Ear Hustle is a Radiotopia podcast about life in prison; it’s made for and (in part) by inmates, played on stations in several prisons, and shares the lives of inmates at San Quentin State Prison in California. The show is hosted by Earlonne Woods, a former inmate of San Quentin who has recently been released, and Nigel Poor, a visual artist in the Bay Area who volunteers at the prison; Antwan Williams does the sound design. Episodes cover issues like romance, dating, family, being an incarcerated immigrant, the history of San Quentin and so much more.
Poor, Woods, and Williams had been working on a podcast for the closed circuit channels in institutions/prisons but their project was taken to the outside when they entered a Radiotopia talent contest (Podquest) in 2017 and won. The first episode was released online in June of 2017 and was a hit from the start.
A big reason why is that the show is a reminder that prisons aren’t these invisible places and the conversations they have evoke empathy in ways that also don’t condone illegal behavior. The show doesn’t sugarcoat the stories that come out and there are even a few moments of restorative justice in the show.
From its conception, our vision for Ear Hustle was to tell the everyday stories of life inside, from the perspective of those who live it. That has not changed. What will evolve is the way we tell the stories. We like the idea of not being formulaic — we want people to recognize the tone of Ear Hustle stories, but we want to play with how they’re structured and how they sound. – Nigel Poor from an interview with Erin Wade, PRX in August of 2017
In the year and a half since the debut of Ear Hustle, they’ve produced and released almost 30 episodes about all sorts of issues related to incarceration and life on the inside. For those who don’t have much connection to mass incarceration or to someone behind bars, the show is an eye-opening and empathetic experience. You can learn so much about other folks through the show. California Governor Jerry Brown even said this about the show:
I think it’s good if you can pull back the veil of secrecy and let people in on what the reality is of actually being locked up.
You can find Ear Hustle on most major podcasting platforms and can listen to the episodes in any order. In many ways, the episodes are timeless and allow for listening at any point, which means you can listen to the backlog without needing to know too much context. The show is currently on a hiatus but will return later this year, as Earlonne Woods was released from San Quentin in November of 2018 and hired as a producer for Radiotopia!