How Earlonne Woods Podcasted His Way to Freedom, Introducing Michelle Obama and Her Mentees. He was like, "What's up, man?" A name that might be familiar to some of you listening to this podcast. Since the podcast’s launch in 2017, it’s been downloaded millions of times, featured in media outlets from NPR to The New York Times, and made several “best of” podcast rankings. “He commuted my sentence to be released forthwith, immediately, right now, it’s time to go, time to walk out that gate,” he added, laughing. Lt. Sam Robinson and Acting Warden Ron Broomfield at San Quentin State Prison for their support of the show, Pat Mesiti-Miller (Producer and Sound Designer emeritus), David Jassy (Contributor emeritus) and Curtis Fox (Story Editor emeritus). Earlonne Woods was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles. Didn't get my GED, didn't complete a trade, didn't do none of that. But we had -- like, you got a bonafide hit. Woods has served 21 years of a 31 to life prison sentence. It's great that you want to start writing letters to incarcerated people! When you living, like, the street life, you know, some people say every day could be your last, and that's true because you involved in a total different lifestyle. For the last 3 years he’s been helping inmates get their stories out in a remarkable podcast called Ear Hustle. That's exciting. So when they called me to the Captain's Porch ... ALEX BLUMBERG: And how do they do that? In it, Earlonne tells stories of re-entry from the outside, and Nigel Poor is joined by a new co-host to tell stories from inside San Quentin. In many ways, his is the classic redemption story. And we were -- and we were having -- we were pretty successful, and we had, like, some pretty, you know, pretty big shows. [phone ringing] But, in my heart, I knew that it was true. - The San Quentin Trust So when we made it to the top 10, we felt good. EARLONNE WOODS: She's like, "Put in a commutation, you know? So it affected the way that I started looking at the storytelling aspect and how powerful storytelling is, and, you know what it can be used for, you know? - The Secret Life of Prisons, from the Prison Radio Association in the UK So my process took long because -- it took about a year because I had to go through the California Supreme Court, and they'd have to agree with it. Governor Brown writes, “Mr Woods has clearly shown that he is no longer the man he was when he committed this crime.” And as evidence of that, the governor goes on to say, quote: “He has set a positive example for his peers and, through his podcast, has shared meaningful stories from those inside prison. And you -- you pretty much gotta be on the yard, in the middle of the yard to get, you know, a radio station. That's over. No one answered. Earlonne Woods, Co-Host Of Ear Hustle Podcast, Has Sentence Commuted ... inmate’s obsession with keeping small critters as pets in his cell or another’s struggle to be intimate with his wife while behind bars. And -- and, I was like, we going to hit a million, right? It's, like, going places I never even thought about, you know?". ALEX BLUMBERG: What'd you -- what'd you do? Since his release in October 2019, Antwan has committed himself to using his lived experience as a tool to deconstruct the school-to-prison pipeline. Like, I can go?" EARLONNE WOODS: It was like, it wasn't a bad thing growing up. And being that I was shot, the paramedics came to the scene, and as they were working on me, the paramedic said, "It don't look good for one of your friends." What did it feel like inside? How hard it is to actually make a podcast. There’s a turning point, where the person learns the error of their ways. Since the podcast’s launch in 2017, it’s been downloaded, announcing the commutation, the governor echoed that thought, saying Woods “has clearly shown that he is no longer the man he was when he committed this crime.”. EARLONNE WOODS: But, you know, um... when I got out of prison at, after six years, three months, hadn’t learned nothing in prison. And hopefully, you know, through what we do, we are able to open people's minds up to something beyond a headline or something beyond that to where, you know, it's a -- it's a -- it's a story of how people got here, good or bad. - Supervision, a four-part series about life on parole, produced by NHPR When did you launch the first episode live into the world? They drove off. So it was easy to get back into it. ALEX BLUMBERG: Well, I remember I heard the first episode. It's like, oh, this is the hard part. He’s undergone his transformative experience, losing his friend Furman, and he’s spent a decade-plus in prison, reflecting on what he’s done. Like, that's not been -- that's not good. EARLONNE WOODS: Okay. Maximum security? And at this point, Earlonne’s actual real-life narrative is mapping pretty accurately on top of that classic one. And they was like, "Well you know, that's kind of -- you know, that's like -- you know, that's like top one percent or --" I mean, you know, they was -- they was just basically giving this new dude some game on, you know, the numbers and what that mean. And then right before we launched, so we -- we -- we -- we had -- we had a meeting with Julie Shapiro, Curtis Fox, ... ALEX BLUMBERG: And these were all people from Radiotopia, and your editor Curtis... EARLONNE WOODS: Radiotopia. He is now 47. Earlonne grew up in South Central Los Angeles in the 1980s, when there was a lot of violence in the neighborhood. And so, you know, you think of, you know, only people get commuted is people on death row. And that changed everything. The stories was easy. It was -- man, the governor actually commuted my sentence out of I don't know how many people in this prison system. In general, due to the unique nature of our production, we do not respond to outside requests or pitches for material. We encourage you to do careful research and vet pen pal programs thoroughly before giving them your information. The Ear Hustle team works in San Quentin’s media lab and from offices on the outside in the San Francisco Bay Area. ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh! The podcast is a partnership between Nigel Poor, a Bay Area visual artist, and Earlonne Woods, formerly incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, and was co-founded with former San Quentin resident Antwan Williams. ALEX BLUMBERG: When Earlonne, Nigel, and Antwan finished their three pilots, they submitted them to Radiotopia - and waited. While incarcerated, he received his GED, attended Coastline Community College and completed many vocational trade programs. And she was basically giving us, so we were like, "Okay, cool, cool." Did you ... EARLONNE WOODS: No, I didn't know none of that. ALEX BLUMBERG: It's -- it's almost -- it's like a badge of -- it sounds like it's almost like a sign of success... EARLONNE WOODS: It is. He had a one-year-old son, and his wife was pregnant with his daughter, and he -- and he also had another little son. And then it was like, "Uh-oh! Like, it was more like, that's what's up, man. It's ... EARLONNE WOODS: It's -- it's a very heavy choice, but the reality of it is, she could've been right, you know? Like, you want to be able to, you know, have stuff to do. - Mass Exoneration, about people convicted of crimes they didn’t commit, in collaboration with the New England Innocence Project. ALEX BLUMBERG: Yeah. So, June 14th, 2017, is when we first launched. EARLONNE WOODS: ...Johnny Cash." We did three stories. All right, cool. ALEX BLUMBERG: You don't have social media. California Gov. In 2020, Ear Hustle was named a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in audio reporting — the first time the category was recognized — for bringing audiences “a consistently surprising and beautifully crafted series on life behind bars.” Ear Hustle has also received honors from the Third Coast International Audio Festival, the Webby Awards, the Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the Society for Professional Journalists, and was named a Peabody Award nominee in 2017 and in 2018. ALEX BLUMBERG: Right. It was his third felony charge. Earlonne Woods, co-host of the popular prison podcast Ear Hustle, had his sentence commuted by California Gov. Like, you know, when you have a felony, this -- it limits you in the future. You went to jail in jail, you know? “It’s out of body,” he said of getting the call from Brown’s office. He was like, "Yeah." Get all the latest election results from across the country, with up-to-the-minute maps and more. ALEX BLUMBERG: Have too much mail to read. To have your sentence commuted and to be released from prison? deYoung Museum, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. She is also a professor of photography at California State University, Sacramento. Prison rules prohibit Nigel from passing on any letters, but you can find all the information you'll need — an inmate's CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) number and the prison address — yourself.You can locate any inmate's CDCR number on the CDCR website, and find San Quentin’s address and instructions on their site, as well.And you'll find the names of the men featured in our stories on each episode page, in the show notes. Nigel Poor is a visual artist whose work explores the various ways people make a mark and leave behind evidence of their existence. “Ear Hustle” — the phrase is slang for eavesdropping — is a collaboration between Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, both prisoners at San Quentin, and Nigel Poor, a Bay Area visual artist who teaches photography classes at the prison. Somebody's gonna really, you know, get attached. ALEX BLUMBERG: So like Command-E. Slip, shuffle. So that was, like, really like -- like -- like, just basically giving us the game on what we were about to embark on. Which meant leaving behind his mom, who Earlonne says was his rock growing up - the one who worked long hours to make ends meet, and still made time to go to his football games. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and can be found in various museum collections including the SFMOMA, the M.H. Break me down. EARLONNE WOODS: And for me, you know, I was involved in gangs, so I just went to prison and continued the gang banging, you know, trade in prison, you know? HuffPost visited Woods at San Quentin earlier this year to discuss why he created the podcast. New York has also co-hosted a discussion with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns at San Quentin. Somebody gonna, you know, really get this, you know? Woods was involved in an attempted robbery in 1997, when he was in his 20s. And in that -- in that moment you're like, "We're ... EARLONNE WOODS: Oh, this ain't gonna look good. Or was this all just sort of like ... EARLONNE WOODS: So it was -- I would say this. ALEX BLUMBERG: With, like -- what was the software you used? All rights reserved. - California Reentry Program Ear Hustle is a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX, a curated network of extraordinary podcasts. And she started basically telling us about it. Yes you can. Earlonne Woods was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles. EAR HUSTLE PROMO: You are now tuned in, to San Quentin’s Ear Hustle…. EARLONNE WOODS: We're not -- we don't see nothing, no internet access. And I went to the security housing unit, which is pretty much solitary confinement a couple of times based on my activities in prison and I didn't pick up on it then, but my mother said the most deepest shit to me in a letter. EARLONNE WOODS: Um, inside we was -- we was oblivious to all that, you know? It’s not possible to bring collaborators into San Quentin State Prison regularly, nor to connect via internet or phone with the men inside. One of the stories is about these two cellmates who are  brothers — one who was a smoker, and the other one, who can’t stand the smoke... Eddie: And I was like trying to hold it in, trying to hold it in, and it was just eating at me, and then we just clashed in the cell. In that moment, you know? You can always donate to the show, to support what we’re doing, and help keep us Hustling into the future.

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