'It's the Only Thing That's Still Free': Inmates Use Their Voices on San Quentin Prison News Team | NBC Bay Area
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'It's the Only Thing That's Still Free': Inmates Use Their Voices on San Quentin Prison News Team

Starting with the revival of the inmate-run newspaper, the media hub now includes podcast producers and a video team

Starting with the revival of the San Quentin News, an inmate-run newspaper nearly a decade ago, the news program has expanded to video and radio storytelling. (Published Friday, Dec. 30, 2016)

For four years, Antwan Williams has been hustling inside the walls of San Quentin State Prison — hustling for stories.

Williams, an inmate at San Quentin, recently became an award-winning co-producer of a podcast called "Ear Hustle," which focuses on the life of inmates, including those living in solitary confinement.

"Our goal is to show what life really is like within prison — and it's not to highlight or to diminish the crimes we have committed, but it is just to show what life is really like within here," Williams said. 

San Quentin Prison News Goes Digital With Podcast, VideosSan Quentin Prison News Goes Digital With Podcast, Videos

The podcast is produced by Williams, another inmate, Earlonne Woods, and a volunteer at the prison, Nigel Poor. It is scheduled to air in May of 2017.

The idea gained attention as it moved up in RadioTopia's "Podquest" competition seeking out creative ideas from independent producers. 

Williams said he wants the podcast to cut through the media's narrative on what prison life is about and tell it from inside the prison walls.

"It's us speaking for ourselves. It's us having a chance to highlight our lives, show our faults, our mistakes and hopefully find some redemption in the things that we're doing," Williams said.

With story topics from pets in prison to death row, William says there are many perspectives to share.

The podcast is now situated in a growing media hub at the state prison.

Starting with the revival of the San Quentin News, an inmate-run newspaper, nearly a decade ago, the news program has expanded to video and radio storytelling.

"A lot of people on the streets don’t really realize how important information is and understand the value of it, but we do," said Nelson Theodo Butler, a former reporter on the newspaper.

San Quentin News is distributed to all of the prisons in California and accepts content from inmates at other locations. It has expanded to include a journalist guild offering classes and opportunities to write for the newspaper or create videos for other programs, such as financial literacy courses.

Recent stories range from a Prison Yoga Project in Sweden to daily looks at life inside San Quentin.

Rahsaan Thomas, a reporter who covered theatre performances in October, is at the newsroom whenever he can be. He said writing for the paper gives him an outlet and sense of freedom. 

"You guys don’t realize how important that newspaper is to us and how important it is to have that kind of newspaper,” Butler said. "I know people on the streets don’t even buy the newspaper, but guys in here, we take that paper and read it and are like, "Wow! This is really goin’ on.'"

NBC Bay Area's Michael Bott and Riya Bhattacharjee contributed to this report.

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