Indiana Prison Uses Contest to Show 'Inmates Got Talent'

What do you get when you mix a prison sentence with an "American Idol" style talent show?

Apparently, happier prisoners.

An Indiana correctional facility is crediting an unusual suspect in helping offenders rehabilitate themselves prior to being released into society -- a talent show featuring singing, comedy and poetry.

The Indiana Department of Correction says the talent show was featured in an unscripted film called "The Redemption Project: Inmates Got Talent," which includes performances by roughly 20 inmates at the medium-security Putnamville Correctional Facility, plus three established comedians.

Doug Garrison, a spokesman for Indiana Department of Correction, said the project is privately-funded and doesn't cost taxpayers a dime, adding that it is just one of the agency's attempts to help inmates become productive members of society upon release. He said the program was a huge success and gave offenders something to keep themselves motivated.

"It gives them some hope," Garrison told "They got to have hope. It helps quiet and entertain the men -- and it worked."

Garrison said the department allowed Doin' Time Entertainment LLC to enter the facility and film some of the prison's 2,400 inmates. Most of the inmates who participated in the talent show had less than eight years remaining on their sentences and had been convicted of non-violent crimes, he said.

"This gets us some goodwill, I think," Garrison said. "This made a big difference."

Actor/rapper Ice-T also provided commentary and some voiceover in the film. Comedians Steve Wilson and Edwin San Juan also make appearances.

Aaron Reason, an inmate who participated in the project and was recently released, said the talent show gave him a chance to look forward to good he'll do now that he's a free man.

"While I certainly would not have thanked Putnamville Correctional when I went in, I see now that it has made me a better person and I can contribute to society in a better way," Reason said in a statement. "And I can't wait to see this movie. I know it's going to be awesome."

Johnny Collins, producer and director of the film, said it does not glorify prison in any way.

"We produced a product that reflects a progressive approach toward connecting with, and rehabilitating convicts," Collins said in a statement. "We are committed to making a difference in the lives of convicts who want to redeem themselves. Entertainment is our 'therapeutic solution.'"