Compelling Stories: How 'Louisiana Lockdown' Made it to Animal Planet
By: Jodi Westrick
At first glance, some may be curious what a show like "Lousiana Lockdown" is doing on Animal Planet. Focusing on the 5,300 inmates at Louisiana's Angola Prison, the show documents how the inmates can either choose to rebel and live in despair or cooperate and earn privileges at the pentitentiary - most of which allow them to work with animals.
I had a chance to ask Animal Planet Executive Producer Keith Hoffman and "Louisiana Lockdown's" showrunner Lisa Bloch about the series. And with their insight, it makes perfect sense as to why such a powerful show has a place in the Animal Planet lineup. Those of us here on Animal Planet know just how important the human-animal relationship is - and we're guessing that you do too. So learn a little bit more about Animal Planet's newest show and tune in Fridays at 10PM E/P.
Why did you decide to tell this story?
Lisa Bloch (LB): For years I had heard stories and read news articles about Angola Prison, the most infamous penitentiary in the US. I knew Angola was a place with a long history; a unique institution that houses some of the country’s most hardened criminals. But I also knew that Angola was a place of contradictions. For some men, it is the end of the road, while for others it is the place that they start afresh. So, there was no way I could pass up the opportunity to make a television series within the prison's iron bars.
And I’m glad I went forward with it. Angola is not your average prison. And the inmates and staff who live there provide riveting and dramatic stories.
Keith Hoffman (KH): We were interested in the subculture of Angola Prison. It's a world so far removed from the rest of society in a remote area of Louisiana. Even the guards live in a community on the grounds almost side by side with the dangerous men. We were interested how the staff and prisoners function in this world especially as they prepare and participate in a rodeo where convicted criminals (most with a life sentence) compete against each other and mix with the general public.
LB: In terms of choosing inmate characters, at first we were really following stories of rodeo contestants. Each year, hundreds of Angola inmates compete for a chance at glory in the inmate rodeo. There was the rookie, who got on a bull for the very first time in front of 10,000 spectators, and the old-timer who was hoping to compete despite having lost a kidney.
These stories were a great start for us. But I also wanted stories of the men who weren’t competing: prisoners on disciplinary lockdown, inmates entering Angola for the first time, and men who were dying behind bars. So we spent long days inside the prison’s darkest corners, talking to men and identifying compelling characters.
Inmates or officers - were there any particular stories of anyone that stood out to you that you felt HAD to be told? And, why?
LB: What’s so amazing about Angola is that it is a gigantic place. The prison has 5300 convicts, spread out in numerous prison camps over 18,000 acres. And everyone, I mean everyone, has a crazy story. But I knew we couldn’t have 5300 episodes, so ultimately we just went with what was happening in real time, before our eyes.
We shot a new inmate, just 23 years old, meeting his grandfather for the first time at Angola. That was unbelievable. They had never met, and now both men are lifers, living under the same roof. All that happened in the span of time that we were filming so we were able to capture the drama. It was really unbelievable to witness.
And we got the opportunity to film an emotional story of an inmate reconnecting with his son after a 10-year estrangement. It was a once in a lifetime moment. And I knew it had to be told.
Plus, some pretty dramatic things happened to our staff characters. I don’t want to give the stories away, but let’s just say there’s trouble in paradise.
KH: The story of Tiger—a prisoner convicted of murder who gets to see his son for the first time in over 10 years at the rodeo--was a emotionally powerful story we wanted to tell.
The story of Bones—a lifer who is the prison undertaker and must now help a new inmate (his grandson!) accept that he will also be spending his life in Angola--is quite unique and powerful.
The story of Officer Slater trying to play Mr. Mom and keep up his stressful job at the prison as his marriage breaks up was a sad story but one we knew we wanted to tell.
Stay tuned for more insight from Hoffman and Bloch in upcoming Bites blog posts!
Jodi Westrick is an Associate Interactive Producer for AnimalPlanet.com.