New TV special on prison -- Alan and Susan Raymond give us an inside look at their documentary ''Doing Time''

Alan and Susan Raymond knew it was time to go home when the death threats began. The husband-and-wife documentary filmmaking team had taken their cameras inside the Lewisburg, Pa., maximum-security federal penitentiary (pop. 1,500) after gaining unprecedented permission from the Justice Department to spend a month roaming the prison unescorted, a visit that resulted in Doing Time: Life Inside the Big House (HBO, Feb. 12, 10-11 p.m.). Inmates were wary, but as the film crew’s presence (he shot, directed, and edited; she produced) became more familiar, some prisoners warmed to them. Others, however, issued unprintably blunt warnings to get out or risk death. After a month, the Raymonds, whose previous work had taken them into combat zones from Northern Ireland (1980’s To Die for Ireland) to the South Bronx (the 1977 Emmy-winning The Police Tapes), were ready to leave anyway. ”We just stayed a little too long,” says Alan Raymond. ”That fifth week put some of them over the edge.”

”Some inmates were afraid they’d be recognized for other crimes,” adds Susan, ”and others were afraid their families would see them. They just didn’t want their pictures taken.”

”Every inmate who wanted to be in the film wanted to say that he’d gotten a bad trial,” Alan says. And many spoke on camera: A mobster convicted as part of the ”French connection” drug ring bitterly complains, ”I still can’t get justice”; a bank robber rues his holdup’s measly take and bemoans the absence of condoms on the inside; and a tattoo-covered murderer serving 85 years explains that the swastikas inked on his hands aren’t ”the Hitler thing they’re just a symbol for white people.”

Doing Time makes it clear that Lewisburg, which also housed Al Capone, Jimmy Hoffa, and GoodFellas‘ renowned Henry Hill, confines more hardened criminals than rehabilitation candidates. ”It’s illustrated daily that some people choose a life of crime,” says Alan Raymond, who, with Susan, recently signed a three-year contract with HBO. ”We left firmly believing that some — but not all — of these people should never return to society.”