Rad Radio the Rave
It should surprise no one that low power and local radio broadcasting is on the rise and finding success across the country. These small to medium-range stations offer a menu of commentary and music that stimulates thought, encourages dialogue and nurtures the democratic experiment called the USA. In turn, listeners hungry for alternative views and news have been supporting low budget, independent radio free of the corporate censorship rules dominating major broadcasters.
In Spokane, Washington, Thin Air Community Radio (KYRS-FM) "serves the Spokane area with progressive perspectives, filling needs that other media do not, providing programming to diverse communities and unserved or underserved groups.
Thin Air programming shall place an emphasis on providing a forum for non-corporate and neglected perspectives and discussions on important local, national and global issues, reflecting values of peace, social, economic and environmental justice, human rights, democracy, multiculturalism, freedom of expression and social change.
Thin Air's arts, cultural, and music programming shall cover a wide spectrum of expression from traditional to experimental and reflect the diverse cultures Thin Air serves. Thin Air shall strive for spontaneity and program excellence, both in content and technique." (Source: Thin Air's mission statement, online at www.kyrs.org)
For the last few years November Coalition issues have been aired occasionally on independent radio. Throughout year 2005, Dean Becker for the Drug Truth Network on his radio show called "Cultural Baggage - The Unvarnished Truth", has interviewed live (by telephone) the Coalition's executive director, Nora Callahan. Becker's show is produced at the Pacifica Studios of KPFT, Houston (TX), and has affiliates throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Sharing Thin Air Radio's commitment to "a forum for neglected perspectives and discussions," Becker starts each of his shows by saying, "I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war. And I don't condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal." Here are a few question and answer exchanges between Becker and Callahan in an early-2005 broadcast:
Becker: Welcome to Cultural Baggage. Nora, tell the folks a little bit about yourself and your organization.
Callahan: Well, the November Coalition was founded in 1997 to represent and advocate for the prisoners of the drug war. Myself, I'm the sister of a prisoner of the drug war. My brother asked me, along with other prisoners, if we couldn't start an organization that would be the voice of the drug war prisoner and join in the other coalitions that involved mostly stuffed shirts. We were more like the victims of the drug war. And so we're not "reform from the center;" we're "reform from the bottom."
Becker: Nora, I know that in many states, certainly in many municipalities in Texas, there is a raging controversy about the crime labs and their part in sending people to prison that many times the people doing these tests don't even rinse the containers before the next test.
Callahan: Well, that's the same problem, if you look at it; it's the same problem of all of the prison abuse and the weird culture. What happens when you lose a system of lawful checks and balances that's called the "rule of law." It is what is the definition of justice. That's the definition of justice, that we would follow legal procedures. But when you have people in custody and they're not following legal procedures and being abusive, when it's a crime lab and nobody is looking, it allows for so much abuse. And this is what we have to stop, is this constant moving away from the rule of law. The definition of justice is that we follow rules. The other is lawlessness; and there is lawlessness in these crime labs, yes.
Becker: Indeed. Nora, I want to ask you about this, and I don't have a lot of stats involved; but this afternoon I caught from the Dallas Morning News a report that prison rape has increased by 160% in the last 4 years, and they say that's a sign of vigilance. What is your thought in that regard?
Callahan: Overcrowding. If you put people in cages like animals, you are going to get animal behavior. It is used as a system of control. You know -- be good, do this, do that, or you might get harmed and it could be rape. It is a problem. I do think that in some prisons, it's not as bad as in others; and each prison needs community oversight. Again, if you hide people away and nobody is looking -- good isn't going to come out of that.
We are supposed to have an open society, in part because that's what keeps us in check. You don't close corners. You don't put people into cages and closets and nobody is looking in. It opens the door for abuse, and it is something odd about human nature. If you give a set of people within another group of people absolute power over these people, they will abuse it. The Stanford Experiment of the late-60s long ago proves that.
Professor Philip Zimbardo took college kids and set them up and said, "Okay, you're prisoners; you're guards." And within hours, the abuse started. They had to stop the experiment quickly. The abuse -- in fact the college -- came under fire for allowing as much abuse of student on student. It occurred so quickly when they went into role playing prisoner and guard.
Becker: Nora, one last question. Now we are both well aware of the fact that there's 2 -- almost 2.1 million of our fellow citizens in prisons, the vast majority of them there for drug charges. What has been your observation? Is this going to change without the involvement of Joe Citizen out there? The one's who understand the problem?
Callahan: No, because historically it doesn't change. People in power abuse people that have no political power. The only way that it is going to change is if everyone assumes that political power as the 4th branch of government, "we the people," and learn to use our voices and demand change, demand justice. Because the war on drugs -- we can't afford the injustice anymore. We're going broke. Not to mention financially, that's only part of it. The emotional damage, the long-term societal damage of locking up this many people.
Becker: It is indeed, and such a waste of people and money and capability. Where we could invest that money in other more worthwhile endeavors.
Callahan: That's right. Schools, not prisons.
Becker: And you make a strong point with it; and once again, I want to thank you for being with us.
Callahan: Okay, thank you.
Calls from Home unites Holler to Hood
What if media artists in the rural coalfields of Appalachia produced community radio programming (WMMT-FM) in response to the growing number of prisons being built in their region? And what if the primarily urban prisoners and their families began working with the media artists and their friends to produce a message that speaks boldly and eloquently for human rights and justice?
Join with prisoners, their family members, artists, media producers, community radio stations, and young people in re-broadcasting Calls From Home, a unique national media event that will bring the voices of hundreds of prisoners and their loved ones to communities across the United States.
Recorded the evening of December 12, 2005, the program will be edited to one hour and offered free to stations across the country for re-broadcast. Last year's Calls From Home broadcast was heard on more than one hundred stations, including the prisoner-run radio of WLSP at the Louisiana State Prison in Angola.
We will be offering a "house party" version, along with talking points for groups who want to use the program in their community as a means to host a discussion on the operation and effects of the criminal justice system. Here is how you can get involved:
Send us suggestions for radio stations you think would be interested in re-broadcasting the program.
Agree to volunteer as host of a "house party," using the program as a tool for leading a community discussion.
Spread the word among prisoner family members who may want to call in to the program.
We believe in the power of human stories to infuse social change movements with lasting energy, continuous interest and widespread acceptance.
Nick Szuberla, Amelia Kirby, and Tucker
Wilson, Holler to the Hood staff
Holler to the Hood Documentary
The one-hour DVD offers viewers an in-depth look at the United States prison industry, and the social impact of moving hundreds of thousands of inner-city minority offenders to distant rural outposts.
To order or view a trailer, visit www.appalshop.org/h2h/film
Holler to the Hood, 91 Madison Ave,
Whitesburg, KY 41858