Americans have listened to the radio for decades to listen to their favorite music, call up talk shows, or just start their morning with a coffee and the news broadcast. For the first time in the United States, however, a group of Coloradans connects listeners with a community that has long been ignored in this process: the incarcerated.
Last week, men and women from Denver, Limon and Sterling women’s correctional facilities debuted Inside Wire: Colorado Jail Radio, the country’s first publicly accessible prison radio station. The daily 24-hour show features a mix of programming, including musical shows, interviews and narrative stories, centered on the voices of Colorado inmates and aimed at better sharing the perspectives of those inside. inside. The station is the latest project of the University of Denver Prison Arts Initiative (DU PAI), a program founded in 2017 to provide therapeutic and creative outlets for inmates that empower them and foster a healthy community.
“I look forward to highlighting the humanity that Is to exist in prisons for the outside – for society -[and] changing the narrative inside and out,” says Antonio Stancil, one of the station producers at the Sterling Correctional Facility. “[We’re] part of something monumental to be able to inform other inmates of things many of them wouldn’t know if there hadn’t been a state/national radio station they were on could connect.
Inside Wire will be broadcast to more than 14,000 listeners at all Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) facilities via closed-circuit television. The public can listen on Colorado Prison Radio website or the Inside Wire app.
DU PAI members are no strangers to history. In 2019, the program partnered with residents of Denver Women for the nation’s first-ever theatrical production created and performed by a group of incarcerated people for the public. And with an inmate produced magazine, newspaperand podcast already in the repertoire of the Prison Arts Initiative, radio felt like the next frontier for Ashley Hamilton, executive director and co-founder of DU PAI, and Dean Williams, executive director of CDOC. “I’ve never been shy about us tackling difficult subjects, have I? What is it like to be inside; what it’s like to be alone. What is it like to be isolated. What we got wrong around prisons all over the country,” Williams says.
Listeners will have the chance to unpack these issues alongside the men and women who experience them first-hand through offerings like the “Up to the Minute” show featuring “unfiltered conversations” between Williams and inmates, as well only narrative elements and comedic elements about the nuances of life behind bars. They will also hear music in a variety of genres, as well as special programs and daily bulletins.
Work to create the station began in the summer of 2021, and each team is currently producing segments which are then put together with the help of a DU PAI staff member and the Executive Director and Director of Programs from DU PAI. ‘Inside Wire, Ryan Conarro. Conarro says DU PAI hopes to facilitate more real-time collaboration between the three studios to ensure incarcerated people are able to expand their skills when released from prison. “We see there’s an opportunity to grow as contributors, not just for this community, but to be able to contribute to society as a whole,” says Cedrick Watkins, a fellow Inside Wire DJ and producer.
Along with the opportunity to learn new skills, Hamilton notes that the process of setting up these projects is also rehabilitative for the inmates, who are still members of our community and will one day re-enter society. “We have a ripple effect by choosing to create spaces like this and giving them the opportunity to show us what’s going on and what’s going on,” she says. “And there’s also a ripple effect if we don’t.”
Williams agrees, adding that incarcerated people and other community members need to recognize the opportunities to change our relationships — and the system — for the better. “I want human dignity. I want respect. The problem is that, historically, we have made a prison a place of punishment, instead of a place of the possibility of redemption,” Williams says. “There has to be space for a buyout opportunity to erupt. We all decide, as humans, what that looks like.
(Read more: Incarcerated women star in Newman Center’s most anticipated holiday show)