Last year, Zac, a veteran of the U.S. Marines, went to jail.
He hadn’t done anything wrong. He was a participant in A&E’s 60 Days In, a show that sends innocent people to Clark County Jail in Indiana. It’s all undercover – not even the guards know that these are innocent people.
Now, Zac’s wife, Ashleigh, will follow in her husband’s footsteps, voluntarily spending two months behind bars for the TV show. (Her experience was taped right after her husband’s, before the show debuted. It was the only way to preserve her anonymity.)
We know what you’re thinking: How low can reality TV go? What won’t people do to be on television? Is this even legal? We’ve asked the same questions.
But 60 Days In has a more noble goal than just making riveting television. The show has served as valuable feedback to authorities about the problems that the jail was facing. And by all accounts, the participants have taken the responsibility very seriously.
PEOPLE caught up with Zac and Ashleigh. Due to the sensitive nature of the show, A&E requested that we not use their last names. In the interview, we ask about their experiences – and why they were willing to do the show in the first place.
Zac, your season has already aired. What has been the reaction?
It has been really positive. I’ve had police departments reach out to me for employment. I think it has been a really positive experience.
Of all the participants, you definitely found your footing really quickly. Why do you think that is?
When I was a child, my father was a preacher, so he’d move to a new location to start new churches. I learned how to adapt really quickly. Then, my military training taught me to adapt and get to know people really quickly, and to get used to a routine.
What’s the hardest thing about jail?
It was a lot of boredom, a lot of sitting there. This is jail, not prison. There’s only so much they can make people do in jail because they’re not convicted yet. They can’t make inmates do stuff. So you sit around a lot.
And your wife was asked to do the experience right after you did it. What was your thought?
I went into this hoping to really do some good and make this more than a TV show, but to help the criminal justice system and help society. And when they asked if Ashleigh wanted to do it, I thought, “I just did this with her blessing. How could I turn around and not let her have the same experience?” I was ready to support her in whatever she did.
Ashleigh, what were your initial thoughts about this whole thing?
When they first described it to my husband, my thought was, “Hell, no.” We had a really young baby and it sounded crazy.
So then they asked you to do it. What did you think?
I knew that there was a lot of good that could come out of it, so I decided to do it. My biggest worry was leaving my 4-month-old baby without his mother. Zac had been gone, and now I was going to be gone.
Was that your biggest worry? Leaving your baby?
It was, but I also had another concern. I had been sober for 4½ years at that point. So I was worried that there might be things available in jail that I didn’t want to see. I’ve been really careful to stay away from drugs and alcohol and didn’t want to ruin it in jail.
So without giving anything away, are you happy that you did the show?
I had moments where I wasn’t happy. I’d have to close my eyes and take myself to a different place. I’m glad I did it because it made our marriage stronger – we’ve had an experience together that no one else gets to have. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
The second season of 60 Days In premieres Thursday night on A&E.