The Tank, at 106.5 FM, is a radio station in a high security Texas prison that gives hundreds of inmates, including 200 on Death Row, a chance at being heard beyond their isolation cells, according to reporter Keri Blakinger who worked with the Marshall Project on the article published in partnership with the Guardian in December 2021.
When new Warden Daniel Dickerson arrived in 2020 at the Allan B Polunsky Unit, a maximum- security prison, some general population men approached him and asked if they could start a radio station. After 24 years in the Texas prison system, he’d heard a lot of questions, but this was something new. After talking to the men, he decided it was a good idea.
According to the article, the prison didn’t have enough staff at that time to expand its programming and Dickerson decided the radio station would give the men something to care about and connect with even when many could not leave their cells.
As Ramy Hozaifeh (later known as DJ Megamind) put it: “You just don’t know if you exist anymore, it just kind of removes your humanity from you, and I think the radio has put that back in the equation.”
The station programs consist of Smooth Groove ( R&B m usic), rap, Latin music, an alternative music program, and a night for DJ Megamind’s conspiracy theory show. It also plays tapes of old comedy shows and airs news reports, prison announcements and interviews.
The Tank i s c onsidered a community center for people at the prison, who never leave it. In addition to music and daily announcements there are Biblical rap shows, and suicide prevention programs, according to the Guardian.
Hozaifeh and other incarcerated DJs get essays and poems from people in lock up, and Chaplain staff delivers them to the station, allowing these men a chance at being part of a community, according to the article.
“They may not all have TV, but most everybody has a radio. And anybody who’s been on a cell block knows some folks will turn the radio up enough where even if you didn’t have one, you’re probably going to hear it anyway,” Warden Dickerson informed Blakinger.
When the radio staff interviews men on Death Row, they talk about their cases, their execution dates, and the living conditions at the prison.
John Henry Ramirez is housed on Death Row for the killing of a store clerk in 2004. He talks about his regrets and his sadness when his mother walked away from her final visit. He also explained how he poured himself into the radio station in the hope that he could leave behind something good to help other people.
“My favorite show is the heavy metal show. It’s called Tales from the Pit, and the hosts refer to themselves as the pit chiefs and their listeners as the pit crew,” Ramirez told Blakinger.
A few days before his scheduled execution, the station made Ramirez a playlist from the heavy metal show that he liked. They also played messages from all his friends inside and outside supporters, according to the Guardian
One day later, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear his appeal, delaying the execution.
That put Ramirez back in his Death Row cell, tuning into The Tank again like the other incarcerated men who listen from their lock-up units.
Blakinger says that the general population men in charge of the radio station understand what it means to them. Though they’ve never been on Death Row, some of them have been in solitary, too, and they know how disorienting the constant isolation can become.