Holiday Radio Program
for Prisoners and Families
December 04, 2007.
It is holiday music to prisoners’ ears and a radio station in Kentucky is thinking the public might want to listen.
Families will probably will be listening to “Blue Christmas” and “Silent Night” on their favorite radio station while they make cookies this holiday season, but a radio station in Whitesburg, KY is hoping people are interested in a different sort of program for the holiday season.
On Monday December 17th, the Thousand Kites project will launch an online radio station made up entirely of prisoner family members reaching out and sending heartfelt season’s greetings to their incarcerated loved ones. The station will broadcast 24 hours a day and can be heard at www.thousandkites.org. The calls, many from mothers and children of prisoners, are spiritual, humorous, and musical and offer listeners an education in the burgeoning US criminal justice system. Recorded annually over eight years, the calls represent every state in the country.
“We’ve been doing this radio program every year since 2000 and we thought it was a good time to make it available to the public. We’re not sure if people will want to listen, but we think if they do they might be surprised about how they feel about the content,” said Nick Szuberla, a co-producer of Thousand Kites.
“Thousand Kites began as a weekly radio show. We were getting stacks of letters from prisoners, and it gave us a quick education about the U.S. criminal justice system and human rights issues," says Amelia Kirby, a co-founder of the project. Appalachian communities have experienced a dramatic influx of prisoners in the past few years with the building of multiple prisons as a form of economic development. "Our new prisons were soon filled with young men from cities. Their letters to us at WMMT told of physical abuse, and volunteers responded with programming to make their plight public and to put a little pressure on the Department of Corrections."
According to the Sentencing Project, a public policy group focused on the criminal justice system:
-The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any industrialized nation in the world.
-Over 7 million people-or one in every 32 American adults-are behind bars, on probation or on parole.
-Sixty percent of prisons are built in low-income rural communities.
For the holidays, Thousand Kites, via WMMT-FM and a national collaboration of community radio stations, sends family messages through the walls of prisons such as Appalachia's Wallens Ridge and into more well-known prisons including Sing Sing, Angola, Folsom and beyond. The show's earnest public scrutiny brings hope for change during a special season through the simple airing of the voices of prisoner’s family members. With the growing rural and urban collaboration, this year's participation is expected to exceed last year’s, airing on over 120 radio stations across the country.
Nick Szuberla, a producer of Calls From Home, says of the program, "I speak regularly with people who have loved ones in prison. I see how difficult it is for families, especially those with children, to maintain relationships with their loved ones. When we broadcast the program this year I know that those who hear it will know they are not forgotten behind the walls.”
Organizations supporting Calls From Home include prison reform advocates American Friends Service Committee, and the November Coalition, an organization dedicated to addressing mass incarceration due to the war on drugs. Response from radio broadcasters has been enthusiastic. As one reviewer from the Public Radio Exchange stated, “There's lots of longing and care in the voices of family, as well as the in-studio hosts as they read letters from those on "the inside"…there's a lot to be said for the sheer rush of feeling that the callers emote as they sing, chant, and send good wishes. I wish more radio stations would devote this kind of time and space for those who find themselves in prison. It reminds one of old radio days, combined with a real community radio mission: to reach out and touch those in need.”
As well as the online broadcast, the program will be carried on over 120 radio stations across the country and will reach hundreds of thousands of prisoners.
The webcast is found at www.thousandkites.org .
Thousand Kites is a national dialogue project addressing the U.S. criminal justice system.