Lifestyle Music & Entertainment

Are You Sleeping: Ear Hustle

This message doesn’t have to be approved by Warden Ron Davis, but each episode of the podcast Ear Hustle does. 

This is “Are You Sleeping”: a review column about the things you should be listening to, watching, or reading. In this edition, we discuss the prison podcast, Ear Hustle.

I know, I know, more podcast reviews, but hear me out.

This podcast is shamefully being slept on. Unlike Ryan and his friends’ “Talkin’ Traz” podcast from Shrill with the typical setup of three very similar white dudes giving the audience their “super unique hot-takes” on whatever, Ear Hustle comes forth with a unique voice: that of the incarcerated in America. The podcast is a production collaboration between San Quentin State Prison former inmate Earlonne Woods, and artist and San Quentin State Prison volunteer, Nigel Poor.

Ear Hustle, hosted by Woods and Poor, provides an honest perspective on incarceration and life in prison. The stories it tells range from insightful, to devastating, to just plain hilarious.

Each episode centers around a theme to which Earlonne and Nigel conduct interviews with inmates and share some of their own experiences. Touching on subjects that people far removed from the prison system may be curious about, the podcast topics range from dating in prison to life as an LGBTQ person in prison, and living on death row. On top of thought-provoking themes and interviews, Ear Hustle is highly interactive. Listeners have the opportunity and are encouraged to send “kites” (letters) to the show, with about two episodes each season dedicated to listener questions.

Unlike other podcasts that tell you about prison or what life was like inside for the formerly incarcerated, Ear Hustle is a look at lives currently locked up in real-time. Although San Quentin is a men’s prison, the podcast also works to include the stories of formerly incarcerated women.

Ear Hustle provides a platform for those who are incarcerated to share their stories whether humorous or heartbreaking and remind the public of a group of people many have forgotten. 

Often inside views of prison are exploitative. Shows about prison life use prison and inmates as a backdrop to create an atmosphere of fear or shame, as a means to scare those who are unincarcerated into suitable behavior. While some interviewees in Ear Hustle may express regret for their crimes, if discussed at all, the real purpose of the podcast is for the men at San Quentin to be heard. To be recognized as humans with all the interests and desires as people not or formerly incarcerated.

The prison industrial complex has plagued the United States for decades, yet the incarcerated people’s experiences and rights are often ignored.

In the 1960s, throughout the United States, prisoners rioted in an effort to demand their rights, but the historians of their time largely ignored their story (Chase, 73).  In the 1970s to 1990s, many prisoner activists fought to end prisoner classification as slaves of the state (Chase,77-78 ).

There is still much progress required for those incarcerated to be seen as humans and citizens still deserving of rights and human dignity.

Fortunately, Ear Hustle is one way for prisoners to have their humanity recognized. It is insufficient to learn of the lives of prisoners from a historical lens, so it is necessary to provide space for the voices of those most affected by our criminal justice system. 

How do you  get a hold of this piece of pure ear delight? Ear Hustle can be found on Radiotopia, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.   

Source: Chase, R. T. (2015). We Are Not Slaves: Rethinking the Rise of Carceral States through the Lens of the Prisoners’ Rights Movement. Journal of American History, 102(1), 73–86. 


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