PEMBROKE, N.C. (WBTW) — A Pembroke man recently spent 60 days in jail undercover as one of the cast members of the popular A&E show “60 Days In.”

Cliff ‘Feli’ Powell has watched friends and family members go in and out of the prison system in Robeson County, but fortunately, before this mission, he had never been incarcerated. He went on the inside to encourage young men to use their words instead of guns, in hopes of sparking some change in his community.

During the show, Powel is one of seven people who voluntarily go behind bars undercover.

Growing up in Robeson County, Powell was exposed to drugs, gang activity and violence. As News 13 has reported in the past, Robeson County has, by far, the highest violent crime rate in North Carolina according to the latest stats. However, Powell chose a different path, and he used this experience to try to touch the lives of others.

Powell, who also goes by Feli, encountered some tough experiences while growing up in Pembroke.

“A lot of family members who are incarcerated, a lot of friends that went to jail,” Powell said. “A lot of friends that died in this same town, Pembroke, North Carolina, Robeson County. I’ve witnessed so much heartache and pain.”

Sadly, some of the same friends he grew up with have passed on.

“When it comes to all my friends who have been tragically killed like that, my friend John Junior, who was shot, along with another friend of mine, his name was Caleb. They both were shot,” Powell said. “My friend Cassidy, he was shot by his own cousin.”

Although Powell was surrounded by a pool of unfortunate circumstances, he never caved to the pressure. Instead, he chose the arts as his outlet.

“Every day is a process for me,” he said. “You know, it’s hard, it’s hard to write music. It’s hard to study for film roles, it’s hard to just continue on sometimes knowing that your friend was just here and now they’re gone.”

This music artist, actor and film producer pressed on. His latest test has been to survive 60 days inside North Carolina’s Pitt County Detention Center.

“I look at it like an opportunity for me to see another side of life, those on the inside,” said Powell. “Being I have family incarcerated that I speak to. I wanted to see how it was inside, how I can make that situation better for those guys, you know?”

While Powell had good intentions going in, he quickly faced adversity.

“My thought process was like I got to be on my p’s and q’s.” Powell said. “Anything can happen at any given time, at any given moment, so just as much as I want to help, I could have easily slid into the way of danger.”

However, over time, after some of the inmates were hard on him, there were some where he felt he actually got through it and built trust.

“I would say with V12 that showed that, when I first went in, V12 was like a power boss in there,” Powell said. “For us to build that relationship meant a lot, and to see that he left me all of his belongings when he left jail, when he had so many others to choose from.”

Powell has a new sense of appreciation for his freedom, and since this process, he’s even more inspired to encourage people in his community to walk in their light.

“I think a lot of this has to do with people feeling like there’s no way out,” Powell explained. “I figure if somebody can show it’s realistic to do what you want to do and make a living off of it, then I think that will spark different minds and have them think differently. It is a privilege to be free, so do something with it.”

Feli and the other cast mates are paid for this experience. When asked if he would do this again, he said probably not anytime soon, but maybe in the future. ’60 Days In’ airs Thursday night on A&E.

* * *

Annette Peagler is an evening anchor at News13. Annette is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She joined the News13 team in December 2020. Annette is an Emmy-nominated journalist and has won journalism awards in Mississippi and Tennessee. Follow Annette on Twitter and read more of her work here.