In a new genre of criminal justice programming, incarcerated people are the creators
Yesterday, the hit podcast “Ear Hustle” began its third season. “Ear Hustle” can be seen as one of a new genre of criminal justice programming, one that goes beyond the lock-em-up retributivism of the “Law & Order” shows as well as the prison voyeurism of shows like “Prison Break” which might involve formerly incarcerated people as consultants, but often play to stereotypes. In this new genre, people directly affected by the criminal justice system share their insights, not only as characters or interviewees, but as creators. “Ear Hustle” is created by Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, two men incarcerated in San Quentin, with Nigel Poor, a visual artist. The show tries to get at “a more three-dimensional view of prison,” according to Poor. [ely kalfus / Crime Report] Today we include three short excerpts from excellent stories of life inside, edited for clarity and brevity.
In the first episode of “Ear Hustle,” which focused on the ups and downs of having a cellmate, two brothers named Emile and Eddie, incarcerated at San Quentin, told their story:
Emile: I’m in there with my brother, and I’m thinking to myself, “We’re brothers. We should live together. We should cell up.” Right? In an environment where nothing is safe, it’s like, “Hey, what could be better and safer than that?” So, he moves into my cell.
Eddie: I was happy. To be able to just exhale for a moment in prison.
Emile: The first few nights were great and then it wasn’t.
Eddie: I didn’t really know my brother like I thought I did.
Emile: He’s still Seventh Day Adventist. And he’s devout. So, the Sabbath, you’re not supposed to watch television, but I watch television. So, he asked me to use my headphones. Which, in theory, wasn’t a horrible request, but my headphones are like 3 feet long, and the space between my bunk and my television is like 3 1/2 feet. “Man, I’m not going to do that.”
Eddie: He was watching soap operas and soap operas was like a trigger for me because I remember hearing “The Young and Restless” tune and there’d be straight violence in the household.
Emile: I didn’t really understand what he was going through. I thought like he was just trying to convert me. I’m a grown man and this is my television. And he turns my television off. I turn the television back on. I’m like, “Have you lost your mind?” So he declares a passive aggressive war on me, and he stopped showering.
Eddie: They say the aluminum in the antiperspirant deodorants and stuff will cause memory loss or Alzheimer’s when you get older, and I was like, “Why would I poison myself like that?”
Emile: He wants to “be natural” and “it’s just a natural smell” and “what’s the big deal.” It’s a big deal. Let me tell you.
They would squabble so much that a neighbor began yelling, “Fratricide!” Eventually, they asked to be moved to different cells because, according to Emile, “living with someone in an apartment is difficult enough, but living with someone in a box, you have to be compatible in a lot of different ways and me and Eddie aren’t compatible.” They get along far better now that they don’t share a cell. [Ear Hustle]
For the Marshall Project’s “Life Inside” series, Jerry Metcalf described a day in his life at a Michigan facility. We feature here the first half of that day. “At 1:30 a.m., I’m jarred awake in my cell by an officer wielding the brightest flashlight in the world. He gives me 10 minutes to throw on some clothes and escorts me to the isolation cells, where I strip down again for a thorough search and begin a three-hour suicide watch. This is my prison job: to sit with inmates deemed suicidal and just talk with them, and make sure they don’t try anything. Shift over, I’m strip-searched again and escorted back to my housing unit, where I take a quick shower, stretch, meditate, pray, then climb back under my itchy wool blanket and hit the sack around 6 a.m. I wake up at 10, thanks to all the hooting and hollering outside my cell. I then hike down the Rock (our term for the cell block) to the communal bathroom I share with 48 other inmates, [and] brush my teeth between four young kids who are rapping. I jog over to our unit’s kitchen area, where I wait in line to use one of two microwaves shared by 96 convicts. Luckily, I’m able to heat up my coffee before I hear, ‘Five minutes til count time, people! Be on your bunks and be visible!’” [Jerry Metcalf / Marshall Project]
Reporter Keri Blakinger has published reflections on her time incarcerated. “Makeup wasn’t just a beauty ritual; it was one of the few remaining outlets of self-expression we had. [E]ach hard-won stroke of makeup was a painted symbol of rebellion.” She includes instructions for jailhouse mascara:
Step one: Break apart a black pen and pour the ink into a bowl.
Step two: Mix in toothpaste.
Step three: Spread this minty fresh mess onto your eyelashes by whatever means possible.
Step four: Remember this is not waterproof and, whatever you do, do not cry all day. (Yes, the no-crying dictum can be a major stumbling block in jail, especially on visitation days.)
“It sometimes looks like circus makeup,” she writes. “But we didn’t really care. Because makeup wasn’t just about appearances—especially in the places where it was banned. It might have looked like a mishap to everyone else, but to us it looked an awful lot like a middle finger.” [Keri Blakinger / Houston Chronicle]