America’s first prison radio station, Inside Wire, launched on March 1 with a media blitz that captured national attention and filled the education and library building at Limon Correctional Center in Colorado’s Eastern Plains.
The half-dozen participants who were not free to leave after the festivities have returned to their usual hours, in an establishment where the fruit of their labor is now broadcast from televisions in the cells and community halls, and in lives, they say, suddenly felt more connected.
“Coming into work the last few days, it’s almost like it’s all Technicolor because of the vibe we had the other day,” Inside Wire producer Jody Aguirre, 58, said Thursday. “I think part of it comes from feeling human again. We weren’t in jail that day. And in a way, we are no longer in prison because of the aftermath of that day.
A project of the University of Denver’s Prison Arts Initiative, Inside Wire: Colorado Prison Radio was originally envisioned as a one-of-a-kind project that could help build trust and connections among the more than 14,000 incarcerated listeners at the sites. of the Department of Corrections around the state, and with the staff who work at these facilities, said Executive Director and Program Director Ryan Conarro.
“That’s our belief about arts-based programming in general, in some ways it’s almost more about how you do what you do than what you do,” Conarro said, who is part of the staff of DU. “I think we’re growing in our relationships and understanding with each other, and I think that kind of growth and impact is what we hope will happen to listeners.
The decision was made late last year to go for an even bigger premiere, making the station, its sounds and ideas accessible to a much wider audience, via the app and streaming on coloradoprisonradio. com.
“There are obviously very important reasons why we chose to invite public listeners to also have a window into this media platform inside the facilities,” Conarro said. “But at the end of the day, the first and most important audience for all of us is the people inside.”
Inside Wire broadcasts around the clock, delivering pre-recorded music segments hosted by DJs, interviews and “spots” that include inspirational messages and story blurbs. All content is created by producers serving sentences in Colorado prisons – six producers in Limon, three in Denver Women’s Correctional and six in Sterling.
Conarro said project managers considered a number of factors when choosing detained candidates to onboard.
“The question I was most interested in wasn’t about technical experience, audio production, or music,” Conarro said, of a process that instead aimed to measure enthusiasm and commitment to building a program from scratch. Because of the length of their sentences, some producers didn’t know how to turn on a computer, or even what a computer was, he said.
One question Connaro said they didn’t ask was what landed the contestants in jail.
“As a rule, whenever we work with people on the inside, we don’t ask people what led them to jail, or try to research it through social media or records. We choose to meet each person we work with where they are and where they meet us,” Conarro said.
Inside Wire is the first station to broadcast statewide and beyond, but it’s not Colorado’s first prison radio station.
For generations, as modern technology brought the world closer to the fingertips of those outside, in prisons the only space-filling sounds were often ambient noises and, if you were lucky , hyper-local waves.
Seth Ready remembers the vital role radio played in rehabilitating his thinking behind bars, and ultimately his life beyond, after serving a 15-year prison sentence.
“Prison is lonely enough as it is, and not having access to music, or the kind of music you want? It’s hard,” said Ready, 46, who was introduced to the medium through a program in Buena Vista that eventually saw him become the establishment’s part-time rock DJ, while earning credits from academic journalism. “I got involved in the program because of the music, but once I did I found I was good at it, I enjoyed it. To date, it’s the best job I’ve ever had. During my time, it was the only time I wasn’t in jail, mentally.
Ready served his prison sentence 12 years ago and now works for the University of Denver’s Prison Arts Initiative, supporting the producers of Inside Wire and a project whose potential impact he has seen and experienced firsthand. .
“It was something that even remotely I could say was the most significant thing, in my opinion, that has ever happened for the Department of Corrections,” he said. “You know the kind of mindset that people have towards people who are in prison… (and) to have the chance to change that mindset and make it more acceptable for people to people get together? It is enormous.”
Music is just one piece of Inside Wire, and also a way to access some of the deepest and most universal stories and feelings that emphasize connection rather than division.
A regular segment, “One Tune,” features interviews with inmates and staff and asks a question: If you could only listen to one song, for the rest of your life, what would that song be, and why?
Kelly Kuhns, who teaches customer service to Limon inmates, was interviewed for this segment. She chose the song “Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw, a song with a message that channels the ethic that has led her into a career and a community, the potential of which she is thrilled to see harnessed in this way.
She remembers seeing Inside Wire’s home base studio gather in the next classroom and was there to celebrate the project’s debut.
“As a teacher, I think it’s really important to support people’s efforts to reclaim their potential, and I’ve seen that happen with these guys doing something they love,” Kuhns said. Tuesday. “Whatever they did before they were incarcerated, it’s a mechanism for them to find joy in a job, something they commit to, something they create. I think education is a great vehicle for transformation because in education you build relationships and relationships are agents of change. We need relationships with offenders so we can send them home better people, better parents, better members of the community. We are safer that way.
Kuhns taught third and fourth grades, where she saw the impact of these programs in providing tools that inform and reinforce identity and encourage mutual respect and understanding.
“I would say it’s really not that different, just bigger bodies, more tattoos. Those things that worked for 3rd and 4th graders that built that connection and that community for people are the same things that work for them,” Kuhns said. “There are so many people who are incarcerated. We all know someone at some point who has fallen on the wrong side of the law. And I think when you talk about people’s basic humanity, it connects and builds bridges instead of walls.”
Over the weeks and months director Benny Hill and team banked content ahead of launch, he said he could see its power at work among his Limon peers.
Consider the “dining room face” — the intimidating stare that means “don’t mess with me or talk to me,” Hill said.
“I just had this interview a few days ago, this guy walked into the studio with a chow hall face. As soon as he entered the booth and in front of the microphone, everything fell apart. And he was the person he was in front of his mother,” Hill, 49, said. “And as soon as he left the studio, as soon as the interview was over, the face came right back.
Hill said that in five months with Inside Wire, he learned more about his peers and staff at Limon than in two decades at the facility.
“We see these people coming in with these stories that are sincere, that they actually care, that they have struggles, that they have triumphs, that they have victories,” Hill said.
“When we start tapping into these little nuggets, these ingredients with these people who have these voices, then we start tapping into human truth. And when you can get someone to identify with the human truth of someone with a chow hall face, then you’re really starting to get into something special. ‘Cause I’ve seen guys break down and cry.
“I’ve seen guys come in and become totally vulnerable, which doesn’t happen very often in prison.”
Conarro said the hope now is to expand the DU program to other facilities in the state and continue to expand programming.
“I’ve been saying for a few weeks…we’re almost done figuring out how to start a radio station and (now) we’re going to have to figure out how to run a radio station,” he said. “It’s been an incredible journey so far, and of course in many ways Tuesday was the very beginning. It was one of those very special moments in life that was both the culmination and the beginning.”
The Inside Wire team may be locked away from the world, but thanks to the ethereal and timeless medium of radio, their thoughts and presence reach far beyond the walls.