I’m Alan Alda and this is CV, conversations about connecting and communicating
Earlonne: People that’s been in prison five years, 10 years, 15, 20, 30, 40 years, people don’t know what has happened to you, not that some people care. They might not care. But, when they hear a person, and they looking like, “Man, he’s just a regular dude. He’s just like me, he just made a bad decision in his life.” I would go back to ’em like, “Look here, man. You want to continue being a statistic in prison? Or do you want to get your story out?”
That’s Earlonne woods, recently released from San Quentin prison after 20 years inside. For the last 3 years he’s been helping inmates get their stories out in a remarkable podcast called Ear Hustle. Ear Hustle is produced in collaboration with a woman, Nigel Poor, who met Earlonne when she was a volunteer teacher at the prison. They both came to visit with me in our Manhattan studio.
Alan: This is go great. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be talking to you today, because if you don’t have the best podcast in the world, it must be one of the top two. It’s just great.
Nigel: That’s insane. Wow. That’s amazing, thank you.
Earlonne: Next to his.
Nigel: Can you believe we’re hearing that?
Alan: Look, look, I find it hard to listen to your podcast without getting emotional, and I’m sure that’s true for many, many people. I mean, I’m thinking of one where you were talking to inmates about what it was like, what they miss the most, and simple things like eggs and bacon-
Nigel: Yeah, opening the refrigerator.
Alan: Opening and looking to see what’s there, having a choice. But then when you get into what’s really the most painful thing that they miss, their family, their kids. Oh, those conversations, that conversation with the kid who had found out that … First he found out his mother went to prison for 17 years, and then his father has to tell him that he’s going to prison.
Earlonne: Oh, yeah. My brother.
Alan: That’s just … What was the relationship?
Earlonne: Bitter sweet. That was my brother.
Alan: That was your brother?
Alan: Oh, my God. I forgot that connection.
Alan: So how did that impact you?
Earlonne: I was already in custody. So for me, it was just basically hearing things that I didn’t know. They filled in the blanks a lot for me, because again, being incarcerated you don’t have that connection.
Alan: You don’t get all the information.
Earlonne: You really do get nothing, because at the time, like my brother say, he was on the run from the law, so I never had a chance to even talk to him for a few years. He used to write me every now and again, but that was like here and there.
Alan: It’s funny, I remember one guy tell you that he complained to his family that he never go letters from them, and somebody in his family finally said to him, “Look, that’s old fashion. People don’t do that anymore. They don’t send letters.” You really get cut off from changing times.
Nigel: But one thing that’s positive about it is that the guys inside have beautiful handwriting, because they’re not on computers all the time.
Nigel: Yeah, they have pre-computer-
Nigel: But they have pre-computer handwriting.
Earlonne: So yeah, you meet some people that enjoy that art of letter writing.
Nigel: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Alan: Is there actually a lot of time for an inmate to concentrate on things like letter writing, or do they keep you busy?
Earlonne: Oh, nah, you got all the time in the world. I mean, you do have work, but you know, if it’s an important letter, you ‘gon write that letter.
Nigel: And don’t you think it depend … At San Quentin guys are really busy because there’s a lot of programs for them to do, but other-
Earlonne: Pretty much.
Alan: That surprised me. I thought that it was rare to have programs. From what I’ve read, they were saying that there are a lot of programs.
Nigel: At San Quentin, but not at other prisons. It is rare, it is rare.
Earlonne: Some prisons have programs, and they’re trying to roll ’em out to all the prisons, different programs. But some prisons be so far where it’s hard to get people to go.
Nigel: Yeah, and that’s one of the reasons that San Quentin has so many, because it’s in the Bay area. It’s near San Francisco and Oakland, so a lot of volunteers go in to run these programs, but if a prison is like Pelican Bay, that’s in the middle of nowhere, it’s really hard to get volunteers to go in.
Alan: So, Nigel, were you running a program when you got the idea for the podcast?
Nigel: I was a volunteer teaching for a program called, The Prison University Project, where guys can go and get an AA degree, it’s taught by a volunteer professor so that’s how I started going into the prison, and that’s how I met Earlonne, and then I started volunteering in the media lab doing radio.
Alan: Earlonne, were you in Nigel’s class?
Earlonne: No, I wasn’t. I was in the media lab. We were doing film and trying to do a little documentaries around the prison.
Alan: That’s so interesting, and you made documentaries? How did you show them? Where did you show them?
Earlonne: Usually stuff that we show, it go on the closed circuit television channel within the prison. It be stuff like graduations or they have a breast cancer walk, we may document the breast cancer walk that they have at the prison.
Alan: They have it at the prison?
Earlonne: At the prison.
Nigel: I remember doing that. It was amazing. It’s over two days, and you walk around the yard hundreds of times-
Earlonne: Yeah, it’s at the same time that the breast cancer walk is on the streets. They have it inside the prison.
Nigel: Outside, yeah.
Alan: That’s interesting show the way you’re virtually connecting with the outside.
Nigel: Yeah, and the other thing that’s really nice about it is you walk around with different guys, so you have all these different conversations. It sort of reminded me of an old fashion dance, like a guy would come up to you and say, “Do you mind if I walk with you for a while?” You do a couple laps, and then you’d walk with somebody else. It’s really beautiful.
Earlonne: They invite a lot of people in from the outside to come and walk with you.
Alan: So this is very interesting. This sounds very social, and it sounds easier to get along with one another than it seemed to me when I was in the Utah State Prison for three weeks. I have to say I was making a movie there, but I was there 12 hours a day for three weeks, and I talked to hundreds of people. I was told a lot of stories that didn’t sound like people got along easily.
Alan: One guy said, “You learn to be super polite. If you accidentally bump into somebody in the hall, you say, ‘Please excuse me,’ and you look ’em in the eye and you make sure that the apology’s accepted, otherwise you’re liable to get a lunch tray in your teeth the next day.”
Nigel: Yeah, I have a couple things to say about that. One, we’re with a couple former San Quentin residents here, and walking around New York, one of the guys said, “People really bump into you here.” It sort of triggered him, and he said, “I have to really think about it, because I know people aren’t doing it intentionally.” But I think San Quentin again is a little bit different, because it’s also a level two prison, so-
Alan: What does that mean?
Nigel: Oh, so it’s a medium security. Earlonne can obviously speak to this, but I don’t think every prison is as polite. I think there are problems at San Quentin, and there’s problems at other prisons, but what you’re talking about certainly exists.
Earlonne: I think when you dealing with prisons, like you say it was a difference there, it was a tension there, so I think when you have prisons, when you have stuff to do, there don’t be that much tension, but when you don’t have nothing to do, like no programs, then you don’t have nothing else to do but prison politics. Just deal with prison, deal with what’s in front of you, and so that’s probably why you have a lot of people going at each other.
Alan: You have, what seems to be, a deliberately positive approach, which is very helpful to me as a listener, because it engages me with the humanity of the people you’re talking with. Do you do that deliberately? Do you avoid talking about what their crimes were, and what violence might occur?
Nigel: We intentionally do not talk about people’s crimes. We have had a few stories where people’s crimes have come up and we don’t shy away from that, but we don’t want to concentrate on it, because we really are trying to do what you said, is to create connection and figure out how people who on the surface don’t appear to have anything in common, can actually have a really important conversation that’s going to help both sides.
Alan: One of the things that occurred to me, listening to it, because I guess I have a jaundice view of what prison has to offer. But, you seem to indicate that there’s a very wide variety among prison experiences.
Nigel: Definitely, and Earlonne should talk to this, but I always want to come back to that San Quentin is really different, and I don’t want you hustle to give people the impression that all prisons are like San Quentin, because they just aren’t.
Earlonne: But I think all prisons want to be like San Quentin and the people in the prisons would like them to be like San Quentin.
Alan: But San Quentin doesn’t sound like a picnic anyway. What struck me the most was the deprivation of the people, the incarcerated people, the deprivation of the community with their families, and that sounds to me like a kind of emotional solitary confinement.
Earlonne: Being away from everybody. You might have pictures of people and I get out and I see ’em and they grown. I’ll be like, “Man, I’m still thinking of yo in my head as six year old picture I got.”
Alan: Well, I just made a case, a strong case against prison, and I’m fully aware that there’s the idea that’s really the most common idea, I think in our culture, that if you do the crime, you got to do the time, and that it’s good for everybody, overall, because it discourages people from committing crimes. I have a couple of questions I want to ask you about that, but one is, did it ever discourage you from doing the crime, the idea that you might get caught and put in prison?
Earlonne: No. I would say this, it’s just the death penalty. People feel that the death penalty may discourage you from doing crime. When people are doing crime, you’re not thinking about the death penalty, you’re not even thinking about non of that stuff, you’re not thinking about the consequences of your actions, ’cause at the end of the day, you’re not thinking you’re going to get caught.
Alan: It’s so interesting. The odds I think are pretty much against you if you commit a crime, aren’t they? If you commit crime after crime.
Nigel: I would think so, yeah.
Alan: But you don’t think-
Earlonne: Even as you said, if you do the crime you should do the time, so in California, they had a three strike law where you won’t just do the time, you would do a gang of enhancements time, like your crime might be three years, but you get 25 to life, 100 years to life in enhancements. So, it’s kind of hard to just do the time.
Alan: I know from experience that one person did take it seriously that he might be up for life if he committed a third crime. I know this because he said to me, “I’ve been here twice before, so I just want you to know if I’m robbing a drugstore and you’re standing at the cash register, I’m going to have to kill you, ’cause I’m not coming back here. I don’t want a witness.” So he figured out that he might go to jail forever, so his solution was to murder me.
Nigel: Wait, wait. Is this a movie?
Alan: I said to him, “How about if we work it out right now? I won’t talk, okay?” He said, “No, no. They got ways of making you talk. I’m going to kill you.”
Nigel: Wait, wait a minute.
Earlonne: People would probably talk like that, but again, nobody feels-
Alan: Oh, he was having fun.
Earlonne: Yeah, yeah. Nobody feels they’re going to get caught. Nobody feels that-
Nigel: But that’s human nature, right? Unless you’re-
Earlonne: You’ll commit a crime, the last thought, it might run through your mind like, “Oh, might get caught,” but the last thought is, “I’m going to get caught.” The first thought is, “I’m going to get away.”
Nigel: Wow, if I did it, my first thought would be, “I’m going to get caught.” That’s how I think.
Alan: Maybe that’s a dividing line among [crosstalk 00:13:37].
Nigel: I wonder, I wonder. I would be scared to death about getting caught.
Alan: Well, this guy was pretty risky. Before I left, on the last shot of the day, he and another guy made me a hostage, held a knife to my throat, and then after a couple minutes claimed it was a joke, so real hilarious guy. We were standing 10 feet from the door to the outside world, so I think he was experimenting, it was going to be either a joke or maybe-
Earlonne: Let me test this out, let me test this theory.
Alan: See how far this goes.
Nigel: How fast was your heart beating?
Alan: Boy, I got very still. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t contradict them, I just waited.
Alan: Seemed like forever.
Earlonne Woods was recently released from San Quentin after being inside for 20 years. We’ll discover how that happened in a moment. But meanwhile I wanted to find out a little more about the practical details of making a podcast about prison life from the inside.
Alan: I read someplace that you spend 10 or 12 hours a day, five days a week inside working.
Nigel: When Earlonne was there, we probably did that weekly, sometimes more, sometimes it would be seven days a week, depending on where we were with the podcast. It was both of our lives. I mean, I slept and I ate dinner and the rest of the time I was in the prison working.
Earlonne: Yeah, I don’t know about you, but I know with us, the podcast isn’t finished until the day before it’s published, the night before it’s published. It’s like, “All right, cool.”
Nigel: Definitely, and anything you do inside a prison takes forever.
Alan: You have to get the authorities to listen to everything you record before you can leave for the day?
Earlonne: No, no, no, no, no, no.
Nigel: No, no, no, no. Before the podcast goes out, once we’ve edited it down then it has to be listened to. That part isn’t as horrible, and Lieutenant Sam Robinson, who’s the public information officer is really supportive, and he does it quickly. But, just for example, we had to get new computers into the media lab to work with. I think that took four months to get, so you can’t just buy a computer and bring it into the prison.
Nigel: It has to go through this long technical process to be okay. So, I would say that anything inside takes six times longer than on the outside, you just have to be so patient and not lose your temper.
Alan: How did you get permission to do the podcast in the first place?
Nigel: Well, it’s pretty funny. We were working on a radio program, so there was already precedent for doing audio and the stories were being played on the local radio station, then I heard about this pod quest contest being put on by Radiotopia from PRX, and they were looking for a new podcast.
Nigel: So we decided to apply, kind of on a lark, and I asked Lieutenant Robinson for permission and he gave us permission to apply for it. Then after this whole long process, we won, and when I told Lieutenant Robinson we won, his response was, “I only let you apply because I thought you wouldn’t win.” So that’s how we got permission, ’cause no one thought we could do it.
Earlonne: I think-
Alan: It sort of crept up on them.
Earlonne: I think Lieutenant Robinson is very progressive.
Nigel: He probably would have, but it was pretty funny that that was his reason.
Earlonne: [crosstalk 00:21:33].
Nigel: But he is great, and he is super supportive. But it took a long time, I mean, I’ve been volunteering in the prison since 2011, we started working on it in 2016. So I had spent a long time getting people to trust me, and know me and feel like if we did things in the media lab, like do radio and think about the podcast, that they knew that I would follow the rules, and be trustworthy.
Nigel: And Earlonne, I’m sure you guys had to do the same thing. I mean, people had to get to know you, and feel like we’re not going to squander this opportunity or take advantage of it.
Alan: What’s it like as you talk to another person in prison? Does it take a while for them to trust you?
Earlonne: I knew a lot of the people at the prison. I knew a gang of people, so people were just more like, “Ah, I don’t know, man. I might …” then you get ’em in there, sit ’em down and then you like, “All right, man. Slow down. You talking too much now.”
Earlonne: With the older population that had been incarcerated for 30, 40 years, they were more reluctant to talk, because they were from a different time in prison, where individuals in prison didn’t communicate with the media for some reason.
Nigel: Right, and they saw us as the media, even though we were inside. That is true, that is the only population that still is a little bit of a challenge.
Earlonne: Then we used to break them down, ’cause we would go back to ’em, I know me, I would go back to ’em like, “Look here, man. You want to continue being a statistic in prison? Or do you want to get your story out?” So I used to have different little-
Alan: That’s interesting, “Getting the story out,” ’cause we talk about communication and relating all the time on the show. I hadn’t thought of that, that element that you’re speaking of now, the desire to your story out. I guess we all want to get our story out, one way or another, but is it more extreme in prison?
Earlonne: Well, I mean, so what we realize is that when it comes to society at large, knowing about what’s going on in prison, they pretty much don’t know. So the only thing they know about people is what they see in the media, or see you in courtroom, or in a police chase, and that’s it. But, people that’s been in prison five years, 10 years, 15, 20, 30, 40 years, people don’t know what has happened to you, not that some people care. They might not care.
Earlonne: But, when they hear a person, and they looking like, “Man, he’s just a regular dude. He’s just like me, he just made a bad decision in his life,” ’cause we always go back and ask people, “Man, are you the same person from 20 years ago? 30 years ago?” Most people would be like, “Na.”
Nigel: And I want to bring it back to a question, or something that you said about one of the deprivations is being away from your family, and one of the things that I personally really am proud of with this podcast is that so many people that are in prison, their family listens to the podcast, and they’ll come up and tell me, “My daughter listen, my wife listened. She knows a lot more about what my life is like.”
Nigel: So it reconnects families-
Alan: Even if they’re listening to people that they’re not related to, but they just know what the life is like a little bit better. Yeah, that’s probably very important.
Earlonne: And that brings one to mind. There was a girl that wrote us, talking about, “Oh, my father been in prison for so long,” or, “My uncle,” it was one of ’em, “And I didn’t know what to write about and what to say.” In one episode, I was like, “Just talk about your drapes.”
Nigel: Yep, yeah.
Alan: Talk about your drapes.
Earlonne: I got some new drapes. I’m like, people in prison that receive mail, it’s the envelop that comes in with your name on it that means, “I love you.”
Alan: That already gives you a shot of dopamine.
Earlonne: “I love you.” You would look at the envelop for a while before you even open it, you’ll study it.
Alan: Oh, that’s a great detail.
Earlonne: You’ll study the handwriting. You’ll just be like, “Ah,” and you know, people in prison, you have something that you may do.
Alan: Those details, that detail that you just gave us about the envelop, and how you look at it for a while, your show is full of details like that. Some of them, I suppose, come spontaneously, but you must work hard, both of you, at getting them to dig in to their insides and come up with the details that are so meaningful to us listening.
Nigel: Yeah, I mean, I love details. I’m so interested in the minutia of people’s lives. I think those are the most interesting stories, because they represent larger ideas, and so, we do talk to people about what we’re looking for, but I really believe in compassionate listening, and when somebody knows that you’re really listening, they will open up and tell you amazing things.
Alan: I want to hear what your personal experience is with the way you listen. What do you do that your conscious of doing, that lead to the kind of listening that opens the other person up?
Nigel: So, I’m genuinely interested in other people, and so when I’m talking to someone, or with an interview, I mean, I try to use my body language, my facial expressions, my hands, I emote a lot through my body. I really try to encourage, and let the person know that I deeply care about what they have to say, that I’m not going to judge them, that it’s a really safe place to be, and that I’m open and ready to hear whatever you have to tell me.
Alan: What you started with really stuck a note with me. You’re interested, really interested in other people, which sounds to me that almost the same as saying you’re curious about other people, and if you’re curious about the person you’re talking to, you’re bound to come up with followup questions.
Alan: “How did that happen? What do you mean by that? What happened next?” That kind of thing, which can lead the person down the path to a more interior experience and not just the glossy one that they’re used to talking about.
Nigel: Absolutely. Now, I … Go ahead. [crosstalk]
Earlonne: I was going to say, the one followup question I think Nigel had asked one person that was the deepest to me was Phil Melendez, when you asked him if he deserved to be out, and that was deep. I was like, “Ooh.”
Nigel: That was a guy who was getting out after, I can’t remember-
Earlonne: Double murder.
Nigel: Double murder, and-
Alan: How long was he in?
Earlonne: 19 years.
Nigel: 19 years.
Earlonne: 19 years, seven months.
Nigel: Yeah, and we were having a really joyous interview, because obviously he was really excited, he was going to be reunited with his wife and his daughter, and I had to ask him, “Do you feel like you deserve to get out?” And it was a really hard question to ask, but it was an important one to ask, and I could see it kind of stung … I don’t know if it stung, but he was-
Earlonne: No, he was more like, “I don’t deserve nothing, but do I want to? Yes. But, I don’t deserve it.”
Nigel: But he handled it really well, and it made for a really beautiful interlude between us.
Alan: That sort of ties in with what you said before about, “Are you the same person you were 20 years ago?”
Alan: None of use is the same person, pretty much none of us is the same person, inside or out.
Nigel: I hope not. I mean, wouldn’t it be horrible if you were the same as you were at 18?
Earlonne: I think people want to look the same.
Nigel: Well, that’s different.
Alan: As I said, none of us are the same. But, you get more time to think. I imagine the time you spend just sitting thinking can be at least of two kinds. One kind is bitterness, “Why did I get here? What are they doing to me? It’s unfair,” probably always someone fair element you can come up with. The other side is, “How can I live a life that is satisfying in some way, whether I’m in or out?” One is angry and the other is more active.
Earlonne: I think you have to come to terms with your previous actions. You have to be accountable for the person you was, be it bad, be it ugly, you have to be accountable for it, and you have to acknowledge it to be able to move on in your life. You have to be able to come to your conclusion in your life to change your life.
When we come back, we find out how Earlonne came to be released from San Quentin just a few months ago; how he’s adjusting to life outside; and how Ear Hustle will continue – telling stories now about those still inside San Quentin and others, like Earlonne, newly released.
This is C+V, and now back to my conversation with Earlonne Woods and Nigel Poor.
Alan: So, you recently got out, right? How did that happen?
Earlonne: Governor Jerry Brown.
Alan: What did he do? Did he commute your sins?
Earlonne: I had a sentence of 31 years to life, which means I still had 10 years on my sentence to go to the parole board to even figure out whether or not they were going to let me out-
Alan: Do you mind if I ask you what you were in for?
Earlonne: Attempted second degree robbery.
Alan: And what does that mean?
Earlonne: That means that the actual case is that I ran up on somebody, pushed them down, sat there and I left. That was the actual case, but the prosecution’s theory was I was there to rob the person, so that’s what I was in trial for.
Nigel: But you left out a really important thing.
Earlonne: Which part?
Nigel: That you’re a three striker.
Earlonne: Oh, I’m a three … I left a few things out, you know. But I was-
Alan: I can see where she gets you to dig down a little bit. So that’s the glossy version. Let’s hear the real one.
Earlonne: The real version is I went to prison before I was 17, and I went to prison at 17 for kidnap, robbery of a neighborhood drug dealer, and I end up getting 10 years when I was 17. When I got out of prison, I stayed out two years, 10 months, until I committed the crime that we was just talking about.
Earlonne: Unbeknownst to me, I was a three strike candidate, because I had only been to prison once, but they took the one felony for kidnap, one felony for robbery, and they said that’s two felonies, so this one is your third and you’re out of here.
Alan: Oh, I thought you had to actually go away for two times.
Earlonne: I think everybody think that.
Nigel: I know, there’s so many misconceptions. I thought that too, until I started working in prison.
Earlonne: But they say convictions.
Alan: I see. You could get three strikes in one egg.
Earlonne: In one egg, but they won’t give you life at that moment, but if you’re in jail for that, and you do something in jail, you can get life for that.
Alan: Oh, boy. So, what happened? What motivated Jerry Brown to let you out?
Nigel: Oh, that’s right. That’s what we were talking about.
Earlonne: So, I turned in … At the advice of Alex Malix she was like, “Man,” ’cause we used to go to their Restorative Justice Symposiums, and at one of the Symposiums, she’s like, “Man, I just sat there and was listening to you, and seeing the work you’re doing. You need to think about submitting a commutation.” When you hear, “Commutation,” first thing, or communing a pardon, you think death row. That’s what people on death row do, ’cause being in prison, you rarely know somebody that’s been commuted.
Earlonne: And so, I submitted one, and when I received the interview, it was like, “Oh, okay. This stuff works,” and I had an interview hour, interview with a parole officer, and then from that interview it goes to the board of prison terms and then they make a decision, which they approved it, excuse me. Then I went from there to the California Supreme Court because of my previous cases, you have to go to the Supreme Court. So, when the Supreme Court came back and recommended that I be pardoned by the Governor, which was in October, we knew that the next time he would do it is either Thanksgiving, or Christmas.
Earlonne: So the day before Thanksgiving, we were working and that call came in, hours after we was anticipating it, but it came in. They called me up to the captain’s porch and was like, “The Governor believes in all the rehabilitation that you’re doing, and feel that you’re a changed person. So, with that, he’s releasing you immediately.”
Alan: Did you know the call was coming in and you didn’t know which way it was going to be?
Earlonne: No, if you get the call, it’s only going to be one way.
Alan: So the walk to the office was probably a jaunty walk.
Earlonne: The walk to the office-
Nigel: Do you remember it?
Earlonne: No, no, no. I recall, I had my [inaudible] with me. I recorded it.
Nigel: That’s right, you recorded it.
Alan: Do you know if your podcast played a part in you getting your sentence commuted?
Earlonne: Yes, I believe it did. It was a lot, I did rehabilitation work on myself. I completed a lot of groups, completed a lot of trades, and the podcast was mentioned in here. It was mentioned a few times.
Nigel: It was mentioned a few times. It certainly did not hurt.
Alan: That’s a wonderful thing that your work, which is so powerful has helped you, but there are other guys and women in prison who just aren’t tuned into work that gets attention.
Nigel: Absolutely, absolutely.
Earlonne: And one of the things that I’d like to explain to people, and we be talking about this, that when it comes to being in prison, especially under the three strikes law, I’m not the exception. I’m a reflection of a lot of people there-
Alan: People how have changed, you mean?
Earlonne: Who have changed their lives, different people, but, the laws can’t see that, because the laws are created to incapacitate you, especially the three strike law, to incapacitate, that’s actually the language. So, the guys that’s doing the rehabilitation and all that, they doing it for themselves, ’cause people just change. People become different people, but they’re not looked at.
Earlonne: The only reason I was able to be looked at is because I filed a commutation with the Governor. Had I not done that, then I’ll still be in prison waiting on the parole board 10 years from now.
Nigel: But I have to say, Earlonne, there’s a lot of people who submit commutations that never hear anything.
Nigel: There’s a lot of people, so I think that this is also a case that, just like on the outside, it helps to have people know who you are. It helps to have people go to bat for you, it makes a difference, it makes a difference. That’s unfortunate, but that’s how the world works. I mean, somebody encouraged you to do it, because you knew somebody. There’s lots of guys in there that never get that encouragement, and it’s really unfortunate.
Alan: What about the podcast, now that you’re out, are you able to do the show the way you’ve done it before?
Nigel: We’re very excited, it’s gonna change. So, when we knew Earlonne was going to get out, we did a real job search inside of the prison. We put out an ad, we had guys apply, we got about 30 applications, we went through a three tier interview process, and we, “Hired” a new person to come on to the podcast, who’s going to be the co-host with me, and help do interviews.
Nigel: Then, Earlonne got hired on as a full-time producer, Radiotopia and PRX hired him, and so he’s going to be working on stories about reentry, and we’re going to meld the two topics together.
Alan: Oh, great.
Nigel: Yeah, so we’re super excited.
Alan: So your show will go on.
Nigel: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
Alan: And you have now a new show, and you have a new title and new batch of work that’s facing you, and you have it in your life too. You have a batch of work, I imagine, on your own reentry questions and problems, challenges.
Earlonne: Right, right. For me, it’s been pretty easy.
Alan: When did you get out?
Earlonne: I got out November 30th, 2018.
Alan: What’s it been like?
Earlonne: Oh, it’s been love, you know. It’s been fun, it’s been beautiful. I’ve done what most people do when they get out of prison, which is pick up a gang of weight. I understand it now.
Alan: I thought you were just sitting around thinking.
Earlonne: No, the one thing that I learned, that everybody invites you to dinner, everybody. And you know, when it’s dinner, it’s dinner. You just eat all the time, and that’s what people like to do out here.
Alan: So I want you to get more specific. I want to get down to the details the way Nigel does. What was your first taste of food like? What was your first vision of something that you hadn’t seen before?
Earlonne: So, my first food was great. It was steak and eggs from a New York rapper, Biggie Smalls. He always says steak and eggs in one of his lyrics, so I was like, “Oh, yeah. I’ma go …” steak and eggs just popped up, like, “Let’s go get this.”
Alan: And what was that first taste [crosstalk 00:42:47].
Earlonne: The funniest part was, we sitting down, so you go from in prison to … That morning, you at a breakfast table and the come with the knives, remember that?
Nigel: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah [crosstalk 00:42:58].
Earlonne: And I held a knife up, I was like, “Oh, this could of had me in the hole for like-
Nigel: Yeah, no metal.
Earlonne: So then it was different from metal touching my teeth, because I had been eating with plastic spoons for years, so the metal, you’re like, “Okay, you can’t hit ’em that hard, ’cause that hurt.”
Nigel: And glass, you had orange juice out of the glass.
Alan: [crosstalk 00:43:19].
Earlonne: So it was just different. That part was different.
Nigel: Can I tell you a nice memory I have from the meal that we had, ’cause we had a meal together. In prison, you can’t share food. I bring my meal in, and I can never share food, and I can’t eat what Earlonne eats.
Alan: What’s the reason for that?
Nigel: It’s over familiarity.
Earlonne: Over familiarity.
Nigel: So for me, what was really beautiful about the first meal we had together was we could actually taste each other’s food. For the first time I could say, “Try what I’m having,” and then I took a bite off of his plate, just like you would with a friend. We’ve never been able to do that.
Earlonne: I’ma say in prison, I don’t think nobody wanted Nigel’s food in prison.
Alan: You didn’t bring in great enough stuff.
Nigel: I always ate the same thing. I always eat the exact same meal when I’m in there, so it didn’t look so appetizing.
Alan: For a curious person, that sounds really boring.
Nigel: Well, I have a reason for it. I have two reasons for it.
Alan: What is it?
Earlonne: She don’t want to turn nobody on with the meal.
Nigel: I didn’t want to tempt anybody, but I’m also a very habitual person, and when I find what I like, I’m great to eat it for six months. So, I would say every six months I change my lunch.
Earlonne: Seriously, seriously, seriously.
Nigel: It’s true. But, I also didn’t want it to be like, “Boy, doesn’t this look good? I’d like to have some.”
Alan: With those relations between the people who come in and the people who are locked in sound really fraught with tension. You got to be careful you don’t get too familiar with the other person, you don’t want to tempt them with things that they can’t have, like better food and that kind of thing. Is it the worst thing you can do to fall in love with somebody in prison?
Nigel: We actually say that literally in a podcast. The worst thing you can do is fall in love with someone in prison. It puts the institution in a difficult position. Personally, I think it puts other volunteers in a difficult position, but its human nature. I mean, when people are around each other, it’s bound to happen and so what the prison … If you fall in love with someone in prison, you need to stop going in, you can’t volunteer anymore and it’s-
Earlonne: Yeah, it just becomes … It’s a security issue, because the first thing the prison is thinking like, “Oh, if you become over familiar with this person, now you’re fittin’ start breaking the rules.” You’re going to start bringing something small to something big.
Alan: I’m curious to know, how do you feel about the whole idea of prison? Is there anything useful about it for you, as a person, and for us as a society? Does it reduce crime? Does it lower recidivism if it’s done right? Or is it just punishment? Is it just hurting somebody ’cause they hurt somebody else?
Earlonne: I think it’s probably just hurting somebody ’cause they hurt somebody else. Then, you have to figure out what is punishment. Is punishment for stealing something? I give you one year, and we ‘gon put you through some type of rehabilitation program, and then hopefully you correct your behavior, or is that saying punishment, 25 years to life, and say to hell with you?
Nigel: I think prisons have to exist. I have no doubt that they have to exist, but I don’t think that obviously the way they function now works. I think there would be other examples, and I think education is really important. Thinking about the re-sentencing and what is an appropriate sentence for somebody, and what happens in prison so they’re not just a warehouse, that people actually have a constructive life while they’re in there.
Alan: It’s interesting. So, that prompts me to ask you, when we think about prison being a place of actual rehabilitation and not mere punishment, some people’s reaction to that is you’re codling people who deserve to be punished. How do you react to that?
Earlonne: I mean, it’s a common thing that if you punish a person and you keep punishing them, and you don’t add rehabilitation in there, that person ‘gon get out, and the question is how do you want that person to get out? Just a person that’s been punished?
Alan: Yeah, what do you want them to be like.
Earlonne: Yeah, what you want them to be like? That person ‘gon be your neighbor, he or she ‘gon be your neighbor. Sometimes you have, I want to say corrupt people in prison, people that abuse authority, you do have that. So if you just put a person in prison for punishment, that’s just like he just locked a person in a cage, and he’s locked in that cage, or she’s locked in that cage for 20 years with nothing, then they get out.
Nigel: I don’t what people expect is going to come out of that, and again, I want to say again, I do believe that prisons have to exist, I do think that, but the question is to figure out how does punishment work? It’s such a hard question to answer, but I do see in San Quentin that having all of these programs makes a difference in people’s lives, because when you have a purpose, when you feel seen, when you feel like you have some kind of power, you then care about being a citizen.
Nigel: If you’re just locked in a care, why would you care about being a good citizen? I always want to say that I care about victims of crime, and I have compassion for that, and I do think that people need to pay for hurting others. I have no question about that, but the bigger question is for how long, and how? Can we search our hearts to think about forgiveness, and that people change. It’s tough.
Earlonne: Yeah, it’s very, very interesting, because I think most people in prison, most people come from that environment, where they just did what they seen, whether it’s selling drugs, whether it’s robbery, this is something that you grew up into.
Alan: It’s in the environment that seems normal.
Earlonne: And to you it’s normal growing up, especially when you start off at 13, 12 and your parents is working jobs after jobs, two jobs or overtime, whatever it is, so you basically have oversight of yourself, and you and a neighborhood with like minded dudes, and y’all get into stuff.
Alan: Well, that’s probably a good reason to do what you’re doing, which is to convey to those of us who don’t experience that environment, to realize what it’s like and what the pressures are. I think very often we say, “Why would a person do a thing like that?” Because we can’t imagine everything that led up to it.
Nigel: Exactly, and I knew I’ve talked to guys, and I can think of one guy in particular, when we were interviewing, growing up, he said to me, “I could not wait to get to prison. I thought going to prison was regal, because that’s what happened to everyone in my family.”
Earlonne: You know the thing about it, when I was younger, what you used to see with people getting out of prison, they were like big, [inaudible] type. I mean, they were real big, and you like, “Oh, you go to prison and come out muscular,” not that I wanted to go to prison, but if I did.
Nigel: Right, right, yeah.
Alan: Well, this has been such an interesting conversation to me. I really learned a lot talking to you both, and I thank you both for the work you’re doing.
Earlonne: Thank you.
Alan: It’s just amazing. We have seven quick questions we’d like to do, if you’re game.
Nigel: Oh, totally, totally.
Alan: How about we start with you, Earlonne.
Alan: What do you wish you really understood?
Earlonne: What I really understood? I would say … And this might not be all deep, but I wish I understood how you get 100 movies on a mini SD chip. That has been vexing me forever.
Alan: I knew these would get interesting answers. Nigel, what do you wish you really understood?
Nigel: This is something that has, I’m going to use what you said, “Vexed me forever,” I really wish I could understand the concept of infinity and that the universe doesn’t end. I really wish I could understand that concept.
Nigel: The idea that something doesn’t end.
Earlonne: It don’t end in the black hole?
Nigel: But then there’s got to be something else. It can’t end, so I wish I-
Alan: Maybe it does end. I think we’re talking about [inaudible 00:56:29].
Nigel: I know there’s scientist that understand that concept. I wish I could understand it.
Alan: Okay, number two. What do you wish other people understood about you?
Earlonne: You go first, Nigel.
Nigel: Okay, I wish that just because I’m quiet and polite, I’m not a pushover.
Alan: And you wish the same thing, right?
Earlonne: Yeah, I’ma go with that. I’ma go with her, I’ma go with her answer, ’cause that’s a big one.
Alan: You got to come up with your own.
Earlonne: I got to come up with me own? Give me the question again.
Alan: What do you wish people understood about you?
Earlonne: That a lot of the bad decisions I made, I made at a bad time in my life and I now see life differently.
Alan: Okay, next question-
Earlonne: Did that work?
Alan: Yeah, that was good, it was good.
Earlonne: That was good?
Alan: I’d let you out a week early for that.
Earlonne: All right, cool, cool, cool, cool, cool, cool.
Nigel: I’m a teacher, that’s like a C.
Alan: Okay, heres the next one. What’s the strangest question anyone has ever asked you?
Earlonne: Oh, that’s easy. Do you miss prison?
Alan: [inaudible 00:57:42].
Nigel: Okay, can I change it to what’s the most surprising question?
Nigel: Okay, so the most surprising question to me is, is that the man who sang, (Singing). That the person who sang that song, wanted to talk to me.
Alan: Oh, so anybody doesn’t know that was me on, Free to be you and me.
Nigel: Free to be you me. I grew up with that.
Alan: Oh, that’s great.
Earlonne: What was the question again?
Nigel: I changed it to suit my-
Alan: The most surprising question.
Alan: How do you stop a compulsive talker?
Earlonne: Oh, yeah. Easy.
Nigel: Oh, really?
Earlonne: Yeah. “Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, you’ve been on stage too long. Commercial break.”
Nigel: I love that.
Alan: Do you try to stop it?
Nigel: In an interview, I do. I just say to someone, “I got to rein you in now,” but-
Earlonne: Oh, she good with that, she good with that.
Nigel: But in my personal life, I just suffer and get angry, inside. I don’t say anything.
Alan: Well, maybe that’ll stop soon.
Nigel: Oh, yeah.
Earlonne: Commercial break.
Alan: Is there anyone, this is an interesting one, is there anyone that you just can’t feel empathy for?
Earlonne: People that abuse powers or racist people, I think.
Alan: How about you, Nigel?
Nigel: I’m a very empathetic person, so it’s hard for me, ’cause I see the sides of everything, but there is one person that is really testing that, I’m sorry to say it again, the president of our country right now.
Earlonne: You don’t like Trump, huh?
Nigel: Mm-mm. I do not.
Earlonne: You probably have to be a comedian to like Trump, [crosstalk] limited material.
Nigel: Yeah, exactly.
Alan: Good for business.
Earlonne: Good for business.
Alan: Okay, how do you like to deliver bad news, in person, on the phone, or by carrier pigeon?
Earlonne: Carrier prison … I’ve delivered bad news by the phone, but I would probably prefer to deliver it in person. I have done it by the phone though.
Alan: How about you?
Nigel: Yeah. If it’s personal, in person. If it’s business, email.
Alan: Okay, last question. What, if anything, would make you end a friendship?
Nigel: Wow, again this is hard, because I’m pretty forgiving. If people make me feel guilty about stuff, that would be tough. That would challenge it.
Earlonne: Not betrayal?
Alan: Especially guilty for dropping the friendship.
Nigel: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
Alan: Well, you guys have been great. Thank you so much.
Nigel: Thank you so much, thank you.
Earlonne: Appreciate it. Thank you.
This has been Clear + Vivid, at least I hope so.
My thanks the sponsors of this episode. All the income from the ads you hear go to the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. Just by listening to this podcast, you’re contributing to the better communication of science. So, thank you.
For more information about the Alda Center, please visit AldaCenter.org
When Ear Hustle won Radiotopia’s Podquest contest in 2016, Nigel Poor and Earlonne Wood’s beat out more than 1500 entries – a sure sign that they were on track to create something groundbreaking.
Ear Hustle has since won multiple awards – including this year’s Webby People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary podcast. And, the show is a frequent Peabody Award nominee, which is a credit to the incredibly impactful storytelling.
My production team and I love Ear Hustle because they never stop innovating – each season is a different and the craftmanship behind each episode is flawless. Nigel, Earlonne, and the Radiotopia team are an inspiration to all of us and I’m so glad they could join us on this show.
The latest season of Ear Hustle debuted on June 5th and you can find out all the details about the show and where to listen at: earhustlehq.com
This episode was produced by Graham Chedd with help from our associate producer, Sarah Chase. Our sound engineer is Dan Dzula, our Tech Guru is Allison Coston, our publicist is Sarah Hill.
You can subscribe to our podcast for free at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you listen.
For more details about Clear + Vivid, and to sign up for my newsletter, please visit alanalada.com.
You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram at “Clear and Vivid” and I’m on Twitter @alanalda.
Thanks for listening. Bye bye!