Prison Radio: Broadcasting uncensored and incarcerated voices | The F
“We have a deep tech industry braid and a great progressive tradition in the Bay Area,” said Jennifer Beach, co-founder of Prison Radio, recording and broadcasting uncensored incarcerated voices since the dawn of the internet.
“When we started Prison Radio, you had to do a DAT recording to get broadcast quality; it was tough, you had to send tapes to people,” said Beach, whose first base of operations with founder Noelle Hanrahan was their 24th Street apartment. More than 25 years later, “we have streamable quality recordings that go up in days,” she said.
The walls of Prison Radio’s small Mission District office are lined with flyers, posters and pictures of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a political activist and journalist serving a life sentence. Art was sent in from around the world by artists in solidarity with Abu-Jamal. The shelves and floors are crammed with books, including Abu-Jamal’s latest, “Murder Incorporated: Empire, Genocide, Manifest Destiny.” Prison Radio’s first publishing project, the book was co-written by Abu-Jamal and Stephen Vittoria, director of the film “MUMIA: Long Distance Revolutionary”, from which a collaboration was born.
“Mumia would tell you it’s his magnum opus,” Vittoria said. “The story of the book is in many ways the story of Mumia’s journey. We wanted to tell the stories of people who are on the wrong side of wars and the capitalist empire, the victims instead of the victors, stories that are often ignored,” he said. The couple was inspired by “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn, which served as a guide during the writing process.
“There was the normal collaborative work that comes and goes,” Vittoria explained. “Only one man is free and the other is incarcerated, literally and figuratively handcuffed.”
Abu-Jamal was convicted in 1981 of shooting Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. He and his supporters maintain his innocence and have worked tirelessly for four decades to study the law and appeal the case when possible. Over the years, he has written over a dozen titles for various publishers, including his memoir, “Live From Death Row” (his sentence was commuted in 2011 from death to life in prison).
“I discovered Prison Radio through the publishing industry,” said Keasley Jones of Prison Radio, formerly of Peachpit, a web-based book design and development press. He recalls a sales conference where he heard about Abu-Jamal’s first book, “Live From Death Row.”
“It was the most moving, passionate and inspiring presentation I’ve seen in my entire publishing career,” said Jones, who more than 20 years later is actively selling Abu-Jamal’s new book.
“Publishers are not reluctant to appropriate a Mumia book, quite the contrary,” Jones said of Abu-Jamal’s prophetic, poetic style and rigor as a journalist. “He has a sequel.” However, at 1,400 pages, “Murder Incorporated” proved daunting to traditional publishing houses, so Prison Radio ended up with the three-volume work.
“We felt so passionate about this material and you can’t narrow it down,” Jones said, though there’s little one-sided love for Abu-Jamal’s groundbreaking vocals.
“The Fraternal Order of Police objected to the publication of Mumia’s first book and flew a banner above the publishing house,” said Beach, who also encountered resistance. audiovisual media.
“In the early 90s, Mumia got a contract with ‘All Things Considered’,” she recalled. “Bob Dole mentioned it in the Senate and threatened to lead the charge to cancel all funding on NPR and NPR dropped the show.”
Nonetheless, in the mid-1990s, Prison Radio found a home for its content in the early days of the Internet, when dreams of a more democratic and just society were alive and before the dominance of the Web as a sales, marketing and monitoring tool. . In the current era of hashtag activism, Prison Radio remains visible via alternative media, despite being locally owned by a vital network working to change public policy around mass incarceration and reduce US statistics. of more than two million people in prison (the United States is the world’s largest jailer network).
“San Francisco is a focal point. Students from all over the country come to learn about prison justice and participate in programs inside San Quentin, to visit Critical Resistance and the Restorative Justice Project,” Jones said. On the day of this interview, Liam, a summer intern from Philadelphia was working side by side with Jones and Beach.
“There’s a really rich movement here around examining and exposing and challenging the prison industrial complex,” Beach said. “The Bay Area continues to be at the forefront, even though San Francisco has changed so much over the past 25 years and some organizations have moved to Oakland.”
Hanrahan has since moved to Philadelphia with her family and closer to prison where she and Abu-Jamal, 65, are recording her missives for Prison Radio while awaiting further news on her recently reinstated right to appeal (it appears the judge in the case was biased).
“Noelle Hanrahan has undertaken a Herculean task, to bring Mumia’s voice from the depths of hell to all over the world,” Vittoria said. “Prison Radio did the same with the book.”
Although conditions inside America’s prison nation are grim, hope prevails at the San Francisco offices of Prison Radio where change has been a long time coming.
“Change can happen in an instant,” Beach said. “We believe we will see Mumia free in our lifetime.”
Denise Sullivan is an author, cultural worker, and editor of “Your Golden Sun Still Shines: San Francisco Personal Histories & Small Fictions.” She is a guest columnist and her perspective is not necessarily that of the reviewer. Follow her at www.denisesullivan.com and on Twitter @4DeniseSullivan.