It’s not that hard to figure why people go on shows like The Voice or Project Runway or Temptation Island: They’re trying to make their dream career happen, or they’re looking for love, or they just want to be on TV. For these people, we calibrate our Judge-O-Meters accordingly (trying to start a dream career: what courage! Looking for love: I don’t like your chances, but ok! Just want to be on TV: no amount of suffering is enough and I am here for it!)
It’s much harder to understand why anyone would volunteer to spend two months in a prison.
The idea of 60 Days In is simple: Normal, non-criminal, civilian types are sent fully undercover to live as inmates in the general population of a troubled prison. This season, that prison is the Etowah County Detention Center in Alabama, and it appears to be an excellent candidate for reform: the former sheriff was found to have embezzled funds from the prison, lost re-election, and the new sheriff’s first search of the place turned up two literal tons of contraband (including drugs and weapons), along with over 200 broken locks on inmates’ cell doors.
The participants are meant to assist the new Sheriff, Jon Horton, and prison authorities in uncovering the issues there, so it makes sense that a corrections officer or a police officer would take part — they’re trained in self-defense, they’re accustomed to dealing with criminals, and they can help collect evidence to help clean up the prison. But what about the born-again Christian lady? Or the former college football player? Or the self-described “Marine/Superfan”? WHAT ARE THEY DOING?
It’s not clear. They must be getting paid, but whatever nominal basic-cable sum they’re earning can’t be enough. The cops and the sheriff are very clear with the participants that this is legitimately dangerous and they need to be prepared to defend themselves, even offering some quick self-defense pointers. Participants are also given a secret phrase and secret gesture to “tap out” of the whole thing if they feel too scared or threatened.
In addition to the anxiety of dealing with violent, volatile criminals in the day-to-day of the chow line and the day room, our heroes also have to make sure no one makes them as embedded non-criminals — aka snitches, who, you may have heard, tend to get stitches.
Although all of the participants are presumably familiar with the show, at the outset they all seem pretty confident that it will be a cakewalk. Sample quotes:
“I have no doubt I’ll make it the whole sixty days.” — Ashley, police officer
“Once I’m in there, it’ll be like a relief.” — Matt, Marine/Superfan
“For me to tap out, it’s gonna take a shank to the body.” — Jacob, corrections officer
“By the end I will definitely be in some position of authority in there.” — Dennis, former college football player
I don’t want to spoil anything, but by the end of the new season’s second episode, only four of the seven participants — chosen to go first because they seem best prepared — have even arrived at the prison, and three (3) of them have tapped out, one before even getting through the intake process.
All of which is to say that Etowah County is the nastiest, scariest jail yet featured on 60 Days In, and the new season is the most compelling yet.