Stories from the Inside: A Review and Reflection on Ear Hustle

Ear Hustle, a podcast co-hosted and co-produced by current San Quentin inmates Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, shows the outside world how important and innovative storytelling in the modern age can be.

October 24, 2018

San Quentin State Prison is known to most for housing some of the most famous criminals in United States history. These inmates have included “Dating Game Killer” Rodney Alcala, Charles Manson, and Scott Peterson (who still currently resides there). However, within the past year, the prison has been talked about for a different reason: a podcast called Ear HustleEar Hustle, the nickname for the act of eavesdropping, is the first and only podcast to be created inside a prison. The podcast is hosted by Earlonne Woods and Nigel Poor. Woods is an inmate at San Quentin who is serving 31 years to life sentence for 2nd degree robbery, the third strike on his record. Poor is an artist from the San Francisco area who volunteers at the prison. Poor and Woods also help produce the podcast in the prison’s media center with another inmate, Antwan Williams, who is serving a 15-year sentence for armed robbery. 

Earlonne Woods and Nigel Poor

The first episode of the podcast, titled “Cellies,” immediately captivates the audience. The sound design transports the listener to San Quentin, with courtyard chatter setting the scene. Most episodes of the podcast are focused on a specific subject or characteristic of prison life. In “Cellies,” Woods and Poor discuss the process by which “cellies,” the moniker used for cellmates, are chosen. Although Woods discusses his experience with his past cellmates, the audience does not only hear from him. The unique factor of Ear Hustle, besides the setting of its recording, is the personal stories told by inmates. The prisoners tell stories of their lives, from being cellmates with a constantly enraged man to taking care of a multitude of insects on the prison’s campus (featured in episode 3, “Looking Out”). 

San Quentin State Prison

However, Ear Hustle does not only provide the listener entertainment, it also shows us on the outside how important storytelling is. To most on the outside, the men featured on this podcast will only ever be stains on society. Some of these men have been convicted of terrible crimes, crimes that follow them for the rest of their lives. But these crimes do not define them as people. Now, that is not to say that their crimes are excusable. The crimes are mistakes they have made, not who they are. The inmates featured recount stories of abuse, violence, and mistreatment that cycled through their lives until and during their residence at San Quentin and these stories are not uncommon. In today’s society, many are too worried about defining and identifying others, without truly pondering what their story is. This podcast is a wonderful insight into our society’s most isolated and it gives us a lesson in listening rather than assuming. 

Ear Hustle is an innovative undertaking into the possibilities of storytelling in the modern world. The use of the podcast medium to connect to those on the outside is truly revolutionary. If anyone finds the time to sit down and listen to an episode, please do*. It will open your mind to something new. 

*Warning: Ear Hustle contains some occasional graphic language and content. Please listen with caution. 

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