Johnny Collins and Joel Jerome (two buddies who met while performing comedy in LA) have always enjoyed doing stand-up in a variety of settings… comedy clubs, hillbilly bars, hostels, hookah lounges, coffee spots, and joints deep in “the hood”… basically any place that would give them an audience and a mic.
One day, Johnny called Joel about performing in the unlikeliest of places…. prison. As usual, Joel thought Johnny was kind of nuts. Despite the fact that Joel spent a short time in jail and knew that wasn’t a place for him… he had to at least hear Johnny out on this idea.
Johnny and Joel began to visualize a prison showcase that featured a lineup of both established comedians and talented inmates. But this was no small feat.
Following several creative brainstorming sessions between the two guys, the idea of the comedy showcase documentary was fine-tuned and ultimately Johnny cold-called Doug Garrison, Chief Communications Officer for the Indiana Department of Correction (“IDOC”), and pitched him on a talent contest that would include inmates with creative abilities who wanted to turn over a new leaf. Redemption. Second chance. Johnny and Joel wanted to include inmates who had the hope of pursuing opportunities in the entertainment industry upon their release from prison. The guys wanted to use what they knew to entertain and inform and to make a difference at the same time. Since many of these prisoners were soon to be released onto the streets, Johnny and Joel wanted to inspire them to take advantage of their talents so many will go on to lead positive, socially productive lives. They planned to inspire others, demonstrating that a return to crime is not the only path available for ex-cons. After careful consideration, the Indiana Department of Correction responded favorably to the concept and asked Johnny to send a treatment of the project.
Part of the inspiration for the project came from the fact that Johnny and Joel knew people who had served “time,” particularly a comedy buddy who co-hosted a weekly show with Johnny in LA. Also, several of the inmates Johnny and Joel met right before filming were just ordinary guys who committed non-violent crimes… some of things that you, Johnny and the average person could possibly be in prison for right now. Enough said about that. Let the past lie in the past. Anyway…
In the days that followed, Johnny reached out to established comedians that he and Joel had performed with in LA. Steve Wilson (Comedy Central Live at Gotham, BET’s Comedic View and now a regular on the D.L. Hughley radio show) and Edwin San Juan (Showtime: Pacific Rim Comedy) jumped at the idea of potentially performing in prison where they could also make a difference by mentoring some inmates. Steve even asked to spend one night in prison in order to get more material for his act.
In the vetting process, the Indiana Department of Correction carefully screened comedy tapes and the treatment for the documentary. Finally, Johnny received word from Doug Garrison at the Indiana Department of Correction… they decided to grant Johnny’s production company, Doin’ Time Entertainment the green light to film in prison!
A couple of weeks later, Steve and Edwin flew back from a series of comedy shows at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba so they could participate in the line-up at the prison. Michael Mitchell (aka “Big Mike”), another LA-based comedian, who grew up in South Central Los Angeles, joined the line-up as well. Years prior, “Big Mike” was in a different “line-up,” having served time in the California prison system for a non-violent crime. But Big Mike paid his debt to society and was out of prison and now pursuing a career in comedy. Big Mike brought a great dimension to the project because he was living proof that you could balance the pursuit of a comedy career along with obligations to a wife and kids.
Well, the rest is history… Johnny and Joel went into creative mode…. and they ultimately expanded the talent contest to include comedy, singing and spoken word poetry. Approximately 60 hours of footage was shot inside and outside of prison! And a very entertaining two hour film or television special (depending on our distribution deal) has been produced, which also includes actor/rapper Ice-T.
During and following their visit to Putnamville Correctional, Johnny and Joel’s interest to help convicts and ex-convicts turn over a new leaf has grown and taken on a life of its own. Therefore, this project is more than a film or television special, but an important cause that they expect to work on across America to help convicts and ex-convicts live productive, crime-free lives.
The Indiana Department of Correction loved the film so much that they have granted Doin’ Time Entertainment continued prison access to film an episodic television series based on the documentary. They loved Inmates With Talent. We bet that you’ll enjoy it too!!
This project will entertain audiences (movie and/or television) by finding and exhibiting the hidden talent in America’s prisons, and will also help to give a second chance to people who made bad choices, but are not all inherently bad people. Even if just a small number of convicts are steered away from a return to criminal activity, the project will have a positive impact on society and help reduce the number of victims in our country.