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RADIO-CD Project Underway!

By John Humphrey

I am producing, and coordinating with The November Coalition; the Prisoner Message audio CD project. Some background on me and the history of this project is in order this issue.

The nexus of my becoming involved with the drug policy reform movement was hearing a fellow named Cliff Schaffer speak on the radio. Both reasoned and compassionate, I knew that what Cliff had to say would make an impact.

He was working at the time with Judge James P. Gray, and so it was clear to me that they were reaching out beyond the Hemp activist groups I'd been involved with and into mainstream. Their project was called the Hoover Resolution. It called for people to lend their signature to a document that demanded a new look at drug policy at the federal level. They collected thousands of signatures, most of whom represented what I might call a professional class­­doctors, lawyers, teachers, ministers, and prominent citizens. By the time the resolution turned into federal law, I was proud to say that I'd played a small part. Sadly to report however, the Blue Ribbon Commission was never funded and Congress ignored the very resolution they had passed. The work of the Hoover Resolution was not wasted, I am only one of many persons drawn by that process, who have worked in the drug policy reform movement ever since.

My background is as a musician, but I'd owned a video camera for some time. I'd done some editing. I went to the local cable stations (there were 5 of them within driving distance of where I lived in Los Angeles) and signed up for their Public Access producer's meeting.

One meeting later, I was a "producer." I pitched the show (they basically can't decline you, it's the law) and started "Drug War News," a half hour information show about the drug war which featured Cliff, Judge Gray, as well as episodes based around the Bill of Rights, Forfeiture, Hemp, Mandatory Minimums, Crack/Powder disparity, and Medical MJ. But it was after hearing Dr. John Beresford speak at the 50th anniversary of the discovery of LSD symposium that I gained the resolve to interview some prisoners and get their story on the air.

After a very long and arduous process I gained permission to interview at Dublin FCI outside of San Francisco. I made episodes out of three of those interviews. Nancy Martz, Amy Pofhal and Tonya Drake all shared their personal stories.

It was here that I came face to face in a profound way with our country's conspiracy laws. It both sickened me and broke my heart to learn about what was happening in the name of justice. And so, when my cable access show met with, what would be considered success at that level, but small numbers in terms of audience, I developed this project which is designed to impact community radio, a larger and friendlier media for these types of grassroots efforts.

Many of you have seen the call-out in the Razor Wire inviting prisoners to call and leave a message that will Tell it to the World. The results of that and other call-outs is what we are in the process of wrapping up now.

There are 25 messages. Most are from drug war prisoners, but some are from family members. Approximately, 3 minutes long, they will break your heart if you have one. I must say that of the 25 messages, 21 of them are women. No doubt in part, because of my initial connection to Dublin FCI­­but for the record, and future CD's " "C'mon guys!"

The CD project is ongoing­­that we're wrapping up the first one doesn't mean that we're not looking for you to call now. If we can get the volume of messages up, we could offer them off the website, to other radio producers, and towards producing our own November radio show­­an idea we're developing now. (I'm talking professional quality Drug War programming beamed off the satellite for download to radio weekly!)

I know it's hard to do, to call this sterile, voice-mail number and leave a heartfelt message. Hell, even Nora had to take a rain-check when she realized what she was up against. It's hard! So here are some tips and suggestions about leaving a message.

We're not looking for statistics. We're not looking for editorial. We are looking for story and emotion. What I think, (and what do I know?), is that in order to function on the inside one has to develop emotional armor. That makes sense. Who could actually live that close to the pain of all these years and separation if you didn't build in a safety zone? What I'll hear on the messages is a prisoner calling with a story­­a complaint about medical treatment, or their 2255, or an article in the paper, or what it's like to be away from their children. First you hear the armor, but as they go on, it dawns on them that maybe someone out here really does care and really does want to help. At this point, the armor falls away and by the end of the message a person really gets to hear a little bit of someone's pain.

On the other hand, sometimes just committing to calling brings someone so close to their pain that they can't get it out. They're destroyed in the telling! So to counter that, some people have written a script to help them get through it. When the sobs come, you hear a breath, and they go on with the story.

So, if you're on the inside, or someone you love is, consider calling the message line. (213)-673-3736 and "Tell It To the World!" Nora tells me of the hundreds and hundreds of letters you write, asking what can I do? Well, you can do this and bring our messages to literally thousands of Americans around the country. We can't make this ongoing project successful without you.

If you're on the outside, have Internet access with marginal computer and web browsing skills, you can become a part of the November Radio Team. We are going to get the CD out to community radio. It's easy, fun and we do it through the Internet. For more information, email:

In August, we will also have the CD available for purchase. If you would like to own one and help us produce our next CD, reserve yours now. They will be selling for $11.

Hey­­this CD I've produced has been a labor of love. Though I started it before I came on board at November, I'm happy to have found a home here, and I am very grateful to the Drug Policy Foundation for the grant that allowed us to proceed with manufacturing.

I'll be on the road playing bass in Europe when you get this. ( A lucky gig, it hasn't always been this way.) Fortunately our ducks are in a row, the CDs are ordered. The artwork is complete. The packing crew is standing by and the November Radio Team is up and running. I'll be back in August, fresh and full of steam, with a powerful new tool in our hands. Things are moving. Walls are cracking. I can feel it and proud to be a part of it.

Love, John Humphrey

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