“I think it’s probably the most detailed look inside a juvenile prison that viewers have ever seen,” said Grau, a former broadcast journalist and aide to former Gov. Evan Bayh.
Grau has specialized in the plight of juvenile offenders since turning to filmmaking. The Indiana Supreme Court last month gave her special permission to film in the courtroom of Lake County Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura for six one-hour documentary programs expected to air on MSNBC next year.
A week after “Inside Teen Lock-down” airs, Mike Dempsey, the superintendent at Pendleton, is a happy man. His facility is the kind of place the public hears about only when things go wrong, and Pendleton has had its share of incidents recently—a teacher sexually assaulted by an offender, a guard dropping an offender on his head, an offender critically wounded in a fight. He knew letting Grau and her cameras in carried potential risk, but now he can exhale.
What Grau showed the world was a tension-filled hour with voice-of-God narration (this was Court TV, after all) in which Dempsey’s staff handled a crazed juvenile, squelched a potential race war, and ultimately allowed two offenders to go free after finishing their rehabilitation. It was rarely pretty, but it was real.
“I was nervous not only about the public’s response, but also the staff’s,” Dempsey says. “But I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from all sides. And I think we really owe that to Karen. Somebody could have taken that access and done some damage, but she did a good job telling an important story.”
Excellent work by the producers, camera people and others who were at risk in unpredictable, potentially dangerous situations. It’s chilling what they saw, and what they brought back to show us.
Normally, most of us wouldn't wish prison or the military on anyone. But when you're in prison, and your best option is the military, well, that's an entirely different story.
And that is the story of John Madden, the rosy-cheeked 18-year-old who emerges as the "star" of “Lockup: Pendleton Juvenile Extended Stay,” the latest stellar juvenile-justice documentary from Indianapolis filmmaker Karen Grau.