How did we start using community radio? Starting 1998, as host of the rural, Appalachian region’s only hip-hop radio program “Lights Out,” Thousand Kites founder Nick Szuberla received hundreds of letters from inmates recently transferred from distant cities into two new, local SuperMax prisons. The prisoners’ letters described racism and human rights violations, and Szuberla responded first by playing a game of chess with the prisoners over the air and through the mail (he lost), and then with artistic projects, including bringing hip-hop artists together with mountain musicians and organizing radio broadcasts for prisoners’ families. Involving dozens of artists, volunteers, and friends the project continues to expand from the initial chess game.
Working with a team of artists, Szuberla produced a radio program that brought the voices of prisoners’ families to the airwaves. This work introduced us to a national network of people concerned about the high rate of incarceration and the often unreported human rights abuses that occur within our country’s prison system. Today, that network continues on in part of a new a national effort called Nation Inside.
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How are people using Thousand Kites radio in their communities:
- In Maine, a prison reform advocate played Kites radio for prisoners at the Hancock Jail and facilitated a discussion afterward.
- In Virginia, a prison-reform group played a program for state legislators as part of an effort to educate them about the criminal justice system.
- In Washington State, a prison activist group used a ten-minute program as part of a fundraising house party.
- At the Louisiana State Prison in Angola, prisoners aired Kites radio on their prisoner-run station, WLSP.
- In Kentucky, California and New York, educators are using Kites radio as part of their curricula for classes.