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Prison arts initiatives helping those incarcerated find purpose

Prison radio
Posted at 3:39 PM, Mar 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-17 15:39:36-04

On Tuesday, March 1, 2022, the voice of Davis Andrew, an inmate at the Sterling Correctional Facility in Colorado, sounded across speakers in prison facilities statewide for the first time.

Along with other residents at the facility, Andrew spoke about current events, music, and life.

“We’re changing the narrative for what it is to be an inmate or someone incarcerated and the standard for how much you can achieve,” said Andrew.

Andrew is a DJ and producer for Colorado Prison Radio, the first prison radio station in U.S. history as it broadcasts to the state’s 20 state-run prisons and to the web.

“I always like to create vibes; some source of harmony and I want to bring the audience into that,” said Tyrell McCrea, another DJ and producer who hosts a talk show called Jam & Toast that airs on Saturday mornings. “The energy in [our studio] is just through the roof. It’s just lively.”

During the pandemic, the Colorado Department of Corrections started an inmate-run news bulletin called Hotlines to keep those incarcerated informed as isolation grew due to COVID-19.

That bulletin then turned into the idea for Colorado Prison Radio, which now streams several times a week. Each person on the team applied for the position through their corrections facility.

“The goal at the end of the day on the most 30,000 ft. view is to create a stronger sense of healing through storytelling, through connection, and through community,” said Ashley Hamilton, an assistant professor of theater at the University of Denver, and the creator of the DU Prison Arts Initiative, which helped launch Colorado Prison Radio.

CPR might be the first of its kind in the country, but it continues a long history of marrying prisons with the arts. For years, California has been a leader in this space as it has had a prison arts project since the 1970s, but in more recent decades, as many as 47 other states have also added prison arts programs that are only becoming more diverse and professional, according to the Justice Arts Coalition. They range from theater to music to art, to now, radio.

Through collaboration and self-expression, studies published in the Justice Policy Journal show arts initiatives like this help increase attention, intellect, patience, and self-discipline within those incarcerated. It has also been shown to increase self-esteem and confidence which has been linked to self-reflection and raised consciousness.

“When I come to work every day, I didn’t realize how much it meant to me to help somebody,” said McCrea. “I have purpose, you know what I mean? I have opportunity. I’m living life. I get to reach. I get to connect. Like, this is what being human is about.”

All the men and women who take part in Colorado Prison Radio have been convicted, and some will spend the rest of their days confined to these walls, but by doing this they have found conviction of another kind.

“I think it really needs to be recognized like we’re people. Some have really changed and just to have that opportunity for it to be seen, that’s all you can ask,” said McCrea.