New Video // 2008 // 376 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // August 27th, 2009
"Prisons are hate factories. They don't produce nothin' else but hate,
loneliness, greed, and misery."
-- Inmate in maximum security prison
Reality shows don't get much more real than this. Lockup: Raw compiles the most shocking moments from MSNBC's prison documentary series, and since the show covers the most dangerous maximum security prisons with the most hardened criminals, the most shocking moments are truly horrific indeed. You think Joan Rivers fighting Annie Duke for the chance to win Donald Trump's approval was appalling? Just be thankful Joan Rivers didn't scrawl anti-government propaganda on her walls using her own feces, or carve out Duke's eye using a homemade shank.
Yes, let's be clear about this: Lockup: Raw is not for the faint of heart. At two discs totaling over six hours of content, you really have to have a fascination with prison life or criminology to watch this show. Those with the strongest of stomachs and hardiest of constitutions, however, will be enthralled. This show isn't just about cheap sensationalism, although there are several parts that may seem that way. It also has some more mundane details that give an idea of what daily life in prison is like. You'll be able to accept the more extreme segments, when you realize they're a necessary part of the overall picture.
Here are the eight episodes collected on this set:
* "Ever Present Danger"
In prison, inmates must always be on the lookout for possible threats.
* "Prison Love"
Inmates can start relationships with one another, or attempt to rescue relationships they have with people on the outside.
* "The Devil's Workshop"
Some inmates use the long hours of prison time to plan acts of mayhem.
* "The Daily Grind"
Prison is a monotonous routine that can become increasingly mind-numbing after a while.
* "Inmates Gone Wild"
The most extreme cases of inmates behaving badly in prison are used to demonstrate control techniques that guards can use.
* "America's Toughest Jails"
The three biggest jails in the U.S.-L.A. County Jail, Riker's Island in NYC, and Miami-Dade County Jail-are profiled to examine what life in a jail, as opposed to a prison, is really like.
* "Hard Time"
For inmates doing lengthy prison terms, the years of confinement can be a challenge.
* "Friend or Foe?"
The relationship between prison guards and inmates is a complex and difficult one.
Of course, there is no shortage of TV-friendly shock stories seen here. There's the convicted murderer in the Wabash, Indiana penitentiary, who demonstrates his contempt for his surroundings by shaving exactly half his head, all the way (even eyebrows), and growing the other half as long as possible. There's the prisoner who declares that he makes it his business to stress out guards by throwing screaming tantrums when asked to do anything, even just exit his cell. There are also scenes of prisoners hurling feces, attacking guards, shanking each other, and discussing their murders, assaults, and mutilations in graphic terms. The show doesn't come off as crassly exploitative, however, because the tone is less sensationalistic than matter-of-fact. Still, viewers should be aware that there will be some rough bits here, so even though profanities are bleeped and some gore is pixilated, don't think that this is a whitewashed reality show-on this series, when someone is described as a "scheming backstabber," that's really not just a figure of speech.
However, that's not all that Lockup has. There are also episodes about how hard it is to deal with the grinding monotony in prison, where every day is exactly the same, except for outbursts of violence. How do brothers and sisters who are housed in the same prison get along? What are the rules and preparations involved in a conjugal visit? How exactly does one make a deadly shank using only the soft plastics available to inmates? Lockup knows. The episode on the three county jails is the best one-viewers will get to see just how daily life functions at a jail, and how they run as giant processing machines that never stop and never get thrown off, no matter how crazy (really crazy) the inmates get. When you see these episodes, you understand why violence is so extreme and prevalent in prison: the combination of grinding monotony, poor self-control, and seething anger invariably leads to dangerous situations.
As good as the series is, it does get to be wearying after a few episodes. Because there's so little variety in what actually happens in prison, the episodes become more and more repetitive after a while. The fact that all the prisons look and sound the same makes it a bit hard to watch several episodes in a row; one prison is just like another, no matter what state it's located in. Also, the show does have some genuinely positive stories of prison life, but these seem to be sort of afterthoughts and are never presented in as much detail as the shock value stories. These are not major flaws, but viewers should probably take note and not watch the entire set in one sitting.
Technical specs are typical reality show quality: fullscreen video and stereo audio, both adequate, although there are some excerpts from crudely shot security footage scattered throughout that may be harder to watch. The set also includes some 20 minutes of bonus footage, consisting of some fascinating though not essential stories left off the original series.
Overall, Lockup: Raw: Season One is recommended for viewers who want to understand what life in prison is like. Those viewers should also be warned not to watch it while they're eating.
Lockup: Raw: Season One isn't guilty, but everyone else is.
Review content copyright © 2009 Victor Valdivia; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 376 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Footage