Once again Ear Hustle, San Quentin’s critically acclaimed podcast, has broken new ground. It was nominated for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for audio recording, It was one of the three finalists for the prestigious award. This American Life with the Los Angeles Times and Vice News won. But for a podcast produced from prison to be acknowledged at that level is an extraordinary achievement. San Quentin News interviewed some on the Ear Hustle staff, Earlonne Woods, Nigel Poor, Pat Mesiti-Miller, and inside host Rahsaan Thomas.
Q: How does it feel to have been nominated for a Pulitzer?
A: Earlonne Woods (EW): Right in the beginning of COVID during a shelter in place, I kept getting texted from people in journalism, Center for Investigative Reporting and Reveal. They were like “Congratulations!” and I was like congratulations for what? And they told me how to say it: pull-its-sir.
This is just me but I’m a fan of the People’s Choice Award because that’s the actual listener of people who support your stuff. We’ve been nominated twice for the Peabody and Pulitzer. And stuff like that is cool… I don’t know how this is done. I think it’s a couple of people in a room. I don’t believe we submitted, we could’ve submitted. We were I think us and two other people were nominees and that’s how we found out.
Nigel Poor (NP): It was incredible. First of all, it was a huge surprise, so getting the news was an utter delight. When you receive a nomination like this and it is for a real collaborative project it just makes you so proud, not proud of yourself but proud of the entire team and it reminds you of the deep love and gratitude you have for the people you work with. A nomination for us is really an acknowledgment of all the great work that is happening inside prisons.
Rahsaan Thomas (RT): Being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize makes me feel proud and purposeful. It especially feels good to be honored for such a prestigious prize while in prison during a pandemic. Mostly I feel blessed that Nigel and Earlonne added me to the team just in time for the very first Pulitzer Prize Podcasting.
Q: Why is it important to tell these stories?
A: Pat Mesiti-Miller (PMM): There is a whole lot of misinformation around incarcerated people and incarceration in general and having a show produced from inside a prison is a great way to dispel the myths and uncover the reality of how this system has been designed and how it impacts people. A lot of what’s out there regarding incarceration is done by people who haven’t lived that experience, and that kind of journalism misses a crucial perspective. I think we need more stories from people on the inside looking around to tell the world what is really going on and what their experience is.
RT: It’s important for me to tell the stories of system-impacted people so that the public gets a complete picture of us. That’s important to me because I wasted years fighting against my neighbors when the real issues were redlining, gun control, policing policies rooted in White Supremacy, etc.
Similarly, I hope that telling our stories shows the public that in most cases, the issue isn’t evil. It’s trauma, addiction, racial discrimination, poverty, gun control, redlining, and of course poor choices made within these parameters. I pray a better understanding continues leading to better solutions.
Q: What is your favorite story and why?
A: NP: I could say my favorite story is always the current one I am working on but if I have to name just one my heart always goes back to Looking Out. It was one of our earliest stories and it showed exactly the kind of story we wanted to tell. It highlighted the relationship Earlonne and I have as co-hosts, it had a beautiful sound design by Antwan Williams, which signal to the listener that sounds was going to be a solid character in our stories, and it had a great range of emotion, you found yourself laughing, crying, surprised, delighted, outraged- all those in one episode. Also, it is really a story about finding love and giving love in prison so it surprised people – and Rauch was the main character, who wouldn’t love that?
RT: My favorite story is “Tell Christy I Love Her” because the former police officer Tom is so honest. (And I love Christy). Tom helped me realized that we don’t aim to stop crime before it happens, we aim to solve crime with more violence, after someone is already hurt, which can lead to more cycles of violence. Tell Christy I Love Her got me to imaging better solutions.
Q: What do you want to say to your fans?
A: NP: Wow I think I can speak for everyone on the team when I say we have buckets of gratitude for our listeners. Knowing that there are so many people out there who care about these voices and stories is amazing—it is a real gift that we do not take for granted. I love when I run into someone on the street and they want to tell me why they love Ear Hustle – it makes the world feel smaller and it makes me think together we are going to be able to make a difference when it comes to criminal justice reform.
PMM: I would like to thank everyone that listened and shared the stories, and to everyone who contributed and who talked with us to share their experience. It’s really great that the show has reached so many people, please keep sharing! And if you are on the outside and in a position to uplift the voices of those incarcerated, do that! Support incarcerated journalists!
RT: I don’t have “fans.” I have people who support Ear Hustle and I thank them for listening despite my` past. I especially thank everyone who took the time to send me a birthday card in response to Earlonne’s post.
Q: What advice can you give to those still incarcerated?
RT: The advice I would give to those still incarcerated (like me) is a modification of what I heard Chadwick Boseman (RIP) say. We were all born with a purpose and that the struggle prepares you for your purpose. I heard this while fighting depression brought on by the Coronavirus outbreak and men going man-down around me. I found myself sleeping and watching TV too much until I heard Chadwick’s words. Now I’m up at 5 AM working out and reading and writing by 7 AM, seizing every day. During this pandemic, I’ve been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, curated an art exhibit on Museum African Diaspora, helped restore voting rights, co-produced a few episodes of Ear Hustle along with cameos, read twenty books, gave four interviews and I’m mentoring a hard-headed youngster on the tier. I’d rather have Mike Hampton (RIP to Covid) and my victim back but at least embracing this time has given it all-purpose. In sum, embracing your struggle is embracing your purpose. I hope to hear you up at 5 AM.
PMM: I think there’s a lot of advice that I’m not really qualified to give, but in regards to storytelling, my advice would be to document your experience in any way you can. There is power in truth and your story is important, you are important, you are impactful, you are powerful.
Ear Hustle also won the 2021 duPont-Columbia award.