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"Will you marry me?" Something wrong, and right, in prison communications

I’ve been involved in communications for development for many years, and have heard many inspiring stories, but so far, this one has touched me most. I was listening to Podcast Playlist on CBC Radio, a weekly show that curates great podcasts from everywhere, and they were playing a podcast about the WMMT radio station in Appalachia, USA.

It all started with a jazz station that evolved into a hip hop show. As it was unusual for the region, a listener sent a letter of appreciation to the DJ. It was from an inmate in prison.

The DJ did some research, and discovered the listening area included over seven prisons in west Kentucky and east Virginia. Some were so remote that it was virtually impossible for family members to visit. On top of that, some of the prisoners were transferred there from states as far away as Hawai’i, and hadn’t had visits from family members for years. Other families couldn't afford long distance phone calls, so snail mail was the only communication they had.

Once the station realised the extent of the unmet communications needs for these prisoners and their families, they created a new show, called Calls From Home.

During the first hour of the show family members leave messages on their toll-free phone number, which are played on air during the second hour. This brings the estranged families closer, and lets prisoners hear voices that they may not have heard in years.

The most touching part? One of those messages was a marriage proposal.
(I phoned WMMT to ask if he said yes. When I find out, I'll let you know.)

In 2016, why are people in prison in one of the richest countries in the world only able to communicate  via a radio show? There is something wrong in the state of the [American] nation. And thankfully, WMMT is doing something about it.

Learn more:

  • Listen to the original State of the Re:Union podcast, Holler to the Hood, starting at minute 2:43 (then browse their website; it was a great communications project, itself)
  • Learn about Appalshop, the innovative non-profit media company that started it all, and served the Appalachia area for 50 years.

Photos: Community volunteer Amelia Kirby (DJ Amelia) hosting Hot 88.7: Hip Hop from the Hilltop, and letters to the show. Used with permission.

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