By Michael Callahan and Randy Thompson, Staff Writers
On October 19, San Quentin’s award-winning podcast Uncuffed celebrated its second graduation of newly trained podcasters. The ceremonial event also marked the launch of the podcast’s upcoming third season.
Almost a hundred administrators, guests, and residents packed the prison’s Garden Chapel to celebrate the six San Quentin graduates.
“KALW voices give us a voice; they represent who we are to society,” said graduate Juan Haines about the impact of Uncuffed.
For more than 10 years, Uncuffed has worked with KALW Radio to change the narrative about incarcerated people, highlighting their positive transformation and showing that if given a second chance, they can change.
Uncuffed, available to stream or download on the internet, airs on the Bay Area radio station KALW 91.7 fm. The platform empowers underrepresented voices by allowing participants to express their humanity.
The audio journalism program also equips incarcerated individuals with the necessary technical skills to work in media, communications, and advocacy, as well as enabling them to start podcasts after their release.
Community Relations Manager Lt. R. Gardea told the San Quentin News that the graduates “now have tools for their tool belt and that using these tools remains up to them.”
Greg Eskridge, SQ resident and cofounder of Uncuffed, hosted the event with the program’s Senior Editor Ninna Gaensler-Debs and Senior Producer Angela Johnston.
Gaensler-Debs gave a shout-out to Uncuffed’s satellite program at the Solano State Prison for the work on season three of their podcast, which she called “amazing.” She said beginning next year, the future of Uncuffed will include an expansion into the California Institute for Women.
“It is critical for incarcerated [people] to tell their own story and have their own voice, shifting the narrative further,” Gaensler-Debs told SQNews.
After receiving certificates, each of the six graduates shared how they want to use social media platforms to tell stories about the struggles and successes of incarcerated persons. Many of their speeches mentioned the benefits of working at SQ’s Media Center.
“I am extremely thankful for the position I am in right now and the things I have learned,” graduate Brian Asey said. He encouraged everyone to take advantage of the opportunities available at SQ.
Graduate Ryan Pagan said that he did not feel that he deserved this opportunity, as he still continues to work on himself. “This is not about what I deserve, it is about how I can reach those minds that are on the same path I went down,” Pagan said. “I think about the guys here and out there that are struggling.”
SQNews’ editor-in-chief, Steve Brooks, was another graduate. He spoke on the ways the podcast empowers the incarcerated population.
“I appreciate the opportunity to tell my story and others’ stories,” Brooks said. “I do what I do so society doesn’t forget about people behind these walls.”
Another significant refrain from graduates was appreciation for the trailblazers in the Media Center, many of whom attended the graduation. Some have stayed involved in media and communications post-release, using the technical and soft skills they had learned through Uncuffed.
Media Center alumnus Rahsaan “New York” Thomas, who paroled in 2023, said that workers at the Media Center ought to take advantage of their opportunity to tell stories. Thomas credited the volunteers who come in to The Q and make residents feel included in society as a major factor in his transformation.
“When you feel you are not a part of society, why would you respect its laws? The people that come in here make us feel included in society,” he said.
Graduates and guests enjoyed fried chicken, mashed potatoes, slaw, and sodas. The prison’s “NSF” band performed music throughout the ceremony, and the room’s loudspeakers treated attendees to various sound bites and outtakes recorded during the most recent season.
“The privilege of telling stories is not what is remarkable, it is the opportunity to hear them directly from us that is,” Haines said.