In our criminal justice work, CFSC seeks to elevate the voices of those with lived experience. We believe that listening to these voices is essential for genuine and meaningful system change. For obvious reasons, direct access to the voices of people currently or formerly incarcerated can be hard to find. Intriguingly, the development of podcasting may have created a partial solution to this problem.
Since the release of the first podcast in 2004, this channel of communication has grown dramatically. The Podcast Exchange estimates that more than eight million Canadian adults listen to podcasts at least once a month. To improve our understanding of the harmful nature of the Canadian criminal justice system by listening, we spent the month of December searching for podcasts that directly present the voices of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated persons.
Below we summarize three of our podcast discoveries. We recommend that you sit back, click a link you like, and have a listen.
“Organizations across Canada are working collaboratively to strengthen the voices of all impacted by incarceration.”
Hosted by Rosemary Green, this CBC podcast focuses on the lived experience of women involved with Canada’s criminal justice system. Rosemary, a former inmate herself, a mother, and a prison reform advocate, explores a comprehensive range of topics from parenting within prison to the gross over-representation of Indigenous women in Canadian prisons.
Episode Four: Parenting from the Pen
In episode four, Rosemary discusses the topic of parenting and motherhood from the inside. The enduring effects of parental incarceration are apparent as one guest comments “even when my husband walks out the door to go to the store, he (her son) thinks he’s leaving him, he says, ‘I’m going to miss you, Papa. Are you coming back, Papa?’”
Episode Five: Inside and Indigenous
In episode five, as the title suggests, Life Jolt explores the subject of the incarceration of Indigenous women. The podcast touches on Canada’s violent colonial history, its impacts, and current injustices.
Miranda says: While I was listening to these episodes, I was deeply affected by how the personal stories and journeys throughout our lives are influenced by those who came before us and will further touch those who come long after we are gone.
Off the Record
Off the Record is hosted by two young men that have lived experience with the criminal justice system and are determined to have open and honest discussions about their lives before, during, and after incarceration.
Season Two, Episodes 4-6: How to Love from the Outside
In a three-episode series, Off the Record explores the complications of being involved in a relationship with someone who is incarcerated. We hear from Cindy, who loves and cares for her incarcerated partner. Cindy discusses how communicating with someone on the inside can be emotionally draining, and that staying strong and positive for everyone, including herself, is difficult.
Cindy mentions the lack of support services for individuals in her situation. “If we want to talk about incarceration, and we want to talk about the effects and reducing the effects of incarceration… then support services need to be available.”
Miranda says: Cindy’s deep empathy for others impacted me. She was continuously making sure those around her were comforted and had all the supports they needed. This episode highlighted the need for families to be involved at all stages of the incarceration process, and for information to be collected regarding supports needed for those on the inside and their families.
The Ear Hustle website describes the podcasts as “the daily realities of life inside prison shared by those living it, and stories from the outside, post-incarceration.”
Season Eight, Episode 67: Tray Tumbler Spork
Ear Hustle has an “inside team” (currently incarcerated) and an “outside team.” Both teams interact directly with one another and are featured on the podcast. Members of the outside team take a 30-day challenge and pledge to follow a specific set of constraints similar to those you find in a prison. This means changing the way they eat, get dressed, and exercise for one month. They discuss their experiences directly with inmates at San Quentin Prison (the “inside team”).
The intention isn’t to duplicate a prison life, but rather to “see how constraint shapes the way we see the world.” Members of the outside team are concerned that the challenge might seem disrespectful to the inside team. But incarcerated team members said they felt that the 30-day challenge showed that people on the outside thought about them and cared about those on the inside. They were not forgotten.
Season Eight, Episode 68: Camp Grace
The Ear Hustle team follow a group of children into maximum security Salinas Valley State Prison. The children are there to spend two days with their fathers, whom many haven’t seen in years.
Camp Grace is an established project. Usually the father-child gatherings take place over a five-day period, which allows for more connection and relationship mending/building. This year, due to the pandemic, the time was reduced to two days.
In this heart-warming podcast we hear the voices of children and their fathers. Before the visit, the children are asked for “a rose and a thorn.” Answers include roses: “my family, my dog, my cat, being able to see my dad” but also “I don’t have a rose, just a thorn: I don’t know if I want to see my dad.” Fathers are also heard, “my kids live far away, they grow up so fast… feels like you are dying inside when you can’t take care of your own kids.”
For a father to have access to the Camp Grace experience, they must go for an entire year without any incidents. For one father, this meant exiting a prison gang. For this to be successful, he had to leave his routine and his friends and ask to be moved to another section of the prison. He said that it was “both the hardest and the best thing he ever did.” One father’s children did not show up for the visit because the mother changed her mind at the last minute.
Nancy says: For me, this podcast emphasized the importance of family and the harmful impact of incarceration on children and their families.
Podcasts such as Life Jolt, Ear Hustle, and Off the Record provide us unique access to the voices of lived experience within the criminal justice system. These podcasts are both impactful and a way to deliver new pathways for listeners and organizations to include lived expertise in the future development of policy and practice.
Many individuals on these podcasts mention the lack of support services available. CFSC is a founding member and provides significant logistical support to the Canadian Coalition for Children with Incarcerated Parents (CCCIP), which works on these issues.
Information about the problems faced by families is available on the coalition’s website. On the About page you can find a list of organizations across Canada working collaboratively to strengthen the voices of all impacted by incarceration.
Nancy Russell is CFSC’s Criminal Justice Program Coordinator. Miranda van Haarlem is a student from the Assaulted Women’s and Children’s Counsellor/Advocate program at George Brown College currently carrying out a placement with CFSC.