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Lexington Herald Leader

Lexington Herald Leader

Inmates to hear holiday


by Steve Lannen of the Lexington Herald-Leader

A mother telling
how much she loves her son and hopes he can come home.A nephew telling
his uncle he misses him.

A poet spitting
a short rap about tearing down the walls that divide people.

These are just a
few of the 145 calls from 30 states left for loved ones on the Calls
From Home
holiday radio program.

Originating from
Appalshop and the WMMT studios in Whitesburg, Calls From Home
is a chance for family and friends to send messages to inmates. The
annual one-hour show is broadcast on more than 120 radio stations
around the country and on the Web. It will be broadcast on WMMT on
Christmas Eve.

Along with the
public, several hundred thousand prisoners in places such as Sing
Sing, Folsom, Angola, Red Onion and elsewhere are expected to hear
the show. Many also listen every Monday night to another show, Holler
to the Hood
, a hip-hop and jazz program, which is viewed as a
forebear to the holiday show.

Both shows are
favorites inside prison, said Curtis "Chickenman" Little,
who did 12 years in the Virginia corrections system for a malicious
wounding conviction. A few times over the years, he heard messages
for Chickenman. Since he has been out the past year, Little calls in
to send well wishes and encouragement to people still incarcerated.
He is now a maintenance worker at Tidewater Community College in
Norfolk, Va.

"You got
somebody out there for you. I'm 13 hours away from home and somebody
out there is giving you a shout-out. It lifts you up on the inside,"
he said. "I think you'd have some protesters if you tried to
shut down that show."

Now in its
eighth year, the holiday show began after Holler to the Hood
producers began receiving complaints of alleged abuse and other
mistreatment from inmate listeners in nearby Virginia prisons.

In an attempt to
have a larger discussion about the impact of incarceration, Appalshop
organized a radio show around Christmas featuring family members of
those incarcerated, said current Holler to the Hood host
Amelia Kirby.

The Calls
From Home
show debuted in 2000, and in 2004 it was distributed
nationally for the first time. It now plays on more than 120
community radio stations each year.

The calls were
collected on Tuesday, when people from around the United States and
elsewhere called the toll-free telephone line from 3 to 11 p.m.
Staffers edited the calls to an hourlong program available for
download. Radio stations around the nation will play the program in
the coming days.

Some calls
simply wish a "Merry Christmas" or give a shout-out to
someone. Others are packed with emotion with news of a relative's
passing, a quote from the Bible or even a daughter playing the violin
for her father.

Each message has
meaning for someone, Kirby said.

"The power
of this is it's really personal, direct messages going from one
person to another," she said. "It's such an intense thing
to hear people talk directly to the people they are missing. You feel
the intensity of that need for connection, especially (from) the
kids. That's one of the most potent things. … You can just hear the
loss there."

It is not
unusual for a person to have not seen a loved one for several years.
Communication taken for granted by most can be an ordeal when someone
is locked up. If family lives in another state, visiting can also
prove difficult and costly.

Last week, the
Sentencing Project reported that 2.2 million people are incarcerated
in U.S. prisons and jails. Some 7.2 million are under correctional
supervision, according to the organization's Web site.

This year, the
Calls From Home is also the kick-off event for a new online
radio station that will feature content centering on prison issues
and their families.

Archived shows
of Calls From Home and Holler to the Hood will also
be played beginning today. In addition, the online project Thousand
is collecting stories from inmates, family members and
corrections officers.