Ear Hustle: The Prison Podcast Leaving its Mark
Ear Hustle reaches you from San Quentin State Prison, California. Episode by episode, the voices of the men incarcerated there provide very real insights into prison life; this podcast is no Orange is the New Black or Prison Break. The stories told on Ear Hustle are all the more touching – and funny – for their warmth and authenticity. From getting a release date to visiting the “Boom Boom Room”, co-hosts Earlonne Woods and Nigel Poor deliver all kinds of stories from life inside, with the help of co-founder Anwan Williams. In the words of their Season 2 Preview: “Ear Hustle is a collaboration between inside and outside people”.
Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams are both serving time, while Nigel Poor is a visual artist with a long history of working with San Quentin inmates. Nigel Poor’s art investigates humanity’s drive to ‘leave its mark’; to create evidence of its own existence. She explores the question of how (and which aspects of) life should be documented. It was this work that led her to teach History of Photography classes at San Quentin, and would eventually be the catalyst for Ear Hustle.
The easy rapport between Woods and Poor is part of what is captivating about this podcast, creating a sense of inclusion for the listener in exchanges that range from playful humour to seriousness. In the episode called ‘The SHU’, Woods reminds Poor of why certain aspects of the stories heard on the podcasts will always be mysterious to her.
Woods: Just curious, where you gon’ go when you leave here tonight?
Poor: Uh, I’m gonna go home.
Woods: That’s why you will never be able to wrap your mind around this, cause you’re goin’ home.
Though he’s pointing out the privilege of Poor’s freedom, Woods is being gentle with her, and he sounds wistful rather than accusing. They’re talking about doing time in the ‘Security Housing Unit’, where inmates are segregated from the prison community and almost entirely devoid of visual stimulation and human touch. Each episode brings in new guests to document the various aspects of the San Quentin experience, and frequently uses original music created by the prisoners themselves. In 'The SHU', inmate and guest of the podcast Armando Flores mentions the deterioration of speech that can happen to someone who has spent a long time in the SHU. He rambles and repeats himself. His quavering voice is a living example of what he describes.
As a listener of the podcast you’re invited into San Quentin in one sense but in reality, unless you're listening from the inside, you too get to go home at the end of each episode. The simple fact of freedom makes the experience of living in San Quentin fairly unimaginable to anyone who hasn't done time, and yet the men inside are not so different from those outside. Their stories capture what it is to be human; the connections that we make with others, the hopes and dreams that we have for our futures.
Philip: My idea of freedom in its simplest and most beautiful form is me, sitting on the couch, wife on one side, kids on the other side. And we’re all just sitting there, probably having came back just from getting ice cream, and watching The NeverEnding Story.
It’s this simple humanity that makes Ear Hustle so addictive, and so different from the ‘prison narrative’ that dominates popular TV shows and films of our time. Through radio, the men in San Quentin are offered a unique way of leaving their mark, and creating a personal narrative that reflects their prison existence.
Season 1 is available to stream and download on your favourite podcast app, while Season 2 returns today, 14th March 2018. Find out more about Ear Hustle through their website and follow them on Twitter via @earhustlesq.