This ad appears on Craigslist:
Has your parole officer accused you of doing something you haven't done? Could this put you back in jail? Then we want to help.
Call us and we'll clear your name.
We've got a show to help you prove who's telling the truth.
If selected, we will profile your story on a new national TV show where guests are polygraphed to get the truth out.
I'm intrigued. My e-mail reply: I am on parole!
Going by the name Hank, I express how much, I, who-is-on-parole, would love to be on their TV show (whatever the hell that might be). Immediately the TV producer e-mails back, thrilled to hear from I, who-is-on-parole. She leaves a phone number. I, who-is-on-parole, phone her. I weave an elaborate tale involving weapons and drug charges. This pleases her. I elaborate. I have something to prove to my probation officer. He said I flunked a recent drug test, which landed me back in jail for 20 days. The producer's even more pleased.
A day later the producer phones back. She wants me on the show! That's right Bubba, I'm booked on Lie Detector (Tuesdays, 8 p.m.), a program on family-friendly PAX TV that has a motto: “The lie detector holds the power to reveal the truth and expose deception wherever it might be found.”
But first, there's a question. “You said you were on probation,” the producer says. “That's different than being on parole.”
Whoops. How the hell am I supposed to know? All my knowledge of the parole system comes from watching two prison documentaries on the A&E channel. Quickly, I clarify: “Yeah, I'm on parole, but this is my probation period.”
Then another monkey wrench is heaved into the mix: The producer requests that I, who-is-on-parole, fax a copy of my police report from my latest arrest.
“I believe you,” she says. “The executive producer just wants to see a copy of it.”
This presents a problem. I put her off. The producer calls numerous times. I put her off further. More phone calls. A friend offers a solution: I surf my way over to SmokingGun.com and, after an extensive archives search, download David Crosby's drug and weapons arrest report, along with the paperwork for Courtney Love's assault-with-a-flashlight charge. Using Photoshop software, I combine the two, heavily utilizing the smudge tool. For consistency, I do a few rounds of enlarging and reducing the document at Kinkos. Randomly, I black out words, stating that on legal advice from my lawyer, I can't go into great detail about my weapons and drug charges. (The case is still pending.)
Hank now has an arrest report.
Faxing off the Crosby/Love document, I expect never to hear from Lie Detector again. There are about a thousand ways to figure out I'm lying in 10 minutes or less. But lo and behold: The show's travel coordinator calls the next day to book my airline ticket to L.A. I'll be put up for two nights at a Holiday Inn! Hot damn. Lie Detector awaits!
This is not the only time someone's lied on Lie Detector. I'm told of a guy who was accused of trying to sell his kidneys over the Internet — and it turns out he was trying to sell his kidneys! The show vindicates people or catches them lying. I should be put into the liar category.
To look the part of a guy on parole, I've grown a week's worth of bad mustache and wrapped an American flag bandanna around my head. To top off my look, I'm wearing a Jesus T-shirt, suggesting, as with many a con, I found JC while in prison.
Something's working here; when I get off the plane, a production assistant hands me an envelope full of fun cash to use while I'm in L.A.
The show opens with a bald, solemn man, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, hooked to a lie detector. The screen flashes the words “Truth” and “Lie.” Graphics featuring numbers and colored lines show the program's high-tech nature. There's a shot of smiling host Rolonda Watts (known from outings at Inside Edition and The Rolonda Show) with her arms folded.
“The lie detector holds the power to reveal the truth and expose deception wherever it might be found,” a narrator intones.
Over the next hour the world's foremost lie detector expert will use the world's most exacting scientific device, the Axciton Polygraph instrument, to separate fact from fiction, truth from lie. Well fuck me sideways!
My segment is cleverly named “Up in Smoke.”
Lie Detector host Watts emerges from behind a piece of the set. Her personality can best be described as highly outgoing. “OK you all, we all heard this one before, 'I didn't inhale. I didn't mean to get high. I was just in the room, and I got a contact high.'” She mockingly waves her arms around, using her fingers to put quote marks around the words “contact high.” “Yeah, right!
“If you're Hank. A guy who's currently on probation and tested positive for drugs, this could be a major setback.”
Then comes a photomontage, accompanied by generic speed metal music, that uses photos I sent in from what I perceive to be I, who-is-on-parole's life. These include random jpegs I found on the Web, among them a little kid playing the flute, some guy's back with the word “Santana” tattooed across it, and a street gang. (The gang members are of an ethnic group that does not include me.)
I also sent:
a photo of the real me, taken when I infiltrated and wrestled with someone in the Christian Wrestling Federation;
a photo of a random Christian wrestler;
a photo of me, wearing a stocking cap and gangsta shades, holding an Uzi and firing an AK-47, during a machine gun convention I infiltrated in rural Kentucky. [page]
“If you were looking to fill the role of party boy, some might say Hank looks straight out of central casting,” Watts says in voice-over, and the screen cuts to a shot of me walking in slow motion, in the style Dateline uses to make people look really sinister. It gets even better. There's a re-enactment. (The word “Re-enactment” is posted across the screen, in case the situation isn't clear.)
“Hank tried to play the part of peacemaker when a fight broke out at a party. The police mistook him for the instigator. They discovered drugs in the trunk of his car.”
The re-enactment is beautiful. Lie Detector actually hired an actor, who looks slightly like me, to portray me. (Try to think this one through: I provided work for a struggling actor — who most likely had to go through an audition process to get the part — who played me, all while I am portraying a guy on parole.) Another re-enactment: Hank hits someone in the head with Courtney Love's flashlight.
More cutting to shots of me looking extremely psycho, as if I might eat babies, while I'm being hooked into the lie detector. Then an extreme close-up on my mission statement: “I want to prove to my parole officer that I wasn't doing it. And lastly, I just want to prove it to myself!”
The Lie Detector set is basically two chairs and a table on a sound stage. My goal is to look as crazed as possible during the entire taping, never cracking a smile and keeping a psychotic, intense look in my eye, all while surrounded by the entire production crew, under hot studio lights.
Rolonda goes back to a mocking tone, commenting on my fictional arrest: “I'm sure police hear this all the time, 'They're not mine. It wasn't me.'”
“Uh-huh,” I grunt, looking like I want to bite Rolonda's head off. “Yeah, I had to take a drug test, and it come back negative.”
From off camera, the executive producer halts the taping and shouts, “Don't you mean positive? When you flunk a drug test, it comes back positive.”
This is one of the numerous holes in my story. I clarify: “What I meant was, it was negative for me, because I ended up back in jail!”
Maybe the less I say the better.
“Here you were, having spent eight months for the original offense,” Rolonda says with a concerned look. “Now you have to spend 20 more days. What was that like for you?”
“It was like, 'Here we go again,'” I reply, trying to look especially psycho while, at the same time, suggesting that I am trying to be spiritual nowadays by gesturing to my Jesus T-shirt.
“What's the worst part about being in jail?” Rolonda asks.
[Pause] “It's just, like, really boring.”
“It gives you a lot of time to think,” she adds, coming to her own conclusions. “What did you think about?”
I subtly gesture again to my Jesus T-shirt. “I just thought about re-evaluating my life and my spirituality,” I say.
“You got an epiphany when you were in jail,” she says with a pleased smile.
“Yeah, I got a little more spiritual,” I agree and then start talking about my pillar of strength — my fictional girlfriend, Rochelle. “I couldn't have gotten through this without her and her support.”
To illustrate my fictional girlfriend, I sent the producer a jpeg from a Google image search that used the words “big booty.”
“Rochelle is my pillar of strength!” I repeat, hoping they'd flash the image of this large African-American woman posing in a manner that shows off her best assets. Sadly, my talk of fictional Rochelle and her big booty didn't make the final cut.
Before meeting the lie detector, I get to plead my case. “I was at a party where they were doing the drugs. So that could have been the thing,” I explain. “And I forgot to mention, I was getting dental work, and I was on a pain pill.”
Rolonda turns sarcastic, noting, “But a pain pill wouldn't come back reading marijuana.”
“I don't know. I was thinking maybe it was secondhand smoke,” I add with hesitation.
“What happens if you flunk this test today?” she asks, as if it would be the worst thing in the world.
Breaking my psycho look, I laugh. It hits me how stupid this all is.
“Uh, I don't know?!”
“If you pass the test, what will you do with this information?”
I regain my psycho composure and tell her I'd like to be a positive role model. She smiles. She looks pleased. I wisely say how my other friends are serving life sentences on the installment plan! (Nice cliché.)
“You've grown up a lot, haven't you?” Rolonda adds, shaking her head.
[Pause] “I think so. Yeah.”
“So you came here to clear your name?” [I nod vigorously] “Are you ready to face the lie detector?”
“Are you sure?”
[With certainty] “Yeah, I'm ready to face the lie detector!”
“Let's get you hooked up.”
“OK, let's do it!”
Members of the crew spray the set with a smoke machine to create an eerie, netherworld effect. Home viewers see intense Hank hooked up to a lie detector machine; the test is to be administered by Dr. Ed Gelb, a man who has polygraphed the likes of Jon Benet Ramsey's parents, Snoop Dogg, and Axl Rose.
“Remain still,” the doctor authoritatively says. “The test is about to begin.”
The studio lie detector test is actually a shadow play conducted for the cameras. The real lie detector test was administered early in the morning at Dr. Ed's intimidating office, which is filled with plaques from the Los Angeles Police Department. I tried to keep as quiet as possible around Dr. Ed, a man with an extremely dry sense of humor. I figured he probably knows more about the parole system than I will ever learn. [page]
After searching the Internet, I decided the best way to beat a polygraph test was to put a tack in my shoe and poke myself when each question was asked. Thus, one tack in one shoe. I'm not sure if this helped during the morning session. But it was very uncomfortable.
For the faux re-enactment of the test, Dr. Ed says, “The advice, Hank: The attempt at any countermeasures will invalidate this test.” The accompanying screen graphics read: “Says he did not smoke marijuana while on probation.”
“Do you plan to tell the truth on this test whether you knowingly used marijuana while on probation?” Dr. Ed asks.
I stare straight ahead like I'm harboring disturbing secrets. I shift my eyes back and forth, taking in the information Dr. Ed is providing as my forehead strains and my eyebrows make intense peaks.
“Yes!” I say.
“Did you do marijuana while on probation last January?”
[Extreme close-up] “NO!”
This is true; I wasn't on probation last January.
“This test is now over. Remain still for 10 seconds please.”
Then comes the cunning teaser: “When we return: Is Hank really on the straight and narrow, or is Hank really just blowing smoke?”
After a big buildup, Rolonda slowly opens an envelope, as if this were the Academy Awards. I'm all prepared to freak out — extremely — when she says I failed, perhaps even storm off the set. Streaking might be involved. Rolonda lets out a shrug and sighs.
“Hank, the lie detector has determined … that you … are … [She shakes her head] Hank, you're telling the truth!”
The music turns triumphant.
I raise my arms in the air in victory: “HEEEEEEEEEY!”
I laugh. Rolonda laughs.
“I knew it, because I was telling the truth,” I remark.
“You were telling the truth,” Rolonda adds.
The music turns sappy and inspirational.
“Hank, this is a really big day for you, because you've been vindicated. What do you want to say to your parole officer?”
I look directly into the camera.
“You're a motherfucker!”
The director asks for a cleaner version.
“You're a small little Mr. Potato Head!” I say. “'Cause I proved myself right!”
Rolonda lets out an over-the-top laugh. I look pissed.
“So now that you've been vindicated, and that must be a really good feeling.”
“Yeah, it feels good,” I say with a blank expression. “It just proves I've been telling the truth the whole time.”
The sappy music builds. Rolonda looks at the positive.
“The good thing is you had a bad experience, but you found some good in it!”
I expand on her theme, explaining how I turned everything around for the positive and flaunting my Jesus T-shirt.
“Hank, you're amazing!” she says, touching my arm. (I'm a story of hope and inspiration for Rolonda and others!)
“Anything else you want to say? This is your big day,” Rolonda says with a warm, bonding smile. “You say whatever you want.”
I break a smile for the first time, looking directly into the camera. “I'm just saying: When it comes down to it, stick to your guns, and the lie detector doesn't lie.”
There's mention of sending a copy of the show to my parole officer. Rolonda goes up for a high-five.
“Give me some loving on that one, babe,” she says.
“All right!” I say. We high-five.
“You've been vindicated,” Rolonda says. “Thank you.”
“No,” I insist sincerely, “thank you!”