Telling audio stories from within the walls of San Quentin prison

Ear Hustle tells stories from life on the inside

“Before using Pop Up, we literally listened to tape and hand wrote it out. Or the other option was to listen to half a sentence, stop the tape, type it out, stop it, listen to more. It was insane; it took so much time. You could say that it made me hear the tape a lot more, but it was horrible and it was holding us back.”
—Nigel Poor, co-creator, co-producer, and co-host of Ear Hustle

Ear Hustle is a forthcoming podcast from Radiotopia, and the winner of Radiotopia’s Podquest competition to uncover innovative, rich stories and storytellers. Ear Hustle will tell stories of life within the prison system, revealing the experiences, characters, and perspectives of incarcerated Americans. And it’s told by the people living it.

The podcast is a collaboration between two inmates at San Quentin State Prison, Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, and Nigel Poor, an artist and professor of photography at California State University – Sacramento. The three co-created the idea for Ear Hustle and are co-producing and co-hosting every episode of the 10-episode season.

Earlonne, Antwan, and Nigel want to create an evocative, immersive experience using music, voices, and sounds of prison to tell stories that aren’t being told elsewhere. They come up with the ideas for each episode together. One of Ear Hustle’s express goals is to capitalize on the different perspectives and experiences of its creators, and to take strength and inspiration from showing how those differences can drive work that explores identity and meaning.

Nigel is using Pop Up Archive’s 5 hour monthly plan to transcribe, search, and manage the tape they record. “Before using Pop Up, we literally listened to tape and hand wrote it out. Or the other option was to listen to half a sentence, stop the tape, type it out, stop it, listen to more. It was insane; it took so much time. You could say that it made me hear the tape a lot more, but it was horrible and it was holding us back,” she says.

Meet the team behind Ear Hustle in this video from PRX.

Since Earlonne and Antwan are in prison, they don’t have access to the Pop Up Archive website. Instead, Nigel uploads approved tape into Pop Up Archive (San Quentin’s Public Information Officer, Lieutenant Sam Robinson, has to review and sign off on tape prior to editing). She then brings the transcripts to San Quentin to share with Earlonne and Antwan; they can read along with the timestamps and know exactly where they are in the story. She also shares a transcript with Lieutenant Robinson, so he can read as he listens to episodes before giving final approval. Nigel says he has been a great supporter of their work.

The transcripts will prove valuable even after episodes of Ear Hustle air. “As an educator, I’m always trying to figure out as many ways as possible to make our stories accessible and interesting, and this is one way we can do that,” Nigel says. She also wants to use transcripts of different edits to demonstrate the evolution of an episode from start to finish.

San Quentin has a closed-circuit station where the Ear Hustle stories will be broadcast. The team is working with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to make the episodes available to prisons throughout the entire system, giving inmates the opportunity to bear witness to a collaboration between those on the inside and those on the outside. “Prison is a potent place for investigating some of life’s most difficult questions, like what it means to be human, where do we find meaning, what is the value of a life. We’re trying to explore some of those questions together,” said Nigel.

Ear Hustle will start airing in June 2017.

See you in the archive,
The Pop Up Archive team