Posted: 03/23/2008


Rasha Drachkovitch & The Lockup

by Laura Tucker


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I was recently introduced to the show Lockup, detailing life in maximum security prisons, and found it completely fascinating. Having always been interested in true crime and having had a family member involved as a victim in a violent crime, watching Lockup made me look at prisons a little differently than just a warehouse for criminals.

I had the chance to talk with producer Rasha Drachkovitch on the phone recently about his involvement with Lockup. He’s been the guy at the helm for seven seasons, visiting forty-eight prisons to date. Originally doing sports documentaries, he started 44 Blue Productions with his wife, their first program being Bob Uecker’s Wacky World of Sports. Eventually they branched out to programming for Animal Planet, A&E, Discovery, and Court TV.

My first question for Rasha was what originally interested him in filming life inside maximum security prisons. Once they did their first show, he told me they realized it was a pretty amazing world, as everywhere they pointed the camera, they found a different story. They started with the world’s toughest prison, and it only led to them doing this series of the maximum security prisons across the world. It wasn’t long before they became the foremost leader in prison documentaries, and he likes to say there are few CEOs that can say they have someone from their company in prison every day. Not only that, there are few that would look at that stat in pride.

Preparing for this interview, I had read that Rasha and his staff have to take extreme security measures to protect themselves. I wondered if he was ever worried about something happening to him while he was inside, or maybe even repercussions later on the outside. He told me because they film in maximum security, these are the worst of the worst criminals. They take great precautions to protect the staff and even travel with a group of five or six officers as they move about the prisons, as they’re literally sitting five feet away from some of the worst criminals. They are much more prone, however, to verbal abuse, rather than physical abuse.

The most fascinating thing I found while watching Lockup was that these prisons contained their own miniature societies. The really wild part is that they’re in prison because they couldn’t live within the rules of our society, yet in these prison societies, they all talked like they “had” to do this and had to obey. Rasha felt this was because it replaces family for most of them. There are over two million people in prison, and 20% of them have family members in prison as well, making it become a home away from home in some ways. Rasha explained that these prison societies have neighborhoods, power structures and struggles, jealousies , and it’s almost military in a way. They adapt to their surroundings here, and it works in a strange way.

I noted here what I found most interesting about the prison societies was looking at the different dynamics between the men who form sexual relationships with other men, despite being heterosexual on the outside, and women that do the same. The men seem to be doing it looking for sex, and the women seem to be doing it looking to satisfy more emotional needs. Rasha feels in the mens’ prisons, this macho sex is treated as power, as it’s all who’s controlling who. Yet with the females, the relationships gravitate towards husband and wife.

Rasha noted that Scott Peterson is locked up in San Quentin, and while he is there for murdering his wife, he has pictures of women proposing marriage lining the walls of his cell. It’s that whole bad boy syndrome. If you look at the women’s side, though, no one even visits them. Their husbands move on and their children don’t visit. It’s becomes a completely depressing situation.

I even felt some conflicts watching Lockup, as I didn’t want to be able to recognize the prisoners as real people, yet I did, such as one guy that is protecting a mother cat and her kittens. I wondered if this was the goal of the show, or if it was to show prison as a place we don’t want to end up. Rasha called this interesting, as Lockup works on all these different levels. They’re careful not to be overly sympathetic to the inmates, yet want to hold up a mirror to them in a way to show the viewers what happens. Most inmates do their time and get out, then go back to society and function well, yet there are others that should never get out.

Rasha says he can tell in the first thirty seconds with the more violent inmates if they’re someone that shouldn’t be let out ever. What happens though, is that sometimes someone goes in for a lesser offense that warrants something, but not the fully monty. What ends up happening, though, is they go in and become criminalized, subject to a gangs’ influence, and instead of doing one to two, they start getting assaults for stabbing the staff or something, getting them twenty or thirty years added on.

Asked what leads to all this violence, Rasha doesn’t feel there’s an easy answer. He was visiting the New Mexico State Penitentiary recently, as they’ll be filming there very soon. The warden was lamenting that they are understaffed with no funds, shortages of staff and space, too many inmates in one area, and overworked correctional officers working twelve hour shifts. Prisons seem to be the lowest priority on may lists, and 99% are telling Rasha they wish they had more, and that only leads to the violence. New Mexico is 50% understaffed and are desperately trying to find people. Yet, as bad as it is here, in the Chinese or Russian prisons, it’s that much worse, with thirty inmates in a cell meant for five.

It’s been talked about for years, but I wondered what Rasha’s opinion was of televised executions. It seems like the next step. He doesn’t think it’s appropriate, despite being in favor of the death penalty because of the people he’s met. Death row is an interesting place, as it’s filled with quiet people doing appeals, taking from ten to twelve years. He talked about one inmate seen on the show from the Kentucky State Penitentiary. He decided not to appeal, and just wanted his date with Old Sparky, as he seemed to just want to get it over with.

Rasha is against it because he takes into consideration the victims families who are experiencing so much emotion. He just sees televised executions as the wrong thing to do. They take such great care, as for every crime there is a victim out there that has been affected by it. Some institutions allow them to film victims’ families confronting the criminals, as it allows for the chance to put closure to the case. It can be powerful television, but the two or three letters they have received from victims families not wishing that to be aired, they remove that episode to protect them.

I asked Rasha what person or personality touched him the most, and he reported he meets all kinds of inmates, the worst of the worst. Stravinsky Hinds is California’s notoriously toughest inmate. They have a scoring system for crimes in prison, where they get a point or two for each one. Typically an inmate will have 10 or 20, but Stravinsky has over 2000. In 20 of those instances, they had to send in a SWAT team. It was somewhat like Shawshank Redemption, as he’s more comfortable in prison than he is the grocery store.

My last question was if there were any famous prisoners that Rasha would like to meet someday, such as Charles Mansion or the like. He reported they filmed Corporate Prison near Bakersfield, California, one of the toughest prisons. It’s home to Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan and a gallery of the infamous inmates. They had a chance on their first day there to go out and see them in this environment. Rasha found it interesting, as they’re gray-haired old men now, like 72 years old, but we think of then in terms of when they first went to prison. They’re kept in protective custody, otherwise they’d be killed in sounds. He hopes for this segment to be part of the next Lockup series.

I told Rasha that watching the episodes of Lockup that I did, it was completely fascinating, and I couldn’t wait to watch more. He reported that it’s on all time now on MSNBC, nearly every night, as first they report the election, and then they have Lockup. I thought that was an interesting parallel in some ways.

Laura Tucker is a freelance writer providing reviews of movies and television, among other things, at Viewpoints and Reality Shack, and operates a celebrity gossip blog, Troubled Hollywood.

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