Colorado prison radio begins airing from behind bars
By OLIVIA PRENTZELThe Colorado Sun
DENVER (AP) — Clad in a forest green jumpsuit and large headphones over his ears, Anthony Quintana leans into the microphone and welcomes listeners to Colorado’s first statewide prison internet radio station.
He’s been behind bars for 33 years, isolated from family and the outside world, but today his voice can reach most cells in Colorado’s state prison system. He’s one of 15 incarcerated people from three Colorado facilities behind Inside Wire, which launched March 1 via coloradoprisonradio.com.
The station won’t be broadcast over the air, but its incarcerated producers style themselves after radio DJs, offering music and commentary to break up the monotony of prison life and give new perspectives on the people who are behind bars.
And while other prisons have offered low-wattage prison radio programs — available to those living near prisons — Colorado’s online station allows producers from the three participating prison studios to be heard at any facility in the state, where inmates can tune in via prison TVs.
The sound-proofed walls of the recording studio at Limon Correctional Facility offer a stark contrast to the concrete cells of the level 4 prison, housing medium- to high-risk prisoners. Inside the recording studio, set off in a wing reserved for educational programs, interviewing tips are posted on the wall and audio production instructions are scribbled on a whiteboard. A “Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits” sits on the desk next to an audio switchboard.
For Quintana, or DJ Q-VO as he calls himself on air, the program is an opportunity to combat the stigma of prison life.
“I took a man’s life and not a day goes by and anything that I do that I don’t acknowledge that,” said Quintana, the program’s engineer and operations director. “I want people to know, there are really people that are changing in here.”
— “Transforming prisons to be a place of humanity”
Inside Wire, a collaboration between the Colorado Department of Corrections and University of Denver’s Prison Arts Initiative, is produced by people incarcerated at Limon Correctional Facility, Sterling Correctional Facility and Denver Women’s Correctional Facility.
“This is one more stake in the ground on our mission of transforming prisons to be a place of humanity, to have purpose, intentionality and to bring the men and women behind the walls not only on that mission, but to have them lead the mission of making prisons more intentional,” Dean Williams, executive director of Colorado Department of Corrections, said to The Colorado Sun.
He called Inside Wire part of the journey to “make prisons more intentional and humane.”
He hopes the program helps change prison culture to become more purpose-driven and help share the stories of the men and women incarcerated.
“So when these men and women are leading, it’s changing not only them, but it’s changing us and how we’re responding,” he said.
Producers for Inside Wire will produce a variety of segments, including weekly conversations with Williams on a program called “Up to the Minute with Dean Williams.”
There are no restrictions as to what the inmates can ask, though they must be respectful and intentional in their inquiries, he said.
“I expect them to not just be fluff or softballs all the time,” Williams said. “The only thing I’ve said is that whatever you’re asking, it has to be with dignity and respect.”
Inside Wire’s programming is varied, featuring music of all genres from country to hip-hop. Instead of commercials, producers record short public service announcements, from health and fitness tips to promotional clips for Inside Wire.
Segments will include the podcast “With(In),” another collaboration between DU and CDOC, which aims to shift the conversation about who is in prison. On Friday evenings, “One Tune” will air, which asks guests the question: if you were stranded on an island or in outer space and you could take one song with you, which would it be and why?
— A way to move beyond their past
Beyond prison walls, the program is meant to help provide listeners a new perspective on what prison culture is like and offers prisoners a new way to move beyond their past toward a more positive future, said Ryan Conarro, a member of DU’s Prison Arts Initiative staff and Inside Wire’s program director and general manager.
“Many of the people I’m working with inside prison facilities are here because they committed harm and they’re separated from society as a consequence of that and they’re working toward healing and redemption. If we continue to have what conventionally has existed, which is a space of great isolation and a sense of lack of connection, that redemption and healing is much less likely to happen. … I think storytelling, listening to each other and sharing those stories is fundamental,” Conarro said.
After the segments are recorded, they are reviewed by Inside Wire’s producers, then Conarro and finally by CDOC staff. So far, hundreds of hours of content has been created, but none has been flagged.
“We agreed that the content that we share, the stories and voices that we share, always want to be moving in the direction of shared healing and mutual understanding. So from the songs on our playlist, to personal stories that we amplify from inside facilities, we want them to embody that,” Conarro said.
But the content is not meant to be “sugar-coated,” he said.
“It’s not meant to be a tiny sliver of reality. We want to open listeners’ minds and eyes to what prison life is and who’s here, and amplify stories that are complicating a sort of one-dimensional view about who’s incarcerated in there,” he said.
At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the six incarcerated producers at Limon Correctional Facility gathered inside the prison’s library to listen to the launch of the program that was also aired on televisions in the cells of thousands of other inmates across the state.
“10, 9, 8, 7,” producers countdown on air before the sound of a rocket blasts. “Ladies and gentleman, Inside Wire Colorado Prison Radio is about to connect to all Colorado prisons, and beyond.”
Darrius Turner, the program’s music director, said it felt important to be a part of the program that he hopes shows his personal growth since he became incarcerated in 2009.
“To be with this group of guys to accomplish something that’s bigger than us and to be handing this off to the next generation to give them some positive tools, that’s what made it real surreal to be a part of this,” Turner said.
His mom, three children and girlfriend will be listening to the kickoff broadcast, along with his sister who said she will be playing it over the PA system in a Florida dry cleaners, where she works.
Benny Hill was sentenced to life without parole, but he hopes the program helps other inmates before they reenter society to find validation, find value and learn to deal with the problems that brought them inside prison in the first place, he said.
“There’s a lot of good people in here that are under the shadow of a lot of terrible things: addictions, violence, hate, anger,” he said. “And prison can address these in a way, not just putting Band-Aids over things, but address it in a way that will ultimately change a person for the better.”
Some people will be released and when they do, Hill hopes prison programs, like InsideWire, gives them the tools to contribute to society in a positive way.
“Because when he gets out and becomes a father, and becomes a husband, a boyfriend, son, then ultimately, I would like to see that person be the best that he could ultimately be.”
Inside Wire is also available on the Inside Wire App.