Prison Stories | KALW

Prison Stories

KALW trains incarcerated people to become reporters and audio producers. Using professional-quality equipment, they record and edit their stories from inside prison.

Listen to San Quentin Radio

Listen to Uncuffed, from Solano State Prison in Vacaville. Find out more and meet the radio producers here.

This project is supported by Arts in Corrections, a program of the California Arts Council with funding from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.


From San Quentin Radio:

Back in the 90s, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, or CDCR was trying to manage escalating violence behind prison walls. One way they decided to address that issue was by establishing something called Sensitive Needs Yards, or SNY, in order to separate out people who might need protective custody from the general prison population.

Bart Heird, used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / cropped

From San Quentin Radio:

In prisons across the United States, incarcerated people often separate themselves by race or ethnicity. Blacks hang with blacks, whites with whites, and so forth. But at San Quentin, people of all races participate in playing in a role-playing game called Dungeons and Dragons. They defy prison politics to share in a fun activity and also escape from the stress of the prison system.

Black, Jewish, and incarcerated

Oct 4, 2018
Steve Drown

From the series Uncuffed:

Damon Cooke and JulianGlenn “Luke” Padgett are old friends. They did time together at San Quentin before being transferred to Solano Prison. They also share a common identity: Both of them are Jewish men of color.

Spoon Jackson keeps writing poetry after 41 years in prison

Oct 3, 2018
Steve Drown and JulianGlenn Padgett

From the series Uncuffed:

Poet Spoon Jackson has won awards from PEN America, provided lyrics for Ani DiFranco, and collaborated with Swedish composer Stefan Säfsten — all while serving time. Now, Spoon is a producer for Uncuffed, KALW’s new series created by men at Solano State Prison.

Courtesty of San Quentin Radio

From San Quentin Radio:

When people are sentenced to prison time in California, they’ll either serve a finite period, like, seven years, or an indefinite period. If they can demonstrate ‘good behavior’ in prison, incarcerated people can be eligible for a parole hearing to decide whether they might be released, with certain conditions. But, being approved for parole doesn’t mean someone gets to go straight home — there’s a catch.

Navy vet uses discipline to survive prison

Oct 2, 2018
JulianGlenn Padgett

From the series Uncuffed:

Steve Drown has been doing time since 1978. In his 40-year journey through California prisons, one way Steve has stayed out of trouble is by doing paperwork. For years, he was a clerk, typing up reports every time there was a stabbing or shooting.

Steve Drown and JulianGlenn Padgett

From the series Uncuffed:

Damon Cooke says that anger used to make him feel powerful. It would also get him into trouble. After getting locked up, Damon started to think about his relationship with rage as a kind of love affair — one that he had the power to end.

Asian Prisoner Support Committee

From San Quentin Radio:

ROOTS — or Restoring Our Original True Selves — is a restorative justice program that helps Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at San Quentin Prison address that intergenerational trauma. One incarcerated man shares his family’s story, and how the program helped him learn more about himself.

Steve Drown

From the series Uncuffed:

JulianGlenn Padgett

From the series Uncuffed:

Joe Kirk is known for his quiet ways, and commitment to the arts. He’s a musician, a singer, and an actor. Before he came to prison, he used to ride the rails, going from town to town and playing music. I spoke to Joe about the life he left behind.

The bird man of San Quentin

Jun 6, 2018
"Pigeon" by CC Flickr user jans canon, resized and recropped

With San Quentin has dozens of self-help programs for inmates. But one man foregoes them all, creating his own form of therapy through feeding birds.

The barbers of San Quentin

Apr 4, 2018

Getting a haircut can make a person feel good. For the men in San Quentin, it's no different. Some of the barbers are paid to cut hair. Others volunteer to do so. It can be a complex process, but it's important in the prison environment.

Autism Behind Bars

Apr 3, 2018
Flickr user Michael LoRusso / Cropped and reused under CC license:

Autism is extremely hard to diagnose, because it can’t be tested for blood or genes. It’s a behavioral disorder. Often a parent or teacher has to notice the signs and request that a child is tested. Many people are living their lives without realizing they have autism. This includes people in prison.

Christmas in San Quentin

Dec 21, 2017
Franco Folini / Wikimedia Commons

Holidays can bring about complicated feelings for many inmates. There's no work or school at that time, so the men are given leisure time to relax, maybe watch TV, and some receive visits from family on Christmas day. But for others it's a painful reminder that they’re not able to spend time with those they love most.

Reporter Louis A. Scott talked with several members of San Quentin Media to see how they celebrated or avoided Christmas.