January 8, 1999


With the number of prisoners in the United States rising rapidly, we present stories of their lives and the lives of their families and children.


Host Ira Glass with jazz musician Ed Ryder, who was in prison in Pennsylvania for twenty years for a murder it was later proven he did not commit. Ryder played jazz in the pen and out of the pen. He says playing jazz for inmates is a completely different experience. The culture of prison is completely different, and it even affects how prisoners listen to jazz. (4 minutes)
Act One

I Mess With Texas

Over two decades ago, not long after he got out of Texas prison for robbery, Ray Hill got a job at his local public radio station, KPFT in Houston. He started a weekly program about Texas prisons that's now the leading muckraking voice in the state when it comes to exposing graft and corruption in prison facilities there. He also does something else that makes it one of the most unusual and remarkable radio programs in the country: For most of an hour, he takes calls from people whose families are in prison; they talk to their loved ones behind bars, over the radio. Ray explains, and we hear clips from his show. (14 minutes)


“God Bless the Child” by Ed Ryder
Act Two

Mother's Day

As the number of female prisoners climbs, visiting rooms are packed on Mother's Day. Eighty percent of female inmates have children at home. Amanda Coyne has been to a number of these Mother's Days, bringing her nephew to visit his mother and Amanda's sister. Among the difficult moments that come with these visits: What do you say to a five-year-old who wants to know if mommy is a bad guy? (11 minutes)
Act Three

Who's Your Daddy?

A reading of a pamphlet written by ex-con Stephen Donaldson for heterosexual men who are about to enter prison, about how to "hook up" with a stronger man —"daddy" or "jocker"—who'll provide protection in return for sex. He explains the rules and mores that govern this part of American prison culture. There's no graphic language and there are no graphic images in this story, but it does acknowledge the existence of sexual acts. Read by Larry DiStasi. (6 minutes)
Act Four

Open Your Big Mouth

What happens when you go into a place—in this case a prison—where there are all sorts of codes about what you're never supposed to say...and you say every one of them. Rick Reynolds tells a story from his one-man show (and CD) All Grown Up and No Place to Go, about performing stand-up comedy at a maximum security prison just before Christmas a few years ago. (6 minutes)


“In the Jailhouse, Now” by Steve Earle and the V-Roys
Act Five

Color Bar

Former South African political prisoner Breyten Breytenbach, on how prison changes all your perceptions in ways that last after you've been released. The painter and poet was interviewed by New Yorker writer Lawrence Weschler for a radio series called Territories of Art, for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1986. Lawrence Weschler used the interviews in writing his book Calamities of Exile. Breytenbach recounts the experiences in his book The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist. (11 minutes)