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Everything you need to know about Ear Hustle: the podcast that helped free its host from prison

Ear Hustle host Earlonne Woods celebrated freedom at Disneyland.

Podcasting Inmate Source: AP/PA Images

IN 2016, TWO prisoners in California’s San Quentin State Prison named Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams began making a podcast with the help of a woman named Nigel Poor, an artist who had been volunteering at the prison. 

The podcast won Radiotopia’s Podquest competition, and was subsequently released to the public in June 2017 on every popular podcast platform, where it quickly began to rise up in the charts. This podcast was called Ear Hustle (which is prison slang for eavesdropping or “listening in to something that isn’t your business”), and it details and documents what life is like inside an actual American prison, from the mouths of the inmates. 

We’ve all seen documentaries where the likes of Reggie Yates and Louis Theroux go behind the scenes at state prisons, but Ear Hustle is truly unlike anything that ever came before it. There are currently 26 episodes of Ear Hustle online,  spread over three seasons. Throughout these three seasons, we meet real inmates – sometimes fleetingly (for just one segment of a single episode), and sometimes more regularly (allowing us to become familiar with these individuals and their stories). 

These inmates share stories about their experiences and the lessons they’ve learned in and outside of prison. The show ranges from heartwarming and humorous, to solemn and sobering, often swinging between these two extremes within a matter of moments. For example, one minute the inmates will be laughing and joking about what they get up to during conjugal visits, and the next, they’ll be seriously reflecting on the damage that their imprisonment has done to their relationships with partners and family members. 

Earlonne, Antwan and the rest of the inmates talk about all of the topics you’d expect them to talk about, from life with cellmates, the food in prison and what they do for entertainment, to prison gangs, race and solitary confinement.

Often, they’ll document and showcase the musical talent of the inmates by recording and publishing songs that they have written. A fine example of this is the song Lost in Time by inmates Gregg Sayers and Maserati E. 

Source: Sebrina P./YouTube

 A pretty significant proportion of the inmates featured on Ear Hustle are serving life sentences, even though their crimes would not be viewed as particularly extreme to you or me, because of California’s Three Strikes law, which was enacted in 1994. The Three Strikes law increases the prison sentence of any person convicted of a felony who has been previously convicted of two or more felonies. 

So, Ear Hustle host Earlonne Woods was set to serve between 31 years and life for his own crime, which he speaks about in his podcast. His clemency application reads:

In 1997, Walter “Earlonne” Woods and several other men tried to rob Noel Castley-Wright outside his home. Mr. Woods pointed a gun at Mr. Castley-Wright, and one of his crime partners sprayed him with pepper spray. On March 30, 1999 the Los Angeles County Superior Court sentenced Mr. Woods to 31 years to life for attempted robbery, and prior felony and firearm enhancements.

Now obviously, pointing a gun at another individual isn’t very nice and we wouldn’t be in any rush to condone it. In 2018, Earlonne Woods had spent 27 years of his life in prison for this crime. He didn’t shoot the man. He wasn’t even the one who pepper sprayed the victim. Nobody died because of this man’s crime, but Earlonne was sentenced to 31+ years in prison.

Podcasting Inmate Earlonne Woods Source: AP/PA Images

Throughout Ear Hustle, you meet many more inmates who received excessive sentences for crimes like robbery, as well as other inmates who are open about the fact that they committed violent crimes which are more deserving of life sentences. 

Now going into its fourth season, Ear Hustle has given many of San Quentin’s inmates a platform to reflect on their mistakes and make their voices heard. For the work that Earlonne has done for the prison community in this podcast, he has been rewarded with the commutation of his sentence, which means that as of November 21st 2018, Woods was a free man. This was declared in a letter by the Governor of California: 

Mr. Woods has clearly shown that he is no longer the man he was when he committed this crime. Instead of remaining mired in criminal activity, he has worked hard to improve himself and contribute to the community around him. He has set a positive example for his peers and, through his podcast, has shared meaningful stories from those inside prison. For all of these reasons, I believe that Mr. Woods is ready to be released on parole. 

Earlonne’s family also vowed to help him in his commutation, offering him housing, financial support and help readjusting to life outside of prison in 2018.

Podcasting Inmate Source: AP/PA Images

Earlonne’s been documenting life in the outside world over on his Instagram account, where he posted his first picture from Disneyland, just days after his release. He wrote, “Freedom is good. Ok Disneyland was hella fun but sheesh it was expensive.” 

If you want to follow Earlonne’s journey outside of prison, here is his Instagram page. You can listen to Ear Hustle on Spotify or every other major podcast platform. 

And don’t worry, Ear Hustle will still continue even though Earlonne’s out of San Quentin. 

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About the author:

Kelly Earley

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