Podcasts To Listen To: Ear Hustle - A Podcast About Prison By Actual Prisoners

Ear Hustle The Podcast

Your Invitation To Prison

"Ear Hustle" is prison slang for eavesdropping. Ear Hustle is also the slick name of a groundbreaking podcast that is co-produced and co-hosted by inmate Earlonne Woods deep within the constricted walls of San Quentin prison.

This groundbreaking show is an invitation for an intimate encounter with a world that is often dramatized and documented on television and in movies but perhaps remains misunderstood.

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Ear Hustle has come to life as part of the Radiotopia podcast network and through a partnership with co-producer and co-host Nigel Poor, a Bay Area visual artist who volunteers at the prison.

From self-produced hip-hop beats that layer in the atmosphere for the background of the show to “man on the street” style interviews with inmates, referred to as yard talk on the show, Ear Hustle is forged through the direct input and efforts of prisoners in conjunction with civilian help and prison staff oversight.

Challenges - Shared And Unique

For most in society, just even the thought of spending a second in prison is enough to send chills surging up our spine. Within moments of checking out Ear Hustle, though, you are struck by the everyday humanity being expressed within those prison walls.

Challenges with cohabitation, growing old, desire for purpose and connection, fear, growth, and other elements of humanity that prisoners commonly share with the outside are displayed early and often on Ear Hustle.

Then there are expressions of humanity we on the outside world could never relate to and most certainly have never spent much time thinking about on behalf of the prison population. Complications like a significant, if not an entire, lack of physical connection to the point of forgetting how to hug properly.

One prisoner shares how he got swept up in severe anxiety over the anticipation of executing one of the most innate, human physical interactions, hugging his own mother after a 10+ year distancing.

Another prisoner details a full-blown panic attack he suffered when overrun by the pace and volume of people briefly surrounding him during a rare inner-city trip to get wisdom teeth removed, proving he had been institutionalized far beyond his own self-awareness.

Then there is the concept of time, the massive amount of time these guys are spending in prison. Many of the prisoners who share their stories entered prison basically as kids and have been there for decades since. It is staggering to think how entire lifetimes are being spent behind bars while the outside world just carries on.

A Holistic Look At Prison Life

Prison and prison life have been an extensive subject of Hollywood movies and television shows. Even beyond dramas, there have been documentaries like Scared Straight that try to capture the harrowing essence of having your freedom stripped away when sentenced to a stint in prison.

Those shows all tend to focus on the grit and grime, the violence, and the do or die nature of survival in prisons. While that side of prison compels and intrigues us, and it is absolutely captured on Ear Hustle, something tends to get lost in those other productions, though, and that is the humanity of the subjects.

We all too easily lose sight of the fact that prisoners are beings with depth, dimensions, and a backstory that has brought them to their current day situation. Sure, there are deviant and depraved individuals who are beyond reproach and beyond the hope of ever integrating into society again, but that is not the entire prison population.

When listening to Ear Hustle you are reminded of that humanity. Even in the exploration of a dark tale of a young life taking a horribly violent and regretful path, it is done so with a holistic approach, allowing us to hear this individual, now a grown man in prison, soaked in remorse over a horrific murder he perpetrated over 30 years ago.

We learn of his backstory and the unrelenting physical abuse he suffered at the hands of his father and the sense of family, connection, and ego fulfillment he sought through south central LA gang culture. We are taken through the split second, thoughtless encounter he embroiled himself in by openly murdering a rival gang member in broad daylight.

It was a brazen and senseless killing that ultimately saw his own mother and brother get gunned down in their home as part of a retaliatory home invasion. Those reciprocal murders marked the very first time in LA gang history that innocent family members were involved in the escalating and lethal violence of gangs.

Too often these unspeakable crimes are looked at in a vacuum, locked in the static moment of the crime itself, with the perpetrator branded and seen only as the heinous offender, but Ear Hustle layers in the backstory as well as the unique chance to hear the contrition decades later of a now grown man who has been changed in prison.  

There are countless offenders who at a young age made a poor decision as a result of getting swallowed up by some incredibly challenging life circumstances like neglect, abuse, or trauma. These are sons, brothers, and fathers and we all too often completely detach the human element from their stories.

Perhaps as a society, it is just easier to demonize and discard prisoners as opposed to examining the complexities of crime and implement real strategies to rehabilitate lives.

Seeing Another Side

Ear Hustle is a rare platform that allows listeners to begin to recognize these inmates for the people they are beyond the crime they committed and will forever be associated with. The criminal acts they committed are not excused or ignored on Ear Hustle, but the show does allow us to see the prisoners as living, breathing, evolving beings with families and a past, no matter how shocking or upsetting of a crime they may have committed at one point in life.  

This podcast review is not any sort of rallying cry for criminal leniency now that I have been emotionally touched by stories on Ear Hustle, but I have been opened up to another side of these prisoners, no matter how damaged and dysfunctional they may appear to be when viewed through the isolation of a criminal act.

Reform of our justice system is a pressure cooker topic right now and Ear Hustle is making a statement on the behalf of the human side of incarceration. Whether you are curious about the inner workings of successfully navigating a prison sentence or fascinated by the intricacies of the human condition, something is sure to captivate you on Ear Hustle.

This is a rare perspective being offered up by a typically voiceless segment of society. Do check out Ear Hustle and catch a unique glimpse of a world that you are rightfully frightened of, but perhaps need to spend a few minutes visiting through this top-notch Radiotopia network podcast. This is a segment of society that perhaps we have ignored and misunderstood for too long.

Please Comment

Have you listened to Ear Hustle? What episode, story, or characteristic of the show has most struck a chord with you?

How do you feel about prisoners producing and releasing a podcast show?

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