Restorative Radio: Audio Postcards share the sounds, voices and music of home with those incarcerated far away. Producer Sylvia Ryerson worked with family members of those incarcerated in two supermax prisons in far southwest Virginia to create long-form radio pieces to send out to their loved ones in prison over the airwaves.
The project is a collaboration with WMMT-FM’s Calls from Home, a weekly radio show that sends out messages from friends and family members to those incarcerated within the station’s local broadcast area. The show currently reaches seven prisons. Every Monday night on WMMT-FM people call in from across the country to send shout outs to those behind bars:
The inspiration for the Restorative Radio Audio Postcards came from these phone calls. Calls from Home co-host Ryerson contacted regular callers to the show to ask for their input and if they would like to collaborate on a long-form radio project – to use professional recording equipment to record their own lives and sounds of home to share with their loved one in prison far away. Michelle Hudson, whose fiancée William is serving a life sentence in southwest VA, wrote back the following:
“Calls From Home has become his ‘eyes’ for seeing into our lives on the outside. Sound has become his sight and escape from daily prison life. He has been with me while I’m walking outside on the beach or around the track, and he pays attention to something as simple as the sound of my footsteps. I believe audio postcards will bring life to those who are incarcerated. Can you imagine hearing the sounds of your family celebrating a grandparent’s birthday, or the first cry of a newborn? Audio postcards will not only give them the opportunity to stay closely connected to their loved ones, but it will challenge them to make positive changes so they can return home and become actively involved with the sounds that they have come to love. Connecting the sounds of life and love to provide vision for the incarcerated – that’s what audio postcards will do! Enhance life for those who cannot participate or see the joys of life taking place on the outside.”
Michelle borrowed an audio recorder and spent three months recording her own life, to share with William over the airwaves of WMMT-FM. You can hear her full piece here. Ryerson worked with people interested in their pieces airing publicly. Each piece is created for one person in particular, but also intended to reach a general audience – making visible the humanity of people behind bars, and the experience of family members with loved ones incarcerated far from home. Each audio postcard has aired (and is continuing to air) on WMMT-FM, and has been heard by the intended recipient in prison. To hear the hour-long episodes broadcast on WMMT-FM of this series, click here.
Ultimately this project imagines communication that transcends prison walls, creating a pathway towards healing for individuals, families, communities and a nation profoundly affected by mass incarceration. Rather than documenting the barriers to staying connected, each audio postcard enacts meaningful communication in spite of and in response to such barriers, in a collaborative process. By working with people willing for their pieces to air publicly, these personal audio postcards aim to spark public dialogue on the very kinds of human intimacy and connection our prison system makes extraordinarily difficult. The one-way conversation inherent in each piece, marked by the absence of a response from the incarcerated recipient, evidences the human experience of geographic separation, censorship, solitary confinement and other realities within our prison system.
Every week, these families continue to call into the weekly Calls from Home radio show. To help keep this radio show going – allowing families to send a message to their loved one in prison at no cost – please click the donate button below.