Allegheny County Jail Could Be Scene of Television Documentary

Article excerpt

Natalie Bryant says her job is all about quick thinking and respect.

Bryant has spent almost 14 years as a guard at the Allegheny County Jail, and the best way to get inmates to cooperate is to treat them with respect, she said. When the fights start, and the adrenaline is rushing, she has to think quickly to get help and keep everyone safe.

"When you get on that pod, you have to be a quick wit. You can't take the time to think of what you got from that (school) book," Bryant said. "You don't know if someone has a shank, if they're going to retaliate against you, if it's going to become a riot."

The daily challenges she and her coworkers face could soon become a national drama. A New York production company wants to film a pilot at the Uptown lockup in hopes of selling a TV documentary series about the female jail workers.

Administrators see the documentary as a way of bolstering the jail's image. Jail guards, especially women, have one of the most difficult jobs anywhere, Maj. James J. Donis said.

"When you think of a correctional officer, you think of some male officer who's a big brawny guy who's just there (to be) a law-and- order type of guy. But a correctional officer is more than that," Donis said. "They have to use their brains to solve problems. And now you have women doing the same thing. ... And some of these ladies are little ladies, but they handle themselves like they're it, and they are it.

"You have to have the respect for them."

Manhattan-based Engel Entertainment pitched its idea with jail officials about a year ago, Donis said. The company has made dozens of shows, including "Little Shop of Flowers" for TLC and "Obese & Pregnant" for Discovery Health, and the travel series "Going Places" for PBS. …