It might be a surprise to some people that prisoners have access to television, and can watch certain shows and films. And to some prisoners, it would surely be a piss off, as not all prisons, or prisoners have the same access to television and film, nor the same rated shows or movies.
However, as it turns out, there are plenty of prisons about America and beyond, like San Quentin, Rikers, and Shotts, that do indeed have the facility for both communal, and personal televisions for inmates to enjoy a selection of shows and films.
But it must be said that some of the top shows of inmates are a little unexpected (at least to this writer). After some thought though, even the strangest of inmates’ favourite shows and movies do make a lot more sense than one might expect at first glance. So here are fifteen favourite shows and films that inmates love to watch.
15. The Bachelor
At first, this might seem like a bit of a stretch for an inmate to really enjoy, but when one stops to think about what life would be like in prison, it might make a bit more sense. It’s not like inmates, by and large, have incredibly functional relationships, full of loving embraces. Sure there are those who still have loving families who visit from the outside. Those who have the latter loving embraces in prison though are enjoined in a bit of a different relationship, that is likely only to last during the stay. To think about a lineup of women, waiting to get a shot has got to be a desirable thing for a man locked up in prison, wishing he could have someone to hold and appreciate who wasn’t another inmate. What inmate wouldn’t want the chance to find “true love”? Or at least live vicariously through someone on a television program, so as to escape the horrible drudgery of prison life? The only sorts of passion that exist in prison typically revolve around violence, and anger.
14. Groundhog Day
Boy, it is a very sad thing to learn that Groundhog Day is a regular feature favourite among the prison population. Sure, it’s a hilarious film, and Bill Murray is great in it, but…well think about it. Waking up everyday, to discover one is living the same day over, and over, and over, and over again. It sounds like something an inmate might just be able to relate to. If only there was an easy source to go to to find out just what the reasoning is for the consistent viewing of this film. This writer either guesses simply the intended humour, or the darker relatability of the film plot to the general life of an inmate. One is inclined to think the latter, with the added bonus of being able to laugh at the absurd situation that one has found himself in. No matter the reason, Groundhog Day is a pretty damned good choice of film for the prison population. It’s pretty PG, and it’s pretty hilarious. Even if they feel a little too close to the film’s daily repetition, inmates have got to at least get a chuckle about it.
13. Bram Stoker’s Dracula
This one is a bit of a stumper in terms of psychological analysis. Ultimately this must be a favourite simply because it’s a damned good movie. Who doesn’t love watching Gary Oldman as an iconic vampire character while Anthony Hopkins works to hunt him, and Winona Ryder looks gorgeous? One could take a darker look into it though, of course. It could very well be a thrill to watch the murderous mayhem of the vampiric characters. Or someone could even somehow get a kick out of Keanu Reeves…Either way though, it’s not likely a film to inspire much in the way of violence. It’s not like anyone in prison is likely to find themselves some red, scale armour, and the ability to drive guards, or other inmates onto massive pikes. And given that so many prisoners are basically living a horror movie every day of their lives, it must be a relief sometimes to sit back and watch a horror movie, safe in the knowledge that the gruesome things within are not happening to them in lock up.
12. Big Brother
Again with the reality television thing. It’s amazing how popular this sort of stuff is with inmates. And why wouldn’t Big Brother be popular among the population? It makes total sense, really. Sure, not every inmate is likely showing off how jacked they are while wearing pink spandex and a tutu, but just think about the basis for the show. Orwell’s 1984 is the original inspiration (for at least the title and the surveillance). And surely a prisoner must always feel like the corporation is always watching them. Indeed, for the most part it is. So there must be some relatability…though the people in Big Brother are more often than not absolutely ridiculous, and of course scripted to do certain things. But it is another sort of survival show where not everyone makes it to the end. What better way to experience prison life in microcosm, than to watch a ludicrous show like Big Brother, and escape the harshness of reality for even just a little while?
It makes absolute sense that Survivor might be a pretty popular show within the prison community. In fact, as will be noted by the end of this article, reality television as a whole is a pretty popular fad in the general population. Surely there are many inmates who feel that, every day they wake up in their cell, or lay back down in their cell bed at night, they are survivors. Any how could they not? There are those who have it fairly easy when it comes to prison. But there is a great swath of prisoners who hardly make it through a day without some threat, sexual assault, or beating, if for nothing else than to intimidate, extort, or to just prove a point. The ones who get voted off the island may very well be the stool pigeons, or rats. Or perhaps those who get stabbed, or commit suicide. It’s clear that the stakes of surviving prison are much higher than that of the trivial TV show. But perhaps losing one’s self in the un-reality of reality TV is just what is needed for some inmates to survive another day.
10. Shark Tank
There are many inmates who have aspirations with regards to entrepreneurial endeavours for when they finally do find their way out of prison. And some, indeed, while they are still in. It should be no shock to people that many prisoners become writers while in prison. Often times to share their version of the story of their incarceration, of course. But there are also those who have ended up writing some wonderfully iconic works. Charles Manson doesn’t really count in this case. In fact most of the prisoners who became, or were already, very famed authors, did not have the luxury of television while in prison. Cervantes, Oscar Wilde, Martin Luther King Jr., and there are more, of course. It is no wonder, with the way technology has consumed humanity that aspiring entrepreneurs might need to take in some Shark Tank every once in a while for some tips on how to avoid ruin as a business owner.
9. Desperate Housewives
Well, who wouldn’t want to watch a movie about a bunch of hot, conspiratorial, devious, murderous, and wicked women while in prison? Something about the mystery, and mayhem of these seemingly perfect housewives just really seems to draw people in. It was hailed as one of the most successful, and most watched series for several years in a row, so why wouldn’t that trend extend to prison? There is also of course the notion that watching a main cast of all attractive and deviant women might help to push an inmate along through his day. At least there are some fun fantasies to go back to one’s cell with. And ultimately, perhaps the deviance part is just a judgement of this writer, and the only real aspects of the show that are enjoyed are the story itself, and the fully female, main cast. When surrounded by men day in, and day out (with the exception of female guards), it must be pretty tough. So getting kicks in one way or another (without actually kicking) has got to be a good release.
8. The Oprah Winfrey Show
“Ooohhhh!” That’s pretty well the best impression of Oprah that this writer can do through the typed word in this article. Regardless, it was pretty surprising to discover that The Oprah Winfrey Show is on the list as one of the fan favourites in the prison system. And that’s the male portion of the prison system. “I do like Oprah Winfrey Show. It’s always relaxing to jump on my bunk, turn my television on and just escape prison life” says inmate Joseph Demerson. Also an inmate at San Quentin, Demerson enjoys his sports and scary movies as well, but it must be worthwhile to stop and think about why Oprah makes good escapist television. One might suggest it’s the constant work with celebrities, and the gratuitous giveaways that she does on her show; giving those poor, regular schmucks a chance to feel just a bit greater than they dd when they walked into the studio audience. Perhaps inmates feel the healing emanate from their screens. Who ultimately knows? It would be interesting to ask Demerson just what it is about Oprah’s show that satisfies him.
7. Wolf Of Wall Street
Surely this doesn’t take much explaining at all, in terms of why many inmates would enjoy watching it. First off…who doesn’t love Leo? Secondly, this film is filled with all manner of party and depravity that prisoners are, for the most part, unable to take part in. Sure, most inmates are not fat cat, Wall Street white collars, but then that could be a form of escapism as well. Dreaming about tossing dwarfs, snorting cocaine off of several gorgeous women before having one’s way with them…it’s no shocker, the reasons why many might find this film appealing. Sure, it’s easy enough for inmates to get their hands on drugs, and they could be high, and get off on their bunk as they please. But they can’t exactly live the “good life”, or have a bunch of women to please them, or really gamble on anything other than an inmate fight. It’s almost the perfect escapist film. It’s everything that almost everyone in prison will never be, and ultimately…even the fat cats don’t win out at the end. So it’s also vindicating.
6. Ride Along
Who would have guessed that a buddy cop film would be among the favourites of the prison population? Surely this has to do with how someone like Ice Cube was able to come “straight outta Compton”, and make it big himself. And more importantly, the hilarity of tiny comedian Kevin Hart. One is inclined to think that it’s mainly due to Hart. What’s interesting about this film, as well as The Wolf Of Wall Street, is that at the Lorain Correctional Institution, in Ohio, one Richard Humphrey, who was arrested for running torrent sites in the U.S., discovered something shocking. The two aforementioned films were being shown at the prison…from pirated copies! The films were apparently not yet released, and the prison staff was screening them. How pissed off must one man be, having been incarcerated for piracy, only to find the guards of the prison committing a similar offense, and receiving no punishment? “Why are people even being punished and sent to prison for rehabilitation when it’s clear that the system isn’t able to restrain itself from the same type of activity?” That was Humphrey’s word regarding his claim of prison piracy. Who knows where it will lead.
5. Black Death
Now this is a slightly more terrifying film than say Bram Stoker’s Dracula, though not so terrifying as The Oprah Winfrey Show perhaps. Well, maybe it is equally terrifying, but for different reasons. Regardless, Black Death is by no means an Oscar-worthy film, but who doesn’t love a Sean Bean movie? It’s not really a spoiler to say that he dies, but all the same…he does. This particular film is all about the crusades, the black plague (clue is in the title there), and inquisition. Sure there are some love arcs, but they are quickly dispelled in a horribly brutal manner. Surely no one expected the very unfortunate, non-Hollywood turn of events that was this film. Everyone expected Sean Bean to die, of course, but that must have been it. As for why else an inmate might love to devour this film is a bit of a mystery. It turns out to be one of the hottest selections in Scotland’s Shotts prison (one of the roughest prisons in the country) though.
4. The Experiment
There is absolutely no surprise as to why this might make the top list of shows or films to watch in prison. It was unfortunately not specified if the title mentioned was the BBC series, or the Adrien Brody film The Experiment, but both deal with the same issue. The idea being that several people are brought together, and are randomly given the role of either guard or inmate. Then, over the course of several days, each person is monitored to see just how people might conform to their roles, abuse their power, or overthrow the regime. This all originated from what is called the “Stanford Prison Experiment”. This particular experiment had to be shut down early because of brutal practises by the guards upon the inmates. Though it started off on a more positive note, the BBC experiment also had to be shut down early, beginning to show signs akin to those of the Stanford experiment. The film version of this is obviously allowed to reach violent levels for the sheer need for conflict, and is based on a financial motivation. Ultimately everyone makes it out, but not before learning some valuable lessons about power.
Ok true, this is a channel, and not a show. However, the all-encompassing ESPN allows for inmates to watch their basketball and football (especially the Super Bowl, which is especially popular in the prison population). Tennis, for some inmates is a big deal as well. Inmate Tim Thompson from San Quentin is happy for ESPN for that very reason. “I have taken up playing tennis since I got here to San Quentin. Now I watch it more. I have always watched Venus and Serena, but I really did not keep up with men since Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. Now I watch the men because it helps me with my game.” It’s good to know that there are more productive things for inmates to do than just beat the ever-living sh*t out of each other. Of course there are some prisons where that doesn’t happen so much…and then there are those like the so-called “Main Jail” in Miami. But if sports help in a sort of therapeutic manner to motivate an inmate to bettering himself, then why not? Inmates are people too after all.
2. The Sopranos
Well come on now. Of course the biggest gangster show of all time is going to make the list. And that’s not going to be because of gangsters who want to relive the good times from when they were on the outside. No, this show is taken in by the general population, which does not typically contain too many mafioso. Regardless, it’s a great bit of comedy, drama, thrill, and even a dash of therapy…for a time. If nothing else, this could be another form of semi-escapism, that eventually leads to teaching about consequences. So many of the characters misstep, and so many die or imprisoned, surely there are not many inmates who look at this show and immediately feel justified for every single one of their actions. Surely there must be some realization of the ramifications of their misdeeds. It also helps that there is a good portion of people in prison for some fairly minor acts. And it turns out that prisoners are people too. So maybe they just enjoy the show, without any sort of psychoanalysis?
1. The Great Escape
Now…of course this makes the list. Sure, the prison guards of today, are not the Nazis of yesterday, but that sort of hyperbolic speech must make it into the prison population at some point or other. And who wouldn’t love to watch a film all about attempting to escape prison…especially when stuck, for who knows how long, in prison? It makes perfect sense to this writer. And besides that fact, Steve McQueen is just imply awesome. A class act, watching him try, again and again, to find his way home, only to end up back in prison, must resonate with some inmates. One can only hope that they too are allowed a baseball glove, and a ball. Though it seems unlikely those items would be granted them in solitary confinement (today’s version of “the cooler”). Regardless of how one looks at it, it should be no surprise that this sort of film is big in prison. It should be surprising, however, that a film called The Great Escape is allowed by the establishment, for the prison population to consume.