Trailer for 'Killer Women with Piers Morgan' (ITV)
Names and identifying details have been changed to protect privacy.
I teach at a prison. Before I started, a friend of mine warned me that it would mostly be little more than babysitting the prisoners. Today I am covering a class and ask the deputy head of education whether the course teacher has left any teaching materials or lesson plans for me. The deputy head smiles sympathetically, shrugs her shoulders, and walks off down the corridor.
This week, the first episode of Piers Morgan's ITV documentary series Killer Women aired on ITV. The premise is fairly straightforward and ticks several primetime documentary requirements in one go: Piers Morgan visits high-security American prisons and speaks to killers or accused killers who are women. At one point, Morgan appears to go full-Partridge, saying to a killer, "I haven't interviewed many monsters! But I wish you the best for the future."
Prisoners, despite being in prison 24 hours a day for the duration of their sentences, are guaranteed to enthusiastically watch any and all prison related TV content; the fact that the premise of this series is centered on American women who are in jail for murder is only likely to boost their enthusiasm. This week's episode centered on Erin Caffey, who at 16 was found guilty of organizing the murder of her mother and two younger brothers, and the attempted murder of her father. I asked my class what they made of it.
"Piers Morgan is an absolute wanker"
Simon, 30, has four months left on his sentence for assaulting his former employer in a nightclub. It's his fourth time in prison but it's his first time inside for nearly seven years.
I ask Simon for his initial impressions of Erin. "Clearly a fucking head case, no doubting that, bro. When she was getting upset, she was making all the crying noises but no tears. All in the eyes, she was like a fucking politician, trying to manipulate Piers Morgan. Standard, bro."
Simon starts talking about the accomplices in the murder, particularly Erin's boyfriend. "Now why the fuck did he think killing her family was a good idea? I'm not saying he's not responsible for his own actions, but he must have been a bit soft in the fucking head. He can't have done it just to get in her?"
Simon is referring to the point in the program where the audience is shown a still image of a used condom on the floor of Erin's boyfriend's trailer just hours after the murders had been committed. There is admittedly a lot of laughter in the room at this point, but to me it seemed quite a creepy moment in the program, further compounded when Piers Morgan later asks Erin about having sex with her boyfriend in the immediate aftermath of killing her family. I ask Simon what he thinks of Morgan after watching the program. "Absolute wanker."
Craig, 19, is waiting to go to trial for his part in a small drug operation that ran for six months in the seaside town he grew up in. He is very loud, seemingly struggles to sit in his chair for longer than ten minutes, and every time I tell him to settle down tells me he has "beast-mode ADHD."
It's difficult to get Craig to answer a single question about Erin or the crime itself without him referring back to her rendition of "Amazing Grace" within the first two minutes of the program. He appears genuinely moved by it, and seems to be making a completely earnest reference to Britain's Got Talent when he says, "Piers Morgan knows what a good voice is—she would have got through to the final easy." OK, but she killed her family. I don't think she's what they're looking for, I say. "Swear down I think she's innocent. Well maybe not innocent innocent, but definitely not one hundred percent guilty. It's next level shit killing your family, mind."
Craig launches into the first line of "Amazing Grace" for what must be the 20th time since the group started this discussion. Other prisoners are getting openly irritated with him by this point, but it reminds me of the queasy feeling I had watching Piers Morgan coax Erin into singing. I ask Craig why he thinks Morgan did this. "He had a stonk on for her, simples. I definitely did!"
Gary, 41, has been sent back to regular jail after breaking the rules while in a Category D open prison. "Half an hour late back to my room, you can't make it up!" he says. I later ask an officer about Gary, and he tells me that as well as being half an hour late, Gary was also caught attempting to sneak in a crate of cider. Since being back at this jail, Gary has also been caught stealing food and teabags. I'm almost certain he's taken a marker pen from my desk, but I let it slide.
The state prosecutor, Lisa Tanner, was given a lot of screen time in the program and made it clear that she had initially wished to peruse the death penalty in this case, describing the murders as, "the most disturbing thing I've ever seen. It didn't jive at all." Whether or not it "jived" for Lisa, I want to know what Gary thinks about the length of the sentence for Erin. As a 16-year-old, she was sentenced to a minimum of 42 years before she would even be eligible for parole. "Death penalty for me, all the way. I've met lifers who are never getting out, exactly like her, complete waste of time keeping them alive when everyone knows full well she's never being released."
"Piers is just a massive shit-house"
Jake, 39, has recently been sentenced to 18 months in prison after an argument over some defective batteries he bought from his neighbor escalated to the point of him breaking the guy's nose and cracking a couple of his ribs. Despite this, Jake is one of the calmer members of the group. Seeing as he has a daughter roughly Erin's age when she committed the crime, I'm interested to hear what he thinks of Erin's father, Terry, the only survivor of the attack and now apparently having forgiven his daughter for killing his wife and two sons.
"I was watching him saying he'd forgiven her, and I couldn't believe it. He must be tapped in the head. Halfway through, though, you realize they were proper Jesus freaks. Say no more really. Guns and God, innit."
It's true that religion seemed to hang pretty heavily over the family; Erin was ordered to break up with her boyfriend (and did so) after church. One aspect of the program that disappointed me was how little attempt Piers Morgan made to get inside the head of a fascinating and unique interviewee. I put this to Craig, and he recalls the moment where a voiceover from Erin's psychologist describes her as the "most dangerous" person she has ever worked with. "Piers is just a massive shit-house, mate, that's why," Craig laughs.