on (in that order). The pierced armor is that the guise of being tough isn't going to work in jail, or that the kid isn't as tough as they claim to be.
  • Big Brother Instinct: The inmates won't be happy with a kid if they're an older sibling who is leading their younger sibling(s) into a life of crime. Usually, the older sibling gets flack for leading the younger sibling(s) down the wrong path, and get chastised for doing so by inmates during the program. This hits especially hard when multiple siblings go into the program at the same time.
    • One particular instance had a kid watch his little brother get put in a body bag while the two of them were in jail. The little brother was still alive; it was just a demonstration. But the thought of such a thing happening because of him sent the big brother into hysterics.
    • Averted, at least initially, with a wannabe car burglar named Anthony who was sent to the Lake County, Florida, program, along with his younger sister Alissa. When Alissa essentially suffered a panic attack and began crying hysterically almost immediately, Anthony made no attempt to comfort or defend her, leading the officers to brand him as a coward. Eventually he was made to realize that he needed to be a good role model for Alissa, which led to an Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other moment. Ironically, the post-episode update revealed that Anthony had mended his ways while Alissa was still getting in trouble despite her brother's attempts to set her straight.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: The female teens almost always start out as this.
  • Break the Haughty: The whole point of the program. Most of the troubled teens come in thinking they're tough, but they end up learning otherwise the hard way and changing their ways after they see the harsh realities of prison (in theory). It's invoked by a lot of inmates and guards who want to get the teens scared and in an emotionally vulnerable state so they can talk to them quietly one-on-one, which gets the message across much more clearly.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Even as early as the 1978 special, it's been suspected that the inmate participants seen in these shows were hamming it up and trying to appear more scary for the cameras. Whether this is true or not, it remains a fact that confrontations in this series are loud, filled with curse words, and over the top.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Sending prospective jail-bound teens/young adults into the very place they may one day end up.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The inmates talk like this. It leads to a Cluster Bleep-Bomb in practice, as nearly all of it gets censored.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • Discussed in many episodes. As the prisoners and the guards make very clear, it's never going to be a fair fight in jail. Chances are good that a "fight" will be multiple inmates beating up on one in particular. The best the teens can hope for is one person who outweighs them by at least a hundred pounds. And it will take at least five minutes before all of the deputies can respond in time to break up the fight.
    • Played straight with a brief altercation in season 1. A girl named Leigh takes a swing at a prison guard, getting Leigh swarmed by multiple other guards just seconds later. While Leigh ultimately doesn't end up booked right then and there, it does show the futility of trying to fight a prison guard inside of a prison.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Most of the inmates have this. This is a big reason why the inmates are especially tough on kids who have both of their parents trying to help them. To many of the inmates, the troubled teens have no excuse to act like they do.
  • Delinquents: Every teen in the Scared Straight program start off as such and are in it, because of how close they are to serving actual jail time.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: One particularly mean guard forces 14 year old Seth to sleep in a prison cell all night just because Seth hurt his ego by calling his bluff.
  • The Ditz:
    • What else can you say about the ones who end up right back in jail?
    • Or the ones who on the ride to jail, say it'll be fun.
    • Or the ones who feel the need to smile, laugh, and joke in front of the inmates.
    • Special mention goes to one kid in the season 2 premier.
      Correctional Officer: Who you influenced by?
      Youth: My favorite rapper.
      C.O.: Who's your favorite rapper?
      Youth: Lil' Boosie
      • For those who don't know, Lil' Boosie was incarcerated at the time of the episode's initial airing and had been since before this show began airing; he was later released in 2014 after serving 5 years.
    • Or the girl who thought it would be a good idea to swing on a corrections officer.
    • Or the boy genius who thought it would be a good idea to wear a pink Tweety Bird shirt to prison, a place notorious for brutalizing men who show the slightest sign of effeminacy.
  • Downer Ending: Whenever it's revealed that any of the teens ended up in jail anyway post-filming. Or worse yet, dead. One kid in particular named Toby went through a Scared Straight program and didn't change. He ended up going to jail, and ended up on the show again, this time as an inmate. He gave a Jacob Marley Warning to the kids about how he used to think he was invincible, but by day three of prison, he was already broken.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Male on Male: Though the subject is not treated with comedy, a lot of the guards are very willing to threaten the teens with Prison Rape, and talk about it so casually that it's clear it doesn't really bother them much. A terrifying case of Truth in Television, as many prison guards and sometimes even wardens view prison rape as a Necessary Evil that keeps inmates in line, and willingly to turn a blind eye to it.
    • The guards also allow a prison rapist to force a young teen to smear Kool Ade on his lips as lipstick and getting close enough to kiss him, which is sexual abuse.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: The law enforcement officials are definitely this to kids with attitude or won't obey their rules. Disobedience just makes this even more intense. Usually, the kids will have to do some exercises or some menial task inside of the prison; not doing it fast enough (or at all) will only increase the shouting and/or intensity of said exercises or task.
  • Driven to Suicide: One episode featured a 22-year-old inmate named Travis who was facing a life sentence for first-degree murder and kidnapping. When speaking to the camera crew, he outright stated that he planned on hanging himself in his cell rather than serve his sentence.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Kids whose only crime is using marijuana are treated just as harshly and get just as much camera time as kids who rob, gangbang, abuse their parents and grandparents, or commit grand theft auto. One episode included a teen who had flipped over his mother's car while driving drunk and as a result killed an infant. Also in the group was a stoner kid. Guess who got the harder treatment from the inmates/guards and more camera time?
  • Engineered Public Confession: The teens frequently have their crimes pinned to their clothes or otherwise displayed somewhere that everyone can see, letting the inmates know what they're going through the program for.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Kids who are disrespectful to their mothers are treated "special" by the inmates. A lot of prisoners even spell out that they wish they could go home and/or apologize to their mothers.
  • Forced to Watch: Especially where siblings are concerned. The older sibling will usually have to watch something happen to their younger sibling, such as verbal abuse, some demeaning chore, or acting as if the sibling was killed. It's meant to invoke the Big Brother Instinct with the inmates and officers trying to teach a lesson about staying on the right path.
  • Heel–Face Turn: In contrast to above, most of the teens are so scarred by their prison visits that they turn their lives around to focus on school, jobs, and family.
  • Hypocrite: A girl on the jail tour in one episode sees her boyfriend in jail and chews him out for not staying out of trouble as he'd promised her, despite the fact that she herself was engaged in behavior that could land her in jail. She also claimed to be pregnant with his child. It turned out she wasn't pregnant, and they broke up after the jail visit.
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: A pair of sisters came through a Scared Straight program. Older sister Dusty refused to eat the prison food, so the guard said that if Dusty didn't eat, her younger sister Danielle was going to be locked up for the night and would not get to leave. When Dusty still refused, Danielle was locked up.
  • Jacob Marley Warning: The whole point of having the inmates speak to the troubled kids. Quite often, the inmates will have gone down the same path that the kids did, and are either in jail for life or have been in jail so many times that they might as well be in for life. The inmates frequently tell the kids that they know what it's like to be young and feel invincible, but things will come crashing down hard sooner or later if they keep breaking the law. It doesn't matter how invincible the kids feel; if they keep acting out and/or breaking the law, it's not a matter of if they'll get caught, but when they'll get caught. As hard as the inmates are, the message of "don't end up like me" is said loud and clear to the troubled teens.
    • One teen named Toby went through a Scared Straight program, but found himself in jail anyway on assault charges. Toby ended up giving a similar speech to another group of kids, revealing that he was basically broken down by the third day after his food kept getting taken, and he had no way of getting it back. Toby said, in so many words, that they'll get caught if they keep acting up.
    • Some teens also have parents or other family members who were once in jail and try to tell the kids what a living hell it is. Usually, the message doesn't get through when delivered by a relative - unless said relative happens to be an inmate in the same jail the kid is touring.
  • Jerkass: Several of the teenagers are incredibly antagonistic and still refuse to change their attitude. A lot of the inmates and prison guards aren't exactly nice either, but they're trying to Scare 'Em Straight.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Implied from each individual teenager's criminal behavior specified, which would've gotten them jailed for real if they were adults, but still convincing, otherwise they wouldn't have ended up in the jail program in the first place.
  • Large Ham: The late Deputy Sheriff Jonathan Lyle from Floyd County Jail had a particularly interesting personality when dealing with the unruly kids he was assigned to correct, compared to other prison guards from other episodes. With all the Drill Sergeant Nasty-like shouting and dramatic acting and taunting, it was quite apparent that Lyle really enjoyed his job.
  • Let Me at Him!: Sometimes yelled by the burlier inmates at some of the younger/prettier teens.
  • Mood Whiplash: After all the yelling and scare tactics are over, the inmates leading the group are matched one-on-one with each of the teens for a heartfelt talk.
    • Arguably, an in-show example as well. Watch how quickly each teen's demeanor turns from smug to grim.
  • No Honor Among Thieves:
    • One episode featured an aspiring Marine named Chris and his girlfriend, Daria, who enjoyed partying with alcohol and drugs regularly. A prosecutor at the county jail got Chris to talk about an incident in which he and Daria were busted for underage drinking, and Chris admitted not only that he blamed Daria for the bust because she hadn't put away her beer can fast enough, but that if it came down to testifying against his girlfriend in court for a more lenient sentence for himself, he'd do it. Daria was furious when she learned of this. Not surprisingly, they broke up after the jail tour, although it was because Chris cheated on Daria. For what it's worth, Chris was scared straight, while Daria wasn't and eventually ended up running away from home and working in a strip club.
    • Discussed in various episodes. In situations where prisoners talk to a lot of kids all at once, the Jacob Marley Warning from criminals (especially former gang members) is echoing the belief a lot of young criminals have — their friends will have their back when things get tough. But when the rubber meets the road, the kid will probably be left for the cops if it means their friends can get away. Several prisoners talk about this exact thing happening to them, and the culture shock of being backstabbed for the sake of staying out of jail means that they learned that you can't rely on your friends to help you if you're breaking the law.
  • No Indoor Voice: Invoked. Many of the inmates scream like crazy. It's unclear whether they're trying to come off as crazy, or actually are crazy. The ambiguity is meant to invoke fear in the teens, since they can't be sure one way or the other.
  • Once an Episode: The show's limited premise makes it a bit repetitive: teens come to jail, profiles of the teens and their lives are shown, teens get dressed down into prison jumpsuits, teens meet the inmates, teens get yelled at, teens reveal how the jail visit affected them. All of this happens at least one time per episode.
  • Paper Tiger: Many of the teens are established as having some kind of fighting experience or being fearless, with some even being MMA fighters. But when facing the inmates, most cower in fear, stay quiet, or don't respond. This is meant to highlight that fights in prison aren't fair.
  • Parental Abandonment: Some inmates didn't have their parents around. They lambaste teens who have their parents around but disrespect them as a result.
  • Prayer Is a Last Resort: Rare, but it happens. When left alone in a cell, one troubled teen resorted to praying to God, saying that "it's literally Hell" in jail, and promising that he would do whatever it takes to not come back.
  • Pregnancy Scare: In one episode, a girl on the jail tour noticed her boyfriend was in jail and became furious with him, saying that he'd promised he'd stay out of trouble. She then dropped a bombshell on him, telling him she thought she was pregnant. It turned out she wasn't, but the couple ended up breaking up anyway after the jail visit.
  • Prison Rape: Let's just say the issue comes up. One of the ways the prisoners try to scare the teens into staying out of jail is the knowledge that this will happen to them if they end up in prison.
  • Sadist: Although the prison guards claim that what they're doing to the kids, such as yelling in their faces, making them cry, etc., is a way of snapping sense into their heads and that they want the best for their kids, there are moments, however, where the prison guards appear to enjoy doing what they do a little too much.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: It's right there in the title. The series is about sending troubled teens into prisons to see what will happen if they keep committing crimes and disrespecting authority.
  • Scary Black Man: The Angry Black Men are this. Though it's justified considering that they're in jail, many of them for violent crimes.
  • Semper Fi: One episode featured a teenager named Chris who wanted to join the Marines, but in the meantime was drinking and partying as much as he could while he still could. The jail tour proved an eye-opener for him, as he claimed he didn't know one couldn't become a Marine with a criminal record.
  • The Slacker: Most, if not all, of the teens just want to cruise though life. Once they get out, many of them start focusing on school and community involvement so they don't have to turn to crime.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Many of the teens that act tough are usually small-time criminals who think they're tougher and more well-known than they really are. But end up being afraid of the much tougher inmates.
  • The Sociopath: A lot of the prisoners can be seen as this, but also some of the guards. While some truly think they're helping, others are obviously only guards in the first place because they are cruel bullies who have zero empathy.
  • Sunk Cost Fallacy: Discussed. The prisoners in jail (especially former gang members) talk about how they were slowly sucked into a world of crime because they agreed to one small thing. They did so thinking that their friends would have their backs, only to end up left hanging out to dry by their "friends" when things got dicey. It's one reason why the prisoners discourage the kids from thinking that their friends will help them in a jam — not only will it not happen, but they know the mentality of thinking "I'm already a lawbreaker, so I must keep breaking the law" that some of the kids are showing.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Invoked. Many of the kids start out thinking that prison is no big deal. Then they meet real prison guards and inmates while seeing what inmates actually have to do every day just to survive in prison, and suddenly the prospect of going to jail seems way less easy.
  • Tears of Fear: The kids will sometimes burst out into these midway through the visit. If it happens, the inmates and the guards will show them no mercy; much of the time, it just makes the taunting even worse.
  • Teens Are Monsters: A lot of the kids in the program are delinquent teenagers, but there are some that continue disrespecting the inmates and cops even when they see what it's like.
  • Think of the Children!: Zigzagged; it depends on the teen in question. The guards will often force the teens to think about how their behavior is affecting their parents/guardians, which inverts this. Played straight if they have younger siblings.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: The program is designed in hopes of the teens turning their lives around. Many do. Some don't.
  • Troubled Child: Most of the kids in the Scared Straight Program. They've either got criminal records, or are headed that way.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The inmates and guards are incredibly harsh to the kids, but they want what's best for them. Well, about half of them do anyway.
    • Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist: The other half of the inmates and guards fall here. Although they say they're trying to help the kids, actually couldn't care less about them and are more interested in scaring them and screaming at them for the sake for being cruel more than anything else. The fact that the job of being a prison guard appeals to a lot of sadistic and psychopathic people doesn't help matters.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Either in full video or text/photo format, most of the teens' stories will be followed up on at the end of each episode.