Con Air: Prisoners Making Radio As A Way To Break The Cycle

Inspired by UK radio station NPR -- which is listened to by 72% of all inmates -- there's now a local push to have a stronger network of radio programs made by prisoners, for prisoners.

Christine Lockwood has lived a life of addiction and crime.

The former inmate says radio is keeping her clean and on the right side of the law.

Over the past 20 years, she's been in and out of prison, but says she's no longer in a "revolving rut" and has found a way out of the "broken and drug addicted blur."

In 2016, after getting out of Adelaide's Women Prison, the 45-year-old got involved in community radio through her involvement with Seeds of Affinity -- a support group that helps women transition out of jail.

But it's not just any grassroots radio station -- Lockwood was taught to make radio for prisoners.

"Heather and Charlotte approached us to be involved and its been amazing. I have gained so much confidence. I've now been clean for over two years and there's so much more I want to do now to help others," Lockwood told 10 daily.

Dr Heather Anderson and former inmate, now prison radio producer Christine Lookwood. IMAGE: supplied

Dr Heather Anderson and Dr Charlotte Bedford are world-renowned academics in the field of prison radio, and they're both Adelaide-based.

They are also behind the newly-launched national Prisoner Radio Network  -- which connects radio prison program makers and seeks to roll out state-wide prison radio stations across the country.

"Prisoners are among the most hidden, unheard and misrepresented and silenced people in society," Anderson said.

Anderson and her team are working towards a statewide radio service made by prisoners for prisoners.

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With the support of the University of South Australia, and in partnership with South Australia's Department of Correctional Services, they are currently assessing the technology and infrastructure.

"We want prison radio available in all prisons and we want to tap into community radio to help make it," she said.

IMAGE: National Prison Radio UK

There are currently eight prison radio programs around Australia. They operate independently, and sometimes in an ad hoc way. Complexities are compounded by the various state and territory corrective services bodies, who all operate differently.

Some are made inside prison for prisoners, others are request shows that field inmate song requests. And the regularity varies -- from a hour a week segment, to a special radio prison event occurring once a week each year.

For example, during NAIDOC Week radio 3CR presents Beyond the Bars -- prison radio shows featuring the stories, poems, songs and opinions of Indigenous men and women in the Victorian prison system.

Anderson is collaborating with the UK's National Prison Radio (NPR). It's a decade-long service which now broadcasts 24-hours a day to 80 000 prisoners across the UK.

Phil Maguire is at the helm of the world's first national prison radio program, which is accessed by inmates in their cells via a television.

"Why do you care as an inmate? It's because it's a radio for you, about you and its broadcasting content with prisoners talking to prisoners about how to cope better and access services and how to increase your chances of doing well when you get out," he said.

NPR is funded by service providers who advertise to prisoners as well as the British government. It's produced by a combination of audio professional (many are ex-BBC staff)  and prisoners, who apply for the job and go through a recruitment process.

UK's National Prison Radio being produced. IMAGE: supplied

Maguire refuses to talk about the crimes his radio employees have committed, but did say the prisoner selection process takes into account the impact having them on-air may have on their victims and loved ones.

"For us it's about managing the risk to our partners, and to our reputation and we are doing important work and helping prisoners and we don't want to give the tabloid papers any reasons to write about us," he said.

He said almost all prisoners get out at some point, and a daily radio service is a way to help and equip them with skills they need to be successful on the outside.

NPR has has a yoga and mindfulness show to help prisoners deal with panic attacks and anxiety. Each year, it receives thousands of letters from prisoners. Around 1,000 prisoners contribute to the yearly output, and dozens work as producers across various programs.

Back home, Christine Lockwood is keen to share her lived experience as a prisoner and now a radio producer -- with other women who are locked up.

"We interview people live on radio about their experiences and we educate the prisoner community on topics that affect them," she said.

Lockwood recently visited Adelaide Women's Prison and held a workshop about prison radio and her journey.

"I would love more prisons and prisoners to get this opportunity. I have learnt so much and get so much joy out of it. I now have a duty to give back and help build prison radio in Australia."

Featured image: National Prison Radio

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au