Somewhere inside us, Catherine Bell says, is a dormant delinquent.
“There’s always that idea of: ‘Ooh, what if I broke the rules and did something wild for a moment?!’”
No one would have expected that from Toby Young, the real-life person Bell portrays (loosely) in “Jailbreak Lovers” (shown here), at 8 p.m. Saturday (July 2) on Lifetime, rerunning at midnight.
Young had followed all the rules. Growing up in a Catholic family, she was often taking care of her six younger siblings. She married the only guy she dated, she has said, and never even got a traffic ticket. She raised two sons, had various office jobs, survived cancer and started a program that, in 18 months, had Kansas prisoners train more than 1,000 dogs for adoption.
And then, at 48, she helped John Manard, 27, escape. They had 13 sometimes-giddy days of freedom.
It was, she later wrote in Newsweek, a case of “reason, stolen by passion.” She became consumed, she said, by “the intoxication of a ludicrous plan.”
Bell hadn’t heard of the story, but was fascinated by the suggestion that she portray Young.
“Obviously, I don’t look anything like her, so I gave that up quickly,” she said, in a virtual press conference. “But there’s an essence to her I tried to get …. just this sweet woman who was totally taken by surprise by this guy, and it just completely altered the course of her life.”
The physical differences are extreme, starting with the fact that Bell (5-foot-9) is almost nine inches taller. But emotionally, this was familiar turf. She played a rules-follower for 10 years of “JAG” and seven of “Army Wives” and a sweet soul in 13 years of “Good Witch” movies and TV episodes.
The first week of filming was at a former juvenile correctional facility in Canada. “It’s so confined and so isolating,” said Tom Stevens, who plays Manard. “You can imagine a human being whose mind needs stimulation become completely frustrated.”
Manard had been in a carjacking that escalated to murder. He was, Young wrote, “a sensual, charismatic guy.” His escape scheme led to “weeks of planning and heart-pounding adrenaline.”
This was in 2006; since then, similar stories have emerged:
— In 2015, two prisoners escaped from the Dannemora prison in upstate New York. Officials say a prison worker, then 50, helped the escape, but lost her nerve and failed to pick them up outside the prison. After a 23-day search, one man, 48, was killed and the other, 34, was captured.
— This April, an Alabama jail’s deputy director, 56, walked out with her prisoner, a murder suspect, 38. After 11 days, he was arrested and she apparently killed herself.
The former one became an award-winning mini-series; the latter happened shortly after Bell had worked on her similar story, also from real life.
“It was unbelievable that that happened,” she said of the Alabama case. “It was like life imitating art imitating real life. (But) I would have preferred a happier ending.”
Well … there are semi-happy endings. After almost five year in prison, the Dannemora woman was seen back with her husband. Toby Young spent 27 months in prison, then fashioned a new life.
She got a Master’s Degree, re-married (she’s Toby Dorr now), wrote a book (“Living With Conviction”) and created programs for women in prison,
“Today, I am a courageous, emotionally healthy woman, determined to change the world,” she wrote in Newsweek. “For the first time in my life, I can say I love the person I am.”
The movie “Jailbreak Lovers” ends with her capture; the happy ending, of sorts, came years later.