OAKLAND, Calif. — In California, inmates sometimes are granted parole by doing good deeds or exhibiting they’ve been rehabilitated by turning into pastors, drug counselors or youth advocates. For Walter “Earlonne” Woods, the trail to freedom was podcasting.
Woods, 47, was not too long ago launched from San Quentin State Jail after California Gov. Jerry Brown commuted his 31-years-to-life sentence for tried armed theft. Brown cited Woods’ management in serving to different inmates and his work at “Ear Hustle,” a podcast he co-hosts and co-produces that paperwork on a regular basis life contained in the jail.
Woods has since been employed as a full-time producer for the customarily humorous and at occasions heart-wrenching podcast, which has been a smashing success since its launch in 2017. The present’s roughly 30 episodes have been downloaded 20 million occasions by followers all around the world.
Listeners have praised “Ear Hustle” on-line as “eye-opening” and “extremely humanizing.” However for Woods, one of the crucial significant critiques got here from the governor’s workplace after they known as with the excellent news.
“The one factor that the girl mentioned, you realize, she informed me, ‘We love the podcast on this workplace,’ ” Woods informed The Related Press of the commutation name from Brown’s workplace. “I don’t know if the governor listens, however folks in his workplace pay attention. Individuals actually like what we do.”
Throughout their podcast, Woods and fellow creator and outdoors co-host, jail volunteer Nigel Poor, give listeners a peek into the hardships and small joys of males incarcerated on the medium-security facility.
In interviews with the hosts, inmates talk about struggles akin to discovering a suitable cellmate to share a 5- by 10-foot (1.5- by 3-meter) cell, share why they care for frogs or black widow spiders as in the event that they have been pets, or describe the impression of solitary confinement or being on demise row.
Woods, an affable man with a fast smile and a pointy humorousness, helps listeners perceive jail life, whereas Poor brings an outsider’s perspective, asking insightful questions that at occasions push inmates to mirror on what put them behind bars.
The podcast provides listeners an intimate look into lives society doesn’t spend a lot time occupied with, mentioned Woods, who spent 21 years behind bars.
“Individuals get to see the automotive chases. They get to see the trial. However they don’t know what occurs after you get to jail,” Woods mentioned. “We’ve been capable of actually humanize folks, and folks notice that these in jail are simply individuals who made dumb choices.”
Brown agreed, and in his commutation letter, issued the day earlier than Thanksgiving, the governor mentioned Woods “has clearly proven that he’s now not the person he was when he dedicated this crime.”
“He has set a constructive instance for his friends and, by means of his podcast, has shared significant tales from these inside jail,” Brown wrote.
The podcast mission began after Poor, a San Francisco Bay Space artist who has volunteered at San Quentin since 2011, approached Woods.
In 2016, Poor noticed Public Radio Alternate’s Radiotopia community was sponsoring a podcast expertise contest, and she or he requested Lt. Sam Robinson, San Quentin’s spokesman, for permission to enter. One other co-creator, Antwan Williams, who’s serving 15 years for armed theft, got here on board to do its sound design.
Their pitch beat greater than 1,500 contestants from 53 international locations, they usually obtained the backing of a gaggle of radio professionals, Poor mentioned.
“Everybody was shocked once we received, particularly the jail. Lt. Robinson informed me he allow us to enter as a result of he by no means thought we’d win,” she mentioned, laughing.
“Ear Hustle,” — eavesdropping, in jail slang — has discovered worldwide success, with followers sending playing cards and letters from so far as New Zealand, Qatar within the Center East, and Mauritius in East Africa. The free present additionally may be accessed in prisons all through California and the UK. New episodes are posted each couple of weeks.
Julie Shapiro, Radiotopia government producer, describes the podcast as a “curler coaster of feelings” that challenges what folks perceive about life in jail.
“Individuals don’t count on to have one thing in widespread with these telling their tales from jail, however the particulars of their lives resonate with listeners as a result of they hear these males encounter every day life in a number of the identical ways in which we do,” Shapiro mentioned.
The outpouring of affection and appreciation for the present has grown since Woods introduced on a Nov. 24 episode that Brown commuted his sentence.
The very first thing Woods did after strolling by means of the jail gates on Nov. 30 was take within the view of the San Francisco Bay and of the ocean “so far as the attention can see.” An episode featured his first moments as a free man.
Since then, he’s been noticing new kinds, like ladies in every single place in yoga pants, and folks strolling by means of the streets with their heads bowed. He rapidly realized they have been taking a look at their smartphones, which didn’t exist when he began his sentence in 1997.
Woods has additionally frolicked people-watching at a high-end division retailer, visited Disneyland and not too long ago made eggs for the primary time in twenty years.
The fourth season of “Ear Hustle,” which might be launched this summer time, will function tales of his re-entry to society and interviews with different inmates launched after lengthy sentences. He and Poor additionally plan to go to maximum-security prisons and inform the tales of prisoners there.
“There’s lots of people that’s in there that ought to be out,” Woods mentioned. “I created a podcast, however I’m not the exception.”