"Inmates Got Talent" | NBC Southern California

"Inmates Got Talent"

A new documentary features convicts' singing, acting and performing comedy routines, all in the hope this will help the offenders turn over a new leaf



    Inmates Got Talent

    Sure NBC has "America's Got Talent," a show that features dancers, singers and performers of all ages, who compete for a $1 million dollar prize.

    But a new documentary takes that concept one step further, showcasing talented inmates, who hope to win a new chance at life.

    It's called "The Redemption Project: Inmates Got Talent."

    In the film, two fish-out-of-water comedians, Johnny Collins and Joel Jerome, visit Putnamville Correctional in Indiana and organize a talent contest as a way to rehab the prison's inmates, according to the project's website.

    During the eight days that Collins and Jerome shot the film at the medium-security correctional facility, the pair was able to interact with convicts in a unique way.

    "I wanted to go into a prison originally and do comedy in front of inmates. Comedians always marvel at doing comedy in challenging places, and then immediately we got the notion, why not include the inmates? They're not going anywhere anyway," said Collins.

    But the project grew into something much more.

    During their eight days at Putnamville Prison, the team captured interviews and performances with singers, spoken word artists and comics.

    "We were stunned that some of these guys, the comedians, could actually hold their own with some of the top professionals in the country," said Collins.

    The hope of the project is that, in an ultimately comedic fashion, this documentary could help the convicts turn over a new leaf so they can become productive members of society.

    Collins is shopping for a distributor for "Inmates got Talent," but he has already found one fan at North Hollywood's HaHa Café, where club owner Jack Assadourian applauds his latest work.

    "Crime is still happening inside prison. This is one way for them to just get that tension out through spoken word or comedy. Brilliant idea," said Assadourian.

    For ex-inmate "Big Mike" Mitchell, the documentary is personal. "From juvenile hall in 1989 to the California State Prison system in 2001, Big Mike has since turned his life around," according to the film's website.

    This now law-abiding husband and father believes comedy is key.

    "I'm 36 years old. I want to come at night, put my $50 on the counter and say, 'Honey I was at work.' I consider it a job. My profession," said Mitchell.

    And "Big Mike" is giving back.

    "He also promotes. Has a number of different shows out there. Actually giving comedians stage time, paying them. Those that aren't compensated, up-and-comers. Given the ability to get their chops," said Collins.