Ear Hustle – A podcast about prison life that builds bridges between us and them

You can’t hate someone whose story you know.

I recently discovered the Ear Hustle podcast.

“Ear Hustle brings you the stories of life inside prison, shared and produced by those living it. The podcast is a partnership between Nigel Poor, a Bay Area visual artist and Earlonne Woods, formerly incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, and was co-founded with fellow inmate Antwan Williams. The podcast team works in San Quentin’s media lab to produce the stories. Ear Hustle was the winner of Radiotopia’s Podquest contest in 2016, chosen from more than 1,500 international entries.”

Ear Hustle just finished its third season. A fourth is in the works.

Last November, ex-California Governor Jerry Brown commuted Earlonne Woods (Ear Hustle co-host) sentence, after 21 years of incarceration  in San Quentin. Gratefully, the podcast is continuing, adapting to this new situation.

To understate – the stories of life on the inside that I’ve heard, via Ear Hustle, are moving, insightful, and oh so human. They help bridge us-them.

Last Friday, PBS News featured Earlonne and Nigel in this 7-minute video clip:

[If the video isn’t displaying for you, watch it here, on Youtube.]

Podcasts are a good medium for storytelling

Stories connect. Stories help us connect the dots, the discrete events in our lives into some sort of whole.

Podcasts offer a rich medium for storytelling.  Events, people and conversations can be woven together to create a powerful story. The asynchronous format allows for crafting a coherent, connective message.

Ear Hustle exemplifies the best of the podcast medium. We, the listening audience, are connected to people, places, and perspectives we would not otherwise be privilege to. The invisible is made visible. The disparate pieces are made whole. Through hearing their stories, our fear of the other subsides.

Beyond prison life and Ear Hustle, there are so many contexts in which hearing other’s stories would be good for our world. I pray that you agree.

Ear Hustle episodes

Here’s a couple suggestions to draw you in:

Episode 6: The Boom Boom Room. Its about conjugal visits. “Being married in prison is common. Opportunities to get intimate with your spouse are not, and – like everything else inside – are governed by both official and unofficial rules. In this episode of Ear Hustle, Greg and Maverick share stories about keeping their relationships strong, and getting close with their wives.” The stories are told matter-of-fact, with humour, and self-deprecation.

Episode 13: Dirty Water. This episode intersects sex trafficking, victim-offender, restorative justice. “Sex trafficking crimes are hard to talk about. In this episode, Sara and LA share their different experiences of being “in the life,” at the same time demonstrating the difficult, yet important work of restorative justice.” Half way through this episode, you’ll be witness to a  powerful conversation between Anthony Alvin Scott (aka LA), a sex trafficker currently serving 229 years to life, and Sara Kruzan, a woman who was “indoctrinated” into prostitution at age eleven, and who spent 19 years in prison for killing her pimp. Sara is now on the outside and works in the restorative justice. When asked why he’s in prison, LA replied, “Why am I in prison? Because I did exactly what I was taught to do, as a child.” Stories connect the dots.

And, the latest, a short episode about their visit, after Earlonne left prison, to meet with (former) California Governor, Jerry Brown, this month; Road Trip.

On the local scene (in-person connecting and storytelling)

William Head Institution, a minimal security prison, just outside of Victoria, has a number of programs that allow for direct interaction, and sharing of story, between inmates and volunteers. One is the Restorative Justice Coalition at William Head, which connects insiders-outsiders for conversations. Another is William Head on Stage, Canada’s only inmate-run theatre company.

Restorative Justice Victoria runs local restorative/community circles. I’m a past volunteer and board member. RJ Victoria is an awesome organization to support and/or volunteer with.

One final note

Eighteen years ago, I volunteered as a circle facilitator, in an innovative federal (Canada) restorative justice program, RJOPS (Restorative Justice Options to Parole Suspension). One day we (facilitators) traveled to the interior of BC to get privileged, insider, tours of several prisons, including a maximum security one. What I saw, especially from the maximum security one, remain vivid pictures in my mind. It hit home – the gap between my life and those in prison.

In its unique, intentional, way, Ear Hustle is helping bridge that gap.

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