Ear Hustle: A Podcast from Prison

With a market that’s saturated with political and wellness podcasts it’s becoming easier and easier to tune out news and content. Don’t get me wrong, I listen to The New York Times podcast, The Daily, pretty much every single morning and, come the weekend, I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss the sound of Michael Barbaro’s voice. However, more and more frequently, I have found myself tuning out what all the pods are saying.

If I have to listen to another episode on why keto/paleo/pegan is the right diet for you or a whole episode dedicated to a Donald Trump tweet I’d rather make the drive to work with no audio on. In the midst of my podcast slump, my cousin told me to check out a new pod she’d been obsessing over called Ear Hustle. Ear Hustle is a podcast partnership between Nigel Poor, a Bay Area visual artist, and Earlonne Woods, who is currently incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison. Maybe I’m a bit late to the party, but I quickly became obsessed.

Nigel and Earlonne chronicle the daily lives of the prisoners, but this is no late night prison doc. Ear Hustle is the first show that actually takes us inside prison life — from producers to the actual artist.

It looks at the intricacies of prison life: parenting from prison, firsts in prison, aging and dying in prison to name just a few light topics.

I’m not saying that Ear Hustle is the most fun or enjoyable thing to listen to… but it’s a necessary discomfort to face. For example, episode 13 provides a new lens on sex trafficking through a conversation between Sara, a young woman who had been trafficked, and Anthony, a previous trafficker. This type of conversation has a name, “Restorative Justice,” which is when survivors and offenders of the same crime come together to share their experiences.

Nigel explains, “The idea is to have inmates see the effect of their crime in a very candid way, like you can’t turn away from it when the person is right in front of you. You can literally reach out and touch them.” Through their dialogue, we are affronted by their histories and pain. In this particular episode, both Sara and Anthony share their experiences of difficult childhoods and discuss their early exposure to trafficking.

Here is a snippet of their conversation:

Anthony: Look, I made a conscious decision to do what I did as an adult. I like to believe that I’m a different person, that I’d do things differently, but the reality of the situation is my past cannot be turned back. I can’t unring no bell.

Sara: Have you asked yourself for forgiveness?

Anthony: Of course I have. That’s the easy part, but to go back and receive that forgiveness from a victim… it’s like, how do you sit across somebody knowing that you’ve ruined their life and say, “I’m sorry.” What does that really mean?

Sara: It means a lot. I mean, me sitting here, I am that person.

Anthony: Would you really want, would you really want me to sit across the table from you if you was my victim and tell you that I’m sorry?

Sara: Yes.

The dialogue is painful and uncomfortable, but it sheds a light on the work that is pivotal to give justice and peace to both the victim and aggressor. (Spoiler: the conversation does not resolve the pain and suffering caused by the trafficker and the trafficker does not leave an absolved, born again saint.) It’s a messy and complicated discussion that doesn’t finish with a simple ending.

This episode is just one example of the kind of discussion you hear on Ear Hustle. You will hear personal experiences of those incarcerated making peace with their sentence, and making peace with their friends and families. These are the stories that are too often neglected when discussing incarceration. Not to mention, the show features the work of multi-media artists that are on the inside (Tupac’s old manager even volunteers with the inmates).

Ear Hustle reminds us of our humanity and what’s important. In a climate that’s currently obsessed with Donald Trump, food restrictions, and “mindfulness,” Ear Hustle is the podcast that will really have us thinking outside the box.

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