Art News

Incarcerated Voices Take Radio Spotlight With Inside Wire

Darrius Turner and Jody Aguirre, Limon Correctional Facility.
Darrius Turner and Jody Aguirre, Limon Correctional Facility. Inside Wire
A new internet radio station launched today, March 1, with a wide variety of music, stimulating conversation, deeply felt storytelling, news, interviews and more, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And it’s coming to you straight from the Colorado prison system.

Inside Wire is the first project of its kind in the world, beaming music, stories, news and entertainment not only into prisons across Colorado, but to the public around the globe. All programs are created by incarcerated media producers, designed to amplify the diverse voices and creations of those living and working inside prison walls. While the programming will be live on tape, it will include many traditional aspects that radio listeners have come to expect, from a morning show to news breaks to interviews and storytelling-model narrative.

The project is the collective brainchild of both Ashley Hamilton, assistant professor of theater at the University of Denver and co-founder and executive director of the DU Prison Arts Initiative, and colleague Ryan Conarro, DU PAI staff member and general manager/program director for Inside Wire. The project is a collaborative effort with the Colorado Department of Corrections.

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Ashley Hamilton heads the DU Prison Arts Initiative.
Ashley Hamilton
The idea for prison radio came about in discussions during the winter of 2020. “In the first year of the pandemic, we hosted a virtual event called Alive Inside. It was available on YouTube, but was also aired into every TV in every prison in Colorado," Hamilton says. "It showcased art from multiple facilities across the state, and that got Ryan and I thinking about what it would mean for us to access this closed-circuit system that the CDOC has as a way to create art, storytelling and connection.”

Conarro had a background in radio, having formerly worked at a station in Alaska, and that spurred the idea for the project. “We were off to the races,” Hamilton says.

When Hamilton and Conarro took the prison radio concept to the CDOC executive team, it was embraced as both inspired and timely. “It’s funny, because at the time, late 2020, we thought we were coming to the end of the pandemic,” Hamilton recalls. But the idea only appeared to get better as the effects of COVID lingered.

“I don’t want in any way to idealize the pandemic,” says Hamilton, “but I don’t know that if it hadn’t happened that we’d be launching this project now.”

The design of Inside Wire, according to Conarro, is based on community radio models and their “patchwork quilt” approach to programming. “The idea is that we’re serving a lot of different listeners and their needs and interests throughout the day,” he says. The music shows, which take up a majority of the daily airtime, will all be multi-genre and programmed by the incarcerated producers themselves. Currently, all programming will be produced on site at three Colorado facilities: Limon Correctional, Sterling Correctional and Denver Women’s Correctional. The public will be able to access the radio through their browser, or on an app available from the Apple Store and Google Play. The incarcerated population of Colorado will see it offered on the closed-circuit television system to which they already have access; it will just be a new option.
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Ryan Conarro is the general manager/program director for Inside Wire.
Ryan Conarro
There will be one programming schedule for the week and another for the weekends, similar to the scheduling on commercial radio. A full schedule is already available on the Inside Wire website, but here's a list of the original program highlights:
  • Inside Wire in the Morning: The first statewide morning show in the U.S. by and for incarcerated people, hosted by Inside Wire DJs at Limon Correctional Facility.
  • Jam & Toast: Inside Wire’s own weekend morning music show, hosted by Inside Wire DJs at Denver Women's, Sterling and Limon correctional facilities.
  • Inside Wire Hotlines: An audio bulletin board of sorts, including announcements and updates airing three times daily, for residents and staff of the Colorado Department of Corrections.
  • Daytime Tunes on Inside Wire: From indie to hip-hop to recent top hits...genre-busting music from inside the walls, for every listener.
  • Encore Hour: Inside the Music: Another chance to hear music and talk from Inside Wire in the Morning.
  • One Tune: A fun and quirky show that's bound to please fans with its high-concept theme: You're stranded on a deserted island or in outer space, and you get to take just one song with you. Which one will it be, and why? Residents and staff across the CDOC share their stories behind their "one tune."
  • Behind the Mic on Inside Wire: Profiles of prison residents and staff across Colorado who keep Inside Wire in your ears and on the airwaves, from full-time producers, to short-term contributors, to musicians, to CDOC support staff.
  • Wired Up: Original audio features by Inside Wire and other prison producers, offering nuanced glimpses of life inside, including profiles of facility programs; audio postcards from life inside; legislative and current-events updates; and partner programs such as the DU PAI podcast With(in).
  • Overnights on Inside Wire: Tune in while you settle in: nighttime music from inside the walls, for listeners on both sides.
  • Up to the Minute With Dean Williams: One of the most striking offerings is this ongoing and unfiltered conversation between incarcerated residents and Dean Williams, the executive director of the CDOC.
Conarro lauds “the power and potential of radio as a medium to cultivate a sense of community, companionship and connection.” There's value in accomplishing such a sense within a system that too often does the opposite, he adds; radio is uniquely positioned to push against that isolation. It provides the opportunity not only to be a voice, but to be a publicly available, synchronous one that reaches people inside and outside the prison walls.
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Anthony Quinana Jr., Limon Correctional Facility.
Inside Wire
“It’s shared community," he says. "Incarcerated producers have stronger platforms for their own stories and experiences, to connect with each other and then amplify those voices across the system. It’s really fundamental to what we all hope prison can do, which is to support people [to be] as prepared as possible to re-enter their communities healthy, contributing and connected.”

“At the foundation of all of DU PAI’s work,” concludes Hamilton, “from Inside Wire to our newspaper, the Inside Report, to our podcast, With(In), we’re committed to shifting the conversation about prison and about the community that makes up the criminal justice system. The incredible thing about Inside Wire is that we have an amazing opportunity for the public to begin to shift their understanding of what happens on the inside of these systems. We can be more nuanced in our thinking about prison by engaging with this project. We’re committed to creating really incredible artistic work. We hold ourselves to a high aesthetic standard as artists. But it doesn’t matter how strong the art is if we’re not also doing that good hard work of connecting, creating community, growing and healing. That’s what’s driving all of this.”

For more information on Inside Wire and to listen to the online stream, see the project website.
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen