Ear Hustle Presents People, Not Prisoners

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While there are countless documentaries and biographies about life behind prison walls, few of these pieces bear emotional intimacy quite the same as this show. Cohosted by Nigel Poor, former inmate Earlonne Woodsand current inmate Rahsaan “New York” Thomas, the Radiotopia podcast Ear Hustletakes listeners into the walls of California’s San Quentin State Prison for a look into the lives of incarcerated individuals.

Part of the show’s strength lies in the topics that the show’s hosts examine within each episode. Unlike media that typically focus on the dehumanizing isolation and brutal violence of the system, Ear Hustle examines some of the human facets of life inside and outside the system. Some of the show’s topics include aging and possibly dying in prison, the music that inmates produce in the yard and finding love outside of prison walls. This focus on the unexamined is further complimented by the slew of interviews that the hosts record with the inmates of San Quentin. Rather than hog the spotlight, the hosts always focus on letting these individuals tell their stories.

These factors work together to create a unique listening experience that serves a vital purpose. With societies collective view of the prison system tainted by years of inhuman media, it is far too easy for us to forget that inmates are still people.

I found myself hooked on this show after I listened to its third episode “Looking Out.” This episode finds the shows sound designer Antwan Williams interviewing inmates in the yard and asking them a simple question. “If you were an animal, what animal would you be and why?” As Williams roams the yard and collects the fantasies of men with nothing else, we hear a simple beat start in the background. It is the sound of an inmate drumming on a table and singing a song he wrote. He is known around the yard as Scoob Stacks and his song is called “Worth It.” Even in prison, humanity still flourishes in the smallest ways. Without Ear Hustle, we might not have been able to witness that.

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