By Ed Lyon
The years of the COVID-19 pandemic have been difficult for everyone, especially prisoners. Like a form of universal long-term solitary confinement, the endless hours of boredom were broken only by an occasional shower, or a dry bologna sandwich with an occasional handful of raisins or prunes in a paper sack.
Ryan Conarro of Colorado’s University of Denver Prison Arts Initiative had an idea: Why not use the state Department of Corrections’ (DOC) closed circuit television network that reaches all of its prison units to carry radio programming by prisoners and for prisoners to prisoners? Thus was born “Inside Wire: Colorado Prison Radio.” Launched at 11:00 a.m. on March 1, 2022, it now reaches all of the state’s 14,000 prisoners 24 hours a day.
Conarro’s pitch was well received by DOC Executive Director Dean Williams. Taking an even longer view than the immediate isolation enforced by COVID-19 social distancing requirements, Williams acknowledged “[t]he reality is that 90-95% of incarcerated people will be released from prison and return to communities as our neighbors. It’s important that through programs like Inside Wire, incarcerated people have the opportunity to maintain a sense of connection with each other, with the community, and have a purpose and focus in their life while they are serving their time.”
Programming for Inside Wire is produced by prisoners at three state lockups: Limon Correctional Facility (LCF), Sterling Correctional Facility and Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. From the LCF studio, a weekday music program and a weekly talk-radio program called “Up to the Minute with Dean Williams” are produced. The latter is described as “an unfiltered conversation between residents and the [DOC] Executive Director.”
Those not incarcerated by the state may also listen to the programming online or via apps available for Apple and Android devices. “Radio is the perfect medium for this environment,” Conarro insists. “We really believe that listening and sharing are essential human acts, both in and out of prison.”
It all sounds a little old-fashioned, like an empty Radio Shack waiting for customers who have moved their electronics shopping online. As people say of the store’s eponymous gadget, “Who wants anything to do with something few people listen to anymore?”
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