The marriage between HBO and Dwayne Johnson takes the next step Monday when Rock and a Hard Place, a documentary Johnson produced, airs on the channel. The documentary follows incarcerated juveniles looking to cash in on a second chance as they attempt to conquer and complete the Miami-Dade County Corrections & Rehabilitation Boot Camp, which has gained a reputation throughout the nation as one of the toughest no-nonsense programs dedicated to turning around the lives of young people between the ages of 14 and 24 who have been adjudicated as adults.
The 16-week boot camp offers a select few young people the opportunity to trade an extensive prison sentence for a fresh start in life. The Miami-Dade version of this sort of program is famously successful at ensuring they figure it out fast and never look back: The tendency of a convicted criminal who completes the Miami-Dade County Corrections & Rehabilitation Boot Camp to reoffend is only 15 percent, compared to the national average of about 70 percent.
The documentary is inspired by Johnson's own troubles as a youth. He considers Rock and a Hard Place a passion project and one of the most important films with which he's been associated.
“By the time I was 16, I had been arrested eight or nine times for a variety of things and can relate to what these kids are going through,” Johnson told Variety in January.
Johnson — along with ex-wife Dany Garcia, his producing partner and cofounder of Seven Bucks Productions; and Rasha Drachkovitch of 44 Blue Productions, the Emmy-nominated executive producer behindMSNBC's Lockup — executive-produced Rock and a Hard Place. DCTV's Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill directed the film. The directors recently spoke with New Times about Johnson's passion while filming the project and what they witnessed within the program itself while filming.
"Dwayne is a Miami resident who cares deeply about his community and cares about young people who have had difficulties with the law and need a second chance," the pair tells New Times in a joint statement via email. "He had his own run-ins with the law as a youth — and when he first visited the Boot Camp, he was inspired to make this film. It was Dwayne who brought the project to HBO — he's been advocating for the project since its conception. We were thrilled to be asked to work on it."
It's tough to differentiate what a good deal is here; neither boot camp nor prison sounds all that enticing. When pitted against each other, though, the choice is obvious: Kick your own ass for 16 weeks and wake up before prison is your home address for the foreseeable future. That's easy enough for someone on the outside to say, but the program can be so taxing that it breaks participants before they can reach the finish line or reap the ultimate reward, a reduced prison sentence.
"The transformations that occur at Boot Camp are a result of instilling self-discipline and self-worth in the Boot Camp cadets," O’Neill says. It's a process wherein they are broken down and built back up. There's punitive aspects and rehabilitative aspects. Part of it is prolonged and unrelenting physical exercise — we've never seen so many pushups in one day — and just when we (and the cadets) thought the last pushup had been pushed, they had to do 100 more."
According to the directors, Johnson's participation elevated this project to a place among HBO's best new documentaries.
"We have been consistently impressed with Dwayne's commitment to the cadets and the Boot Camp program," Alpert and O’Neill say. "You see his passion for the project in the film as he addresses the young men — pushing them to hold themselves to the same exacting standards to which he holds himself. It's obvious he cares about his community and its residents."
Rock and a Hard Place 10 p.m. Monday, March 27, on HBO.
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Ryan Yousefi is a freelance writer for Miami New Times, a lover of sports, and an expert consumer of craft beer and pho. Hanley Ramirez once stole a baseball from him and to this day still owes him $10.