By Amber Humphrey

Hard Time is a documentary series that offers a brutal, real look at a year in the life of inmates and correctional officers at various U.S. prisons. As the show delves into the mechanics of the prison system — that is, the official and unofficial rules to which everyone in the facility are subject — you’ll see how these same rules lead to harrowing and outrageous moments. Out of the many jaw-dropping scenes throughout this series we’ve collected a few of the best.

5) What: A Machiavellian Prison Matriarch | Where: Episode Female Offenders

In a women’s correctional facility in Ohio, inmate Dorie exerts an unbelievable amount of power over other prisoners. Her fellow inmates willingly perform menial tasks for her, like washing her dishes, and view her as a mother figure. The rub: she’s clearly taking advantage of them. Through Dorie’s “family,” we can see the power of the desire for kinship — and how some people are more than willing to exploit it.

4) What: Inmates Brawl with Correctional Officers | Where: Episode The Ropes

Wearing a badge doesn’t make anyone exempt from prisoner retribution, and in one scene, a group of inmates overpower an officer and knock him unconscious. Other inmates then take the opportunity to attack a second officer. Security footage shows a brief but intense rumble, presumably started by prisoners to teach the officers a hard lesson.

3) What: The Prisoner with Nothing to Lose | Where: Episode Breaking Point

The “hi-max” unit is where inmates like Hassan Hawkins, who are deemed unmanageable, are housed. Intended to reform these prisoners, hi-max actually ends up making them more violent. Hawkins, who’s serving 40 years to life, says, “When I get frustrated and angry I’ve gotta take it out on an officer because that’s who’s going to deal with me. . . cut ’em, stick ’em, scald ’em in the face with some hot liquid. That’s how you get ’em.” His matter-of-fact tone is chilling, and serves as a sobering reminder of inmate psychology.

2) What: A Prison Escape | Where: Episode Breakout

What would a prison show be without an escape? In this episode, two prisoners manage to flee, leading local police, state police, and prison officers on a massive, multi-day manhunt. The search and intensity of the episode ramp up when one of the fugitives kidnaps a woman and forces her to drive him to a safer location.

1) What: Bloody Aftermath of a Prison Fight | Where: Episode Breaking the Rules

Everyone knows that prison is dangerous, but in this episode we come face-to-face with the graphic reality of life behind bars. Nathanial Blacker, a prisoner who describes himself as a “lone wolf” and “bad influence,” messes with the wrong guy and is savagely attacked. The result is a bad beating that leaves him bloody.

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