In this prison radio station, inmates tell their stories in their own voices

The song, a Top 40 hit for Tiller in 2016, notably evokes a time for Alexander when his wife was hospitalized with lupus, and Alexander, locked up in Limon, could only support her with phone calls.

“There are only parts of the song that relate to my life and what happened when I was here at one point and had a really bad season,” he said. remembers Alexander. “She was hospitalized. So there’s this part where it says, “Lord, please keep it for me, this one favor for me,” you know? So this kind of thing, hits me on the weak spot.

The station launched earlier this month with help from the University of Denver’s Prison Arts Initiative. It airs from Limon and Sterling men’s prisons and the Denver Women’s Correctional Center.

The station, broadcast over the internet, gives inmates the chance to listen to music that often inspires them during times of boredom, loneliness and lack of human interaction, some inmates said. Programming begins at 5 a.m., with a music show that bills itself as “the first statewide morning music show in the United States by and for people in prison, hosted by your favorite DJs from InsideWire”.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The day of the launch of “Inside Wire”.

Other shows, which inmates can listen to on their cell TVs and non-incarcerated people can hear on an app on their phone, include “Jam & Toast,” a weekend morning music show; “Inside Wire Hotlines”, which is an audio bulletin board broadcast three times a day with announcements; “Behind the Mic”, which features the residents and staff of the prison; and “Wired Up”, which allows inmates to produce original audio features that provide insight into life behind prison walls.

Programming should also include a conversation about facility programs, legislative updates that affect prisoners, audio postcards about life inside a facility, and “Up to the Minute with Dean Williams,” a conversation between prison residents and Williams, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections. He showed up to support the launch last week.

“When I talk to the men and women who run this radio, we have developed an environment, a culture of responsibility for them and we make sure that they take responsibility for what is created here and what they have created. We created this thing, this little child, this baby that we’re holding and no one can let the baby down,” Williams said.

220301-PRISON-RADIO-INTERIOR-WIRE-STREAMHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Colorado Department of Corrections Executive Director Dean Williams attends the launch of “Inside Wire”.

He seemed uninhibited about submitting to questions for ‘Up to the Minute’, adding: “They know they can ask me tough questions, but there has to be dignity and respect and an expectation. honesty and transparency,” he said.

Prisoners were given the opportunity to decide how to call the station and what programs to create. They could be heard in a mini-documentary about the project explaining why they chose to call it “Inside Wire”. The word ‘inside’ has been used with several meanings: being inside prison walls, being inside a room for 23 hours if they are in solitary confinement, and what they feel inside, which is often not a welcome or strongly encouraged revelation.

The term ‘thread’ was chosen to describe how prisoners communicate with each other sometimes surreptitiously by sending ‘threads’, notes that prisoners slip through gaps in doors to each other, sometimes attached to thread they have pulled out of their underwear.

This is something, inmates and staff agree, that has never been done before, as reporters across the state learned from a conversation between a killer and a correctional officer who been working for a decade and a half.

220301-PRISON-RADIO-INTERIOR-WIRE-STREAMHart Van Denburg/CPR News
It’s a long walk from the guard tower building to the cell blocks at Limon Correctional Facility. Tuesday, March 1, 2022.

At the launch, inmate and engagement manager and producer Jody Aguirre, 58, who is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for murder and arson, showed off some of his broadcasting skills when he spoke with Matthew Hansen, Director of Prisons, asking him why this station was important.

“We need to change the perception of what prison is for,” Hansen said. “There are so many different perceptions and thoughts about what prison is, and most of them are wrong. Most thoughts about people in prison were incomplete. You only look at a tiny part of that person, the crime or the thing that brought them here, and you forget everything else, all the things that are important to them as an individual and that make them unique. So I think the prison radio will definitely allow those voices to be heard better.

Hansen said that in his quarter-century of working in the prison industry, “we’ve been taught that you don’t mingle, you don’t talk, you don’t build relationships. [with inmates]. How crazy is that? »

220301-PRISON-RADIO-INTERIOR-WIRE-STREAMHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Darrius Turner, Herbert Alexander (standing left) and other incarcerated men listen to ‘Inside Wire’, the first statewide prison radio station in US history,

He seemed comfortable while chatting in the radio studio, formerly a classroom where prisoners could take GED and other courses. Dressed in a dark suit, he sat among prisoners who wore green smocks over T-shirts.

Darrius Turner, 32, who is serving a 46-year sentence for second-degree murder in 2012, sat next to Aguirre and explained to other inmates, media members and staff gathered in the broadcast booth crowded: “The ‘us versus them’ mentality can be broken down into simply being the first to step in and do what is outside the norm. With senior management, staff and allies…meeting us halfway way, it makes it easier for us to work to stay consistent in what we’re doing to bring about the changes, to make it safe for inmates and staff, and to move forward and prepare to be back in society .

The radio station gave him a sense of being alive again and a chance to talk about his feelings in a way that other prison shows did not encourage, he said.

220301-PRISON-RADIO-INTERIOR-WIRE-STREAMHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Ryan Conarro, left, and Ashley Hamilton of the University of Denver’s Prison Arts Initiative embrace as “Inside Wire,” the first statewide prison radio station in history of the United States, launched on Tuesday, March 1, 2022 at the Limon Correctional Facility.

The program has a budget of $500,000 for artistic programming. The initiative involved inmates participating in theatre, podcasting and producing an online journal, according to executive director Ashley Hamilton.

“I’m really interested in people seeing incarcerated people as the artists and thinkers and complex people that they are,” she said, and not just from the one-dimensional perspective of crime that they have committed.

Alexander, who may be planning to be released into a halfway house in the next few years, envisions himself using some of the skills learned at Inside Wire to launch a career in radio.

“Probably like a lot of editing,” Alexander said. “And you know, if it’s possible, go out and host a show, even at my age.”

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