Maryum Ali was a stand up comic for more than a decade, but when she entered a prison as a fake inmate for a groundbreaking reality show, it was no laughing matter.

Ali, the daughter of boxing great Muhammad Ali, was one of seven people to enter Clark County Jail in Jefferson, Indiana, for two months as undercover operatives to gather information on drugs, corrupt guards and evaluate rehabilitation resources for 60 Days In.

The series is screening in New Zealand on Sky's CI Network.

Ali said she refused to inform on guards or run a covert operation on how drugs were smuggled into the prison. As a social worker who tries to prevent children joining gangs, Ali said she was more curious about rehabilitation behind bars.


"I wasn't interested in finding out criminal elements ... I told the producers that," she said.

"I was interested in what programmes or resources were available to inmates to be better citizens. I went to the AA class, the Bible class ... that's where I wanted to give my input."

She said what she encountered was encouraging, "but the resources were not comprehensive enough".

Ali, who was given a false criminal background as part of her admission to jail, said all seven reality participants had vocal and visual signals in case they wanted to be extracted from a dangerous situation.

All they had to say was, "Oh my God I wish I had a good cup of coffee. I sure do miss a good cup of coffee". The visual signal was to put a towel around their neck.

Ali said her comedic background did help lighten the mood during some of the more intense situations she experienced.