the women behind the nation’s first prison radio show
The Colorado Department of Corrections works with the University of Denver Prison Arts Initiative to broadcast “Inside Wire”. Ashley Hamilton is Executive Director of the DU Arts Initiative and Adjunct Professor at DU.
“I’m more interested in what’s happening behind the radio station: the self-growth, the systemic growth, and the change that’s happening because of that programming,” Hamilton said. “And I see the radio station as a vehicle through which we can look back on who we have been and who we choose to be in the future.
The various shows on “Inside Wire” include music, talk, entertainment, podcasts, interviews with various prisoners, and commercials. They are all recorded, produced, written and edited by Colorado prisoners. Ryan Conarro also works with the Prison Arts Initiative at the University of Denver and is the Managing Director of “Inside Wire”.
“Cynthia is a grounded and stable voice in the studio, literally and figuratively. She brings a lot of experience from her time in prison and from her own extensive work. She is a leader in the establishment. She is a mentor for other programs. People look to her as a guide to what matters to those who want to grow and change in prison,” Conarro said.
The radio station broadcasts from three studio locations within the Department of Corrections — Denver, Limon and Sterling Women’s Correctional Facility. Currently, 15 incarcerated producers work at the three sites.
The show is also available to the public through the “Inside Wire” app or on the Colorado Prison Radio website. The idea is to let prisoners tell their own stories to help create a sense of connection with people who are not in prison.
“Here’s a chance for me to connect the inner world with the outer world to show that there are people here whose voices need to be heard, people who have been rehabilitated,” Gonzalez said. “Since I have been incarcerated, I have known people who have come here who feel like they have no hope, but they have changed so much during their incarceration.
The Colorado Department of Corrections reports nearly 95% of incarcerated people will be released from prison. Hamilton said it was all the more reason to give prisoners the opportunity to develop skills before release.
“The more we can support people indoors on their journeys and ensure that their time indoors is purposeful and meaningful and filled with rehabilitation and growth, the more impact we have on their future. We hope they will be less injured when they return home because they had an experience inside that changed the way they were,” Hamilton explained.
Gonzalez may never get the chance to leave, but she said that won’t stop her from trying to improve.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I have to constantly work on myself. Motivate yourself to be the best person you can be here. For a very long time, I just hung around here. I challenge my mentees all the time they need to push themselves and go through programs and take classes because you’re going to rehabilitate yourself that way,” Gonzalez said.
And she continues to control her narrative, telling her story and encouraging others to tell theirs.
Dana Knowles is a media reporter at Rocky Mountain PBS and can be reached at [email protected].
Alexis Kikoen is senior producer at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at [email protected].