To say that life behind bars is isolating is an understatement. There are restrictions on phone calls and visits. And sometimes, family and friends have to travel long distances — making those in-person visits even more infrequent.
No one understands that more than ex-convicts, who advocate for fostering a support system outside of jail to help reduce the chance of recidivism. And that’s exactly why former inmate Ray Hill created “The Prison Show,” a two-hour program dedicated to Texas’s inmates and hosted on the publicly-funded KPFT radio station every Friday night.
“We simply want them to maintain an outside support system,” Hill told the Texas Tribune in 2012. “Without a support system, when they walk out those doors, they’re going to fall back into the problems that brought them there in the first place.”
The show, launched in 1980, features a variety of segments including call-ins from friends and family, live music performed by former inmates and news programs addressing prison issues like prison health, civil rights and the death penalty, Voice of America reports. The show’s staff is comprised of volunteers — some who served time themselves and others who are affected by incarceration.
Though the program only reaches one-sixth of inmates in Texas, which is considered the largest state correctional system in the U.S. with 109 prisons, it serves as an example for correctional facilities elsewhere.
“What this show has become has led to other shows in other parts of the country adopting a similar format,” said Bill Habern, an attorney featured on the show to talk about legal rights in prison.
The show has even hosted wedding ceremonies, including its own proxy-wedding coordinator Anne Staggs, according to the Texas Tribune. Staggs was a prison nurse and lost her job and visitation rights when her supervisors found out about her relationship with a prisoner. On the airwaves and accompanied by a minister, her family and a wedding cake, Staggs married her incarcerated husband, who listened from his cell as Hill stood in to read the vows.
While “The Prison Show” has inspired stories of unrequited love, it’s mostly a chance for convicts to be a part of a greater community during an often isolating experience. Producer David Collingsworth, a former inmate, first listened in from his cell.
“It showed me that somebody cared,” Collingsworth told VOA. “Somebody was actually out there who cared.”