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Americans have been tuning in to the radio for decades to listen to their favorite music, call in to talk shows, or simply start their morning with coffee and the news broadcast. For the first time in the United States, however, a group of Coloradans are connecting listeners with a community that has long been ignored in that process: incarcerated people.
Last week, men and women from Denver Women’s, Limon, and Sterling correctional facilities debuted Inside Wire: Colorado Prison Radio, the first prison radio station in the country available to the public. The daily, 24-hour broadcast features a mix of programming—including music shows, interviews, and narrative storytelling—which is centered around the voices of Colorado inmates and aims to better share the perspectives of those inside. The station is the latest project from the University of Denver Prison Arts Initiative (DU PAI), a program founded in 2017 to provide therapeutic and creative outlets for inmates that empower them and foster healthy community.
“I’m looking forward to shining a light on the humanity that does exist within prisons for the outside—for society—[and] changing the narrative from within and out,” says Antonio Stancil, one of the station’s producers from Sterling Correctional Facility. “[We’re] a part of something monumental being able to inform fellow inmates of stuff that a lot of them wouldn’t know if it wasn’t for a statewide/nationwide radio station that they could tune in to.”
Inside Wire will be broadcast to more than 14,000 listeners across all Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) facilities via a closed-circuit TV system. The public can listen on the Colorado Prison Radio website or Inside Wire app.
Members of DU PAI are no strangers to making history. In 2019, the program partnered with Denver Women’s residents on the nation’s first-ever theater production created and performed by a group of incarcerated individuals for the public. And with an inmate-produced magazine, newspaper, and podcast already in the Prison Arts Initiative’s repertoire, radio felt like the next frontier for DU PAI executive director and co-founder Ashley Hamilton and CDOC executive director Dean Williams. “I’ve never shied away from us tackling difficult subjects, right? What it’s like to be on the inside; what it’s like to be alone. What it’s like to be in isolation. What we’ve gotten wrong around prisons in the entire country,” Williams says.
Listeners will have the chance to unpack these issues alongside the men and women experiencing them firsthand through offerings like the “Up to the Minute” show featuring “unfiltered conversations” between Williams and inmates, as well narrative features and comedic bits about the nuances of life behind bars. They’ll also hear music across a variety of genres, along with special programs and daily bulletin announcements.
The work to create the station began during the summer of 2021, and each team is currently producing segments that are then stitched together with the help of DU PAI staff member and Inside Wire’s general manager and program director, Ryan Conarro. Conarro says DU PAI hopes to facilitate more real-time collaboration between the three studios to ensure incarcerated people are able to broaden their skillset for when they do leave prison. “We see that there’s a possibility to grow as contributors, not only for this community but to be able to contribute to the overall society,” Cedrick Watkins, a fellow DJ and producer for Inside Wire, says.
Along with the opportunity to learn new skills, Hamilton notes that the process of putting these projects together is also rehabilitative for inmates, who are still members of our community and will reenter society one day. “There’s a ripple effect of us choosing to craft spaces like this and give them this opportunity to show us what’s up and what’s happening,” she says. “And there’s also a ripple effect if we don’t do that.”
Williams agrees, adding that both incarcerated people and other members of the community have to recognize opportunities to change our relationships—and the system—for the better. “I want human dignity. I want respect. The problem is that, historically, we’ve made a prison a place of punishment, instead of a place for a possibility for redemption,” Williams says. “There has to be a space for a redemption opportunity to break out. We all decide, as human beings, what that looks like.”