The Secret Weapon in the Prison Phone Rate Fight? Familes

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 Radio producer Nick Szuberla had an agenda when he moved from Toledo, Ohio, to Whitesburg, Ky. in the late 1990s. He wanted to bring attention to the country’s rapid prison expansion, a tide that was snatching up mostly poor people of color and dropping them into the middle of largely white rural communities. So he put himself in the heart of Appalachia, right between two federal penitentiaries, and he used the tool that he knew best: radio airwaves.

The radio show he created, called “Holler to the Hood,” became controversial in the working class white town. “We played hip-hop in a sea of country and bluegrass,” Szuberla remembers. But the target demographic—the thousands of incarcerated people of color from places as far away as the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, New Mexico and California and their families—were listening.

Soon, letters started to come in from inmates describing what Szuberla calls human rights abuses—prisoners wrote that they were being subdued with tasers and strapped down to tables for 72 hours for breaking rules. In the fall of 2001, to call attention to the abuses, Szuberla and his close group of activist allies organized a one-day action in which inmates’ families could call into the show to send holiday greetings to their incarcerated loved ones. Read more here.