Prison Productions: Film Crews Go Behind the Barbed Wire

If you're an Indiana taxpayer, you pay $64 a day to house an inmate at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility near Terre Haute.

Each inmate's locked up for an average of 20 years. Just do the math, and you're talking major money. How does $467,000 per inmate sound?

But the state of Indiana is making some of that money back. And how it's doing so, may surprise you.

Their choices now confine them. Confined to space to a schedule.

"Wake up, go to rec, go to chow, go to rec again, come inside, do it over," said Blake Layman who's serving a 55 year sentence.

And in the midst of monotony, a little show biz.

"The public has this need to see programs about prison," said IDOC Spokesman Rich Larsen.

The Indiana Department of Corrections has allowed production crews behind the barbed wire since 2000. MSNBC's "Lock-Up" spent several months filming at the Tri-State's nearest prison, Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. And these projects are only picking up steam. All major broadcast networks and several cable channels have since aired stories from inside Indiana prisons.

"It's not like what you see in the movies," said Larsen. "These programs give you a much more reality base of what's going on inside, and it gives us a chance to show the many things we're proud of in the prison setting. Turning a life around, opening an American Legion Post in a prison, having a housing unit like this that does community service work, we can showcase those things and give folks a better understanding of these programs."

Four production companies have filmed at Wabash Valley in the last year. All of their stories, centered around the young man who now lives here.

"I take responsibility that we were there," said Layman, "that he has to live with that now. I don't think it's my fault my friend died."

Blake Layman's friend? Danzele Johnson. He was shot and killed in October 2012 while breaking into a home in Elkhart, Indiana, near South Bend.

"We thought no one was there," said Layman. "We knocked on the door, no one answered, figured no one was there, so we went inside. Homeowner was sleeping. He woke up grabbed his gun, came downstairs, started shooting, and killed one of my friends. We were all arrested and charged with felony murder, charged with my friend's death."

Felony murder holds an accomplice responsible if someone dies during their crime. The case of the so-called "Elkhart 4" sparking special attention. Most of them were underage. At 16, Layman was charged as an adult and sentenced to 55 years in prison. He's now 18. With good behavior, he'll be out in 2040.

"Do you believe you'll be here 27 1/2 years?" asked Tina.

"No, I don't believe so," said Layman. "That's a lot of time, especially when you're 16. I'm hoping through appeals and the courts, I'll get some of my time back. That's the hope."

And that's why he's talking. Layman's trying to appeal his felony murder conviction.

"I want word to get out there," said Layman "Not just our case, but for future cases, politicians that can actually change the law."

Layman's story has been featured on ABC's Nightline, Dr. Phil, even MTV. He was recently interviewed for the documentary "No Place for Children."

"We were really interested in juvenile without parole sentencing," said Katie Green. "America is the only country that sentences juveniles to life sentences. We're very keen to make a film that gets people to ask questions and get people to think about juvenile incarceration, not necessarily from a legal standpoint, but from a moral standpoint as well as where our responsibility as a society and how we look after children."

Smoke and Apple Films and all productions pay the state to film in prison. The IDOC charges $5,000 a day. That comes to more than $32,000 this year, almost $667,000 since 2000. Half goes to the central office, half to the facility filmed.

"I'm excited because one project we just did will help us get a new security key system that's going to replace an outdated system," said Larsen. "So, it's going to enhance our security. Now I'll use a finger print to access my keys, and that's a vast improvement that we probably would not have been able to do that without these types of productions."

Production revenue has also funded new chairs, paper shredders, and handcuffs. Items typically ignored in tight budgets. Larsen says eventually money could be donated to help victims of crime.

"This last interview I did," said Layman, "I actually addressed it and apologized again to him and said I don't hold him responsible for what happened."

Layman says he's done these interviews on his own free will and wasn't coached by his attorney to get a better shot at appeal. An appeal he desperately wants, so he could be with his fiance of three years in the outside world.

You can't help but wonder, what about the victims? Trials are usually about the offender. So, do these programs continue to make it that way? Eyewitness News reached out to the homeowner involved in Blake Layman's case to get his thoughts. But we didn't hear back.

IDOC Spokesman Rich Larsen says victims are notified ahead of any program airing that involves them. That way they're not blind-sided.

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