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City Visions: What can San Quentin inmates tell us about human nature?


  February 12, 2018: Host Grace Won talks to Nigel Poor and Jody Lewen, both of whom work at San Quentin State Prison, often in active collaboration with inmates, and as such have a unique window into a world most of us never see.


Nigel Poor is the co-host and co-producer of Ear Hustle, a podcast that features prisoners sharing their experience of prison life.  Nigel is also a visual artist and professor of photography.

Jody Lewen is the founder and Executive Director of the Prison University Project at San Quentin, which in 2016 was awarded a National Humanities Medal from President Obama for providing prisoners access to higher education.

The programs that Nigel and Jody are involved in are part of the relatively robust selection of offerings available to San Quentin inmates.  It is a minimum security prison for the roughly 3,000 members of the general prison population who reside there, and has fewer violent incidents than other state prisons.  For all of these reasons, despite being overcrowded at 122% capacity, many California prisoners request to be transferred there.

Tonight, we will ask Nigel and Jody for their thoughts about redemption and the ability of these prisoners to become productive citizens.  We will ask what they’ve learned about basic human needs for human touch, for something to nurture, for personal connection, and what happens when those are taken away.  What do they know that we don’t, that would allow us to think differently about the criminal justice system?


Producer: Wendy Holcombe