The Prisoner-Run Radio Station That’s Reaching Men on Death Row

The Prisoner-Run Radio Station That’s Reaching Men on Death Row

As before long as I push earlier the East Tempe Church on the outskirts of Livingston, Texas, I can hear the snicker monitor on my radio. It’s from “Martin,” a 3-decade-outdated television sitcom. The fictional Detroiters’ racy wisecracks appear to be incongruous crackling by means of my car or truck speakers on a winding state road.

When the laughter dies down, the slight Southern lilt of a DJ named “Megamind” cuts in to introduce the next segment.

“Bringing it to you home services-fashion,” he claims, signing off with a catchphrase that’s a small little bit tongue-in-cheek: Like most of his listeners, Megamind doesn’t have a place. He lives on a metal bunk in a greatest protection prison, and his authentic title is Ramy Hozaifeh. To the men in the Allan B. Polunsky Device, he is very best recognized as a typical voice on 106.5 FM The Tank, the prison’s possess radio station.

The Tank is so reduced wattage you can only hear it for a minute or two just after you leave the parking lot. But the programming is as abundant and diversified as any professional station on the outside, with demonstrates masking every little thing from heavy steel to self-enhancement. It’s all recorded in a studio hidden deep within the prison and stocked entire of devices, most of which was donated by churches and spiritual groups. It doesn’t have the fame or subsequent of San Quentin’s “Ear Hustle” podcast, but The Tank allows adult males on one of the most restrictive death rows in the region to have a voice that reaches outside of their cells. Usually — just like in most lockups — the prisoners at Polunsky are not permitted to write letters to each individual other. But for the radio station, the warden carved out an exception, letting them to move together essays and poems for the personnel chaplains to provide to Hozaifeh and his fellow DJs, affording the most isolated adult males in Texas a uncommon opportunity to be element of the jail community.

The Tank’s programming includes a wide range of offerings, from mid-day announcements to stock tips to religious services to heavy metal shows.

Each morning, Hozaifeh performs an episode of “Martin” or “Sanford and Son” — reveals that continue to make feeling for listeners who cannot see the action because they are locked in a cell with no television. “You can pay attention to their clowns,” he explained. “You do not have to see them at all.”

Like most lockups, existence in the approximately 3,000-gentleman jail an hour and a 50 percent north of Houston is very bleak, primarily for the large-safety prisoners who expend most of their time in solitary. That features a couple hundred guys isolated mainly because they’re deemed dangerous or in risk, but it also contains practically 200 adult males on Texas’ demise row. For decades, the guys on the row have been disconnected from the prison’s typical inhabitants. They simply cannot go to the mess hall or the chapel or the major property, so most of the time they only satisfy their fellow prisoners in passing — like when janitors arrive by to mop or hand out towels. They can not go to courses or jail careers, and they really do not have tablets or televisions. But they do have radios.

The initial time I listened to about the station was from a guy on loss of life row named John Henry Ramirez. It was a week right until he was scheduled to be executed, and I’d visited him to check with about his plea for prison officers to enable his Baptist pastor lay a hand on him as he died. He answered my thoughts about his faith and no matter whether he feared demise, but what he really wanted to tell me about was the radio station.

“When you get out to the parking great deal, you can just tune in, and you are going to listen to,” he claimed. By the time I acquired back outside, he defined, I could catch the midday information update with the day’s menu. “It’s turn out to be these a large portion of Polunsky,” he additional. “You ought to listen to all the people converse about it.”

The station started out in early 2020, when Warden Daniel Dickerson arrived at Polunsky, and some prisoners approached him with a dilemma: Would he allow them commence a radio station?

He’d been questioned all sorts of odd issues in the 24 several years he’d labored for the Texas prison program — but this a person was a initially. Even now, he made the decision to hear the males out.

“When they stated it and what was likely to be carried out — and of class everything’s pre-recorded, so it can be looked at and reviewed — it did not seem like a bad notion,” he explained.

Daniel Dickerson spent 24 years working for Texas prisons before he transferred to the Allan B. Polunsky Unit where the prisoners quickly hit him with a question he’d never been asked: Could they start a radio station?

In his eyes, it seemed like a radio station could assist give the gentlemen one thing to treatment about and hook up with — in particular when the jail was far too shorter-staffed to expand their programming any other way. And in the early days of the pandemic, Dickerson reported, it also seemed like a excellent way to assist prisoners all throughout the facility comprehend what was heading on, even individuals who could not leave their cells.

“They may perhaps not all have Television set, but most every person has a radio,” Dickerson informed me. “And any person who’s been on a cell block is familiar with some people will turn the radio up loud ample in which even if you did not have 1, you are most likely going to hear it in any case.”

The initial time he sat down in his workplace and tuned in, he did not regret it.

“It’s your possess minor jail city radio station,” he mentioned, flashing a cock-eyed grin. “And you can stroll close to and see the modify in men and women.”

Even as a customer, I can see it, far too. Usually when I job interview gentlemen on death row, we discuss about their scenarios or their forthcoming death dates or the problems they live in. But now, they rattle off the programming plan they know by heart. There is “Smooth Groove” — that’s R&B — on Sundays, then rap on Mondays and Latin tunes on Tuesdays. There’s a night time for Megamind’s conspiracy concept present inspired by “Coast to Coastline AM,” and a evening for option songs.

“My favorite present is the significant metallic demonstrate,” Ramirez reported. It is referred to as “Tales from the Pit,” and the group of prisoners who host it refer to themselves as “pit chiefs” and their listeners as the “pit crew.” Recently, they’ve taken to referring to Ramirez as a pit chief, way too, mainly because he’s created to them so frequently, he’s develop into a component of the demonstrate.

In some means, The Tank is like a local community center for males who can by no means leave their cells. Apart from the tunes and the everyday bulletins, the DJs stream information and participate in soundtracks to videos. (The chosen genre is rom-coms, Hozaifeh confided — but “they seriously detest jail flicks.”)

There are also spiritual expert services, a Biblical rap display, suicide prevention applications and inventory ideas from demise row. In some cases, the adult males job interview just about every other, and after they interviewed the warden. When I visited in Oct, they interviewed me.

I’d been so drawn in by Ramirez’s enthusiasm in the course of our conversation that I wished to come back again and see the station. The warden led me through a maze of walkways and hallways right before we received to a little home buried inside of the facility. From the outdoors, it appeared like the door to a closet — but inside of, the place was filled with sound equipment and computer systems. Except for the DJ’s white prison uniform, the scene could have been within an upstart studio everywhere in the outdoors planet.

106.5 FM The Tank launched in early 2020, thanks to support from the new warden and donated equipment from churches and religious groups.

When Hozaifeh strike history, we talked some about my existence — how I ended up in prison myself and how I became a reporter afterward. But I have been masking prisons in Texas lengthy more than enough that a large amount of the men previously know these issues about me, and some despatched in far more idiosyncratic concerns in advance of time: What was your favourite point on commissary? Do you like Madonna, Pearl Jam or Led Zeppelin? Pizza, steak or tofu?

From their cells and bunks, the men of Polunsky steer the job interview. It’s an not likely way to take some evaluate of manage in the heavily controlled earth of jail, and to listen to their have text on the air at a station operate by them and for them.

That’s been section of the attraction for Jedidiah Murphy, who’s been on dying row for 20 several years. Given that he commenced listening to The Tank, he’s been composing in to Megamind’s conspiracy theory display consistently. While the quirky written content aligns with his passions, it is not the main attraction: It’s the audience that does not decide him by his past, because they all have pasts much too.

“When you have people in prison that really don’t even really Care about the crime or the circumstance, that is a thing that a lot of of us have not seen,” he wrote to me. “This is inmate-operate for INMATES.”

The fellas operating the radio station fully grasp how significantly that usually means. They’ve never ever been on loss of life row, but many of them — together with Hozaifeh — have been in solitary, also, and they know how disorienting the constant isolation can develop into.

Every morning, Hozaifeh starts off the day by airing 90s sitcoms, shows that still make sense even when you can’t see them. He greets his audience with the tongue-in-cheek catchphrase: “Bringing it to you, room service-style.”

“You just don’t know if you exist any more,” Hozaifeh explained. “It just sort of eliminates your humanity from you, and I imagine the radio has place that back again in the equation.”

In September, a number of days before Ramirez was to be executed for the 2004 killing of a keep clerk, the fellas who run the heavy metallic clearly show curated a playlist for him and performed pre-recorded messages from his within buddies and outside supporters. The rap clearly show read through letters from listeners, recounting ways in which his contributions to the station experienced touched their life.

As for each standard, he tuned in — but this time he acquired to respond with his individual voice. The day prior to Ramirez was scheduled to go to the loss of life household, the warden built an unparalleled choice: He allow the condemned male go to church. It was a unique provider outside the house, and there was a chain website link fence among Ramirez and the choir from Standard Inhabitants — “GP” — but it was however a to start with for loss of life row. Afterward, The Tank aired the most effective bits for the complete jail to listen to.

When Ramirez spoke, he talked about his regrets and described how he cried as he viewed his mother walk absent from her ultimate visit. But he also talked about the radio station, and how it had offered him a single previous chance to be part of a community.

“I will not know if y’all truly comprehend how major that is due to the fact y’all in GP,” he instructed the other prisoners. “Look at how y’all all next to every single other. Y’all posted up, y’all strolling all over, y’all touching each and every other. We ain’t received none of that. Y’all received neighborhood. We on your own, we all by ourselves.”

In advance of prolonged, he’d be likely someplace else by yourself, using the last methods to his own loss of life in a sterile place an hour away in Huntsville. “Do you know how big that is?” he requested. “From all that I took out of the planet, all the negative I did, all the individuals I harm…all that selfish carelessness that I did as an fool minimal child, now I acquired to pay back for it as a person.”

As he talked, the adult males listening fell silent.

“For years now, the only detail I could do was make it about all people else,” Ramirez continued, detailing how he poured himself into the station in the hope that he could depart behind one thing great to help other individuals.

“Because it really is vital to me, person, it is significant to me and that’s all I can do. I am by itself. I’m by yourself in that mobile. Which is all I can do is give you my text.”

One particular day later on — on the evening he was to be set to dying — the U.S. Supreme Court made the decision to listen to his appeal, halting the execution. Now, even though he waits for the justices to weigh in, Ramirez is again on the row and tuning into The Tank all over again, mailing Megamind his ideas and contributions.

When I left from my October go to to the station, I headed off in the opposite route from which I’d occur, thinking of Ramirez and Hozaifeh and the small home stuffed with seem gear. I flipped on my radio to 106.5 FM, and listened as Megamind pumped up his listeners, chatting about religion and gratitude and acquiring methods to make which means out of lifetime driving bars. Just just after I handed the Dollar Standard, his voice started to fade, changed by the staticky terms of a distant like track.

Ferne Dekker

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