A new Internet radio station launched today, March 1, featuring a wide variety of music, thought-provoking conversations, deeply felt stories, news, interviews and more, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 7. And this comes straight to you from the Colorado prison system.

Inner thread is the first project of its kind in the world, bringing music, stories, news and entertainment not just to Colorado prisons, but to audiences around the world. All programs are created by incarcerated media producers, designed to amplify the diverse voices and creations of those who live and work inside prison walls. Although the programming will be broadcast live on tape, it will include many of the traditional aspects that radio listeners have come to expect, from a morning show and current affairs to interviews and storytelling style storytelling.

The project is a collective brainchild of Ashley Hamilton, an assistant professor of theater at the University of Denver and co-founder and executive director of the DU Prison Arts Initiative, and her colleague Ryan Conarro, DU PAI staff member and executive director/ program director for Inner thread. The project is a collaborative effort with the Colorado Department of Corrections.

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Ashley Hamilton directs the DU Prison Arts Initiative.

Ashley Hamilton

The idea for a prison radio came about during discussions over the winter of 2020. “In the first year of the pandemic, we hosted a virtual event called living inside. It was available on YouTube, but also played on every TV in every prison in Colorado,” Hamilton says. “It featured artwork from multiple facilities across the state, and it got Ryan and I thinking about what it would mean for us to access this closed-loop system that CDOC has as a way to create art, storytelling and connection.

Conarro had a background in radio, having previously worked at a station in Alaska, and that sparked the idea for the project. “We were off to the races,” Hamilton said.

When Hamilton and Conarro presented the prison radio concept to the CDOC leadership team, it was embraced as both inspired and timely. “It’s funny, because at the time, at the end of 2020, we thought we were coming to the end of the pandemic,” Hamilton recalls. But the idea only seemed to improve as the effects of COVID lingered.

“I don’t want to idealize the pandemic in any way,” says Hamilton, “but I don’t know if it hadn’t happened, we would be launching this project now.”

The design of Inner thread, according to Conarro, is based on community radio models and their patchwork approach to programming. “The idea is that we serve a lot of different listeners and their needs and interests throughout the day,” he says. The music shows, which take up the majority of the daily airtime, will all be multi-genre and programmed by the incarcerated producers themselves. Currently, all programming will be produced onsite at three Colorado facilities: Limon Correctional, Sterling Correctional and Denver Women’s Correctional. The public will be able to access the radio via their browser, or on an application available on the Apple Store and Google Play. Colorado’s incarcerated population will see it offered on the CCTV system they already have access to; it will just be a new option.

Click to enlarge Ryan Conarro is the Managing Director/Program Director for Inside Wire.  - RYAN CONARRO

Ryan Conarro is the Managing Director/Program Director for Inner thread.

Ryan Conaro

There will be a programming schedule for the week and another for the weekends, similar to the programming of commercial radio stations. A complete program is already available on the Inner thread website, but here is a list of highlights from the original program:

  • Inner thread in the morning: America’s first statewide morning show by and for incarcerated people, hosted by Inner thread DJ at Limon Correctional Institution.
  • Jam and toast: Inner threadthe weekend morning music show of, hosted by Inner thread DJ at Denver, Sterling and Limon Women’s Correctional Facilities.
  • Domestic hotlines: A kind of audio bulletin board, including announcements and updates broadcast three times a day, for residents and staff of the Colorado Department of Corrections.
  • Melodies of the day on Inside Wire: From indie to hip-hop to recent hits… anti-gender music from within the walls, for all listeners.
  • Encore Hour: in music: Another chance to hear music and talk about Morning inner thread.
  • An air: A fun and quirky show that’s sure to please fans with its concept theme: you’re stranded on a desert island or in outer space, and you only take one song with you. Which will it be and why? CDOC residents and staff share their stories behind their “one tune”.
  • Behind the mic on the inside wire: Profiles of Colorado Prison Residents and Staff Who Guard Inner thread in your ears and on the airwaves, from full-time producers, to short-term contributors, to musicians, to CDOC support staff.
  • Cable: Original audio functions of Inner thread and other prison producers, offering nuanced glimpses of life inside, including facility program profiles; audio postcards of life on the inside; legislative and topical updates; and partner programs like the DU PAI podcast In).
  • Nights on Inside Wire: Plug in as you settle in: nighttime music from within the walls, for listeners on both sides.
  • Up to the Minute with Dean Williams: One of the most striking offerings is this ongoing, unfiltered conversation between incarcerated residents and Dean Williams, the executive director of CDOC.

Conarro praises “the power and potential of radio as a way to cultivate a sense of community, camaraderie and connection.” There is value in accomplishing such meaning in a system that too often does the opposite, he adds; radio is particularly well placed to combat this isolation. It provides the ability to not just be a voice, but to be a publicly available synchronous voice that reaches people inside and outside prison walls.

Click to enlarge Anthony Quinana Jr., Limon Correctional Facility.  - INNER WIRE

Anthony Quinana Jr., Limon Correctional Facility.

Inner thread

“It’s a shared community,” he says. “Incarcerated producers have stronger platforms for their own stories and experiences, to connect with each other, and then amplify those voices through the system. It’s really fundamental to what we all hope prison can do, that is to help people [to be] as prepared as possible to return to their communities healthy, contributing and connected.

“Based on all of DU PAI’s work,” Hamilton concludes, “from Inner thread to our newspaper, the Internal reportto our podcast, In), we are committed to changing the conversation about prison and the community that makes up the criminal justice system. The amazing thing about Inner thread is that we have an incredible opportunity for the public to begin to change their understanding of what is going on inside these systems. We can be more nuanced in our thinking about prison by engaging in this project. We are committed to creating truly amazing artwork. We hold ourselves to a high aesthetic standard as artists. But it doesn’t matter how strong the art is if we don’t also do this hard work of connecting, building community, growing and healing. That’s what drives all of this.

For more information on Inner thread and to listen to the stream online, check out the project website.