THE TRAINING PROGRAM
KALW, an NPR member station in San Francisco, has led classes in audio storytelling in production inside San Quentin State Prison since 2012, and Solano Prison since 2018. Since then, KALW has aired over 90 stories produced inside the walls.
The Uncuffed program's mission is to provide media training to people in the carceral system. Through the program, participants develop job skills, express their humanity, and inspire change.
In our audio storytelling classes, participants record and edit personal interviews and conversations. In our broadcast DJ classes, participants host a music show where they talk about their favorite songs.
The work goes out on KALW 91.7FM, KALW.org and the podcast Uncuffed. It's also available throughout California prisons on institutional TV and on tablet devices.
Uncuffed has won awards from the Public Media Journalism Association, Northern California Society of Professional Journalists and the San Francisco Press Club, and was a Local That Works finalist.
Our work has been featured in The New York Times, NPR, Ear Hustle, Reveal, Snap Judgment, KQED, The California Report, KCRW, The Kitchen Sisters Present, the UK’s Inside Time and National Prison Radio, Capital Public Radio, the San Francisco Public Press, Podcast The Newsletter, and 48 Hills.
Uncuffed is guided by an advisory board of formerly incarcerated leaders whose bios are below.
Uncuffed is a proud founding member of Prison Radio International. We brought six formerly incarcerated people to the first international prison radio conference in Oslo, and reported back on Norwegian prisons on the podcast.
"Uncuffed is like a golden conduit. It allows us to release emotions that have been pent up for years.” – Nathan McKinney, former participant at San Quentin State Prison
"We are incarcerated in California’s Solano State Prison and San Quentin State Prison. We record intimate stories of our struggles and triumphs, and of the heartache and forgiveness taking place within these walls. Uncuffed is vulnerable and personal. If you can see the humanity in us, you can see the humanity in everyone.
We’ve got the mic, and we’re telling our own stories."
– The Producers of Uncuffed
The Uncuffed podcast is a showcase for personal stories and deep roundtable conversations with the incarcerated Uncuffed producers. We also catch up with Uncuffed producers post-release, and hear from the friends and family of incarcerated people.
Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or any other podcast player (RSS).
San Quentin State Prison
Greg Eskridge is an award-winning journalist and a founding member of San Quentin Radio, where he currently serves as a facilitator and mentor. His stories have aired on KALW's Crosscurrents, on Life of the Law, and on Crooked Media. He co-produced Life of the Law's live storytelling event "Stand Up San Quentin," which won a local Emmy with KQED. Greg is a member of the Northern California chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists. He is also pursuing a college degree and is a facilitator of many self-help groups. As a journalist, his goal is to give incarcerated people a platform to express themselves as well as give the public an accurate account of prison life. When he is not producing, Greg is living out his basketball dreams. Despite 26 years of incarceration and being 47 years old, Greg still has a little game left.
Edmond Richardson was born and raised in Oceanside, California. His mission is to empower system-impacted communities by being an example of what healing and accountability looks like. He is a computer programmer, a film-maker, and an incarcerated journalist. In his free time Edmond enjoys writing poetry and spoken word pieces that directly reflect his personal life and experiences. He is a recovering introvert with a big personality and a great sense of humor. Edmond loves to learn and pushes the boundaries of his comfort zone by challenging himself every day to do something new. Lastly, Edmond believes that before any change can happen, a person has to heal from all of their past traumas.
Steve Drown is a man of many talents and ambitions. As of writing, he is 70 years old and has been in prison for 42+ years. Steve is an actor who has been able to continue his craft in Shakespeare. He is an accomplished writer who writes and edits for The Solano Chronicle, the prison paper, and is also a playwright. He is a photographer who would like to continue his creative nature in all genres mentioned above. Uncuffed at KALW gives Steve an additional voice.
Solano State Prison
b.f. thames (Brian) has come quite a long way from his ultra-strict Pentecostal upbringing to critical agnosticism. His worldview has evolved from violence as a veneer for personal insecurities to full disclosure and even self-deprecating humor in the several nonfiction books that he writes and publishes. Brian is a polyglot (English, French, and Spanish -- in order of proficiency), and autodidactic. He understands that sometimes the truth hurts, but truth also heals — which is why he is unapologetically truthful even to his own detriment at times. Brian is married to his high school sweetheart whom he has known for 35 years. He loves birds and dogs and plans to rescue two Great Danes when he’s released.
Spoon Jackson is an award-winning poet and writer who performed on stage with Common. He has won numerous awards for poetry and writing in general. He has been in numerous documentary films, one of which (At Night I Fly) won a Swedish Oscar for best documentary film. His books are Longer Ago, and By Heart.
Spoon is a native flute player, who loves to sit down by the education building facing the hill and play music for black birds, wrens, cow birds, sparrows and rock doves, who seem relaxed when he plays. He loves reaching out and connecting with the public. He is honored when someone is touched by his work. He longs to do projects with others. He has the work ethic of a tribe of ants. Spoon believes in one planet, one love and one people. Spoon is the Knight of Realness. Realness eats raw meat and has the staying power of the sun. May Uncuffed be with you.
Bryan Mazza: For Bryan, working for KALW and Uncuffed is a fulfillment of a childhood infatuation that spans back to he and his brothers making funny recordings in their bedroom back in Bethel Island. An avid listener to all mediums of radio, Bryan understands and appreciates a good story. Bryan is especially drawn to stories that portray people overcoming the odds and eliciting change in their lives. He likes a good underdog story. Or a story of those who take their time in prison and make something good and positive from it. KALW has lent him a platform in which to present these stories to the public. To show the world that prison isn't necessarily a dead-end but rather a place for new beginnings for those who want to change their lives.
Chanthon Bun was born in the killing fields of Cambodia. He immigrated to the U.S. and is a 1.5 generation immigrant. Chanthon was incarcerated for 23 years, and paroled in 2020. His passion is to help at risk kids and the immigrant community understand the traumas that their families have gone through. Inside, he was a facilitator and senior advisor in the Restoring Our Original True Selves (ROOTS) program, which aims to help the Asian Pacific Islander community heal from intersectional trauma. He is an accomplished artist specializing in pen urban art. Chanthon is also a CNC machinist. Chanthon has enjoyed sharing the personal stories of the incarcerated individual through the radio.
Dámon “L.A.” Cookë or “The Nomad” is a true force of nature; a powerhouse of creativity and ambition who never lacks vision even in the most dire of circumstances. In the free world Dámon was a financial consultant, sports figure, and musician who had a hand in helping to cultivate one of the music industry’s biggest and most influential record labels. L.A. is a family man, and a man for the family called humanity. Always the champion for the voiceless, marginalized and disenfranchised, he believes in lovingkindness. He paroled in 2022.
Joe Kirk paroled in 2020, after serving 5 years. The one thing that kept Joe going in prison was the memory of his grandparents' farm on the outskirts of Peoria, Illinois. When prison was loud and overwhelming, he thought back to the good old days, when the only sounds a person could hear where the gusts of the warm summer winds driving their way through the stalks of corn, and the red-breasted robins singing in the apple tree. A vision to keep a caged man sane. As a producer for Uncuffed, he said, “I do this because, throughout history, winners of wars and politicians have written what they call truth. We are making history from the mouth of the common man.”
Nathan "Nate" McKinney is a by-product of Los Angeles' undercurrent. Nate was galvanized through a myriad of life experiences. The intersection of various positive elements proved instrumental in blending culture and tradition, which aided him in his quest for the creative space to simply express his thoughts, feelings and emotions. He became a free thinker. Nate embraced the space that this mental apparatus provided and encourages all around him to freely express their own individual mental resolve. He would like to share some of his thoughts with all who will bring an open mind and heart to the arena of critical listening. Nate paroled from San Quentin in 2022, after serving more than 20 years.
Tommy "Shakur" Ross paroled in 2022, after being imprisoned for over 36 years. In 2012, Shakur helped launch the radio program at San Quentin, producing stories for KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco. In 2017, Shakur received an award for Excellence in Journalism by the Northern California Chapter of the Society for Professional Journalism, of which he is a member. He also earned an AA degree in General Studies at Patten College, graduating as class valedictorian in 2019. Other achievements include training and experience as a Peer Health Educator, Circle Keeper, group facilitator, mentor, event planner/organizer and Restorative Justice Practitioner.
Shakur is now teaching Uncuffed audio storytelling workshops for formerly incarcerated people.
Thanh Tran is a media-maker and journalist, raised in South Sacramento. He is a singer/songwriter whose lyrics are a direct reflection of his life experiences. Thanh is also an activist whose aim is to empower the broken communities he was raised in and change the criminal justice system as we know it. While incarcerated, he was the first Ella Baker Center Inside/Outside Fellow, writing about issues of mass incarceration. Thanh went home in 2022. He is a Policy Associate at the Ella Baker Center, and an advisory board member of Uncuffed.
Eric Abercrombie, Sound Designer
Eric Abercrombie (also known as Maserati-E) was born in Oakland, CA. He is a musician, producer, facilitator, and activist. He learned sound design and film while incarcerated, and was featured in the Uncuffed episode "Maserati E" and the Emmy nominated Documentary “Q-Ball.” Eric shows the world how people are not defined by their past or current conditions, and gives a glimpse of what can be accomplished when people are afforded the opportunity. Eric plans to change the world by changing the way we view the world.
Ninna Gaensler-Debs, San Quentin Lead Teacher & Senior Producer
Ninna Gaensler-Debs leads KALW’s program at San Quentin State Prison. Ninna worked as a reporter and editor for Crosscurrents for almost 7 years. Her work has appeared on 99% Invisible, KQED, NPR, Snap Judgement, Matter, Detour, and more. In addition to her work at San Quentin, she currently teaches as an adjunct professor in Audio Production at University of San Francisco, and serves as an editor for Condé Nast’s audio division, editing the Get WIRED podcast.
Oliver Gomez, Broadcast DJ Teacher
Oliver is a DJ from San Francisco who started DJ’ing at 12 years old. He first fell in love with the craft by listening to underground hip-hop on the radio and hearing the DJ’s spinning, mixing, and scratching songs by Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, Hieroglyphics and more. Now, Oliver is fulfilling his childhood dream working as a DJ for the San Jose Barracuda AHL Hockey team and for private and corporate events with Gatsby Event Studios. He is also a resident DJ at clubs in San Francisco and works with the local band Bayonics.
Angela Johnston, Senior Producer and Instructor
Angela Johnston is the health reporter for KALW Public Radio and Crosscurrents. She holds a Master’s degree in journalism and graduated from KALW’s Audio Academy program. She’s reported on everything from lead poisoning to climate change, and her work has aired on KALW, KQED, Reveal, and The Pulse. She just finished a UC Berkeley Food and Farming Fellowship, and has won numerous awards for her work. Angela is an accomplished editor and teacher, and has taught audio journalism classes at San Quentin State Prison.
Kathy Novak, Solano Lead Teacher
Kathy Novak is a journalist based in San Francisco. She was a foreign correspondent for television news outlets including CNN International and Al Jazeera English. Originally from Australia, she worked as a reporter and anchor for the Australian public broadcaster, SBS. Most recently, Kathy reported for KCBS Radio in the Bay Area, where she covered stories of incarcerated communities from inside and outside California prisons.
Sonia Paul, Editor and Instructor
Sonia Paul is a journalist, writer and producer based in Oakland. She’s produced podcasts and reported radio stories for Pushkin Industries, 70 Million, NPR, PRI and public radio affiliates, and her written work has appeared in outlets like WIRED, The Atlantic and Politico Magazine. Previously, Sonia reported in India as a freelance journalist, and she founded and produced the podcast Shizuoka Speaks while teaching in Japan. She is a 2022 fellow with the writing collective Periplus and mentors emerging to mid-career audio professionals through Soundpath.
Andrew Stelzer, Solano Lead Teacher
Andrew Stelzer has been teaching and editing stories at San Quentin since 2017, and Solano since 2018. Andrew has trained youth and adults in radio and podcast production all over the world: from Bolivia to New Orleans to the desert of Southern Jordan. He’s worked at KBOO, WMNF, KPFA, KQED, and KALW. He’s won numerous awards for his radio stories, which have appeared on NPR, Snap Judgement, Studio 360, Marketplace, Living on Earth, On the Media, Latino USA, and Radio Netherlands, among others.
Eli Wirtschafter, Program Director
Eli Wirtschafter is an award-winning radio producer, editor, reporter, and teacher. He graduated KALW’s Audio Academy in 2016, completed two internships at KQED, and became an editor and transportation reporter for KALW, before transitioning to direct their training programs in prison and to launch Uncuffed. He lives in Pasadena and is a multi-instrumentalist.
Maria Yates, DJ Program Lead Teacher
Maria [muh-RY-uh] Yates was 10 years old the first time she stepped behind a microphone at a local radio station and belted her heart out to listeners unknown. A lifelong passion was ignited that day. Growing up Maria put down deep roots in the South and Midwest before finally settling in the Bay Area in 2010. Maria made her DJ debut on WCRD 91.3 FM while earning a degree in Music Engineering Technology at her alma mater, Ball State University. She has been a DJ at KALX Berkeley 90.7 FM since 2015, serving in various other capacities at the station including News Director and Program Review Committee Chair. Additionally, you can now find Maria spinning tunes on the KALW airwaves on Monday nights. When not playing music on-air or writing her own, Maria dedicates her time to solidarity work around issues of homelessness, harm reduction, abolition and disability justice.
Ben Trefny, KALW Interim Executive Director
James Rowlands, Supervising Audio Engineer
Shereen Adel, Editorial Operations Manager
Victor Tence, Line Producer
Past Teachers and Editors: Leila Day, Ben Trefny, Kristin McCandless, Holly Kernan, Marissa Ortega-Welch, Jessica Placzek, Andrew Stelzer, and Tiana Williams.
Monica Hicks is a Computer Science undergraduate at Stanford University, where she is a
leader in the CS + Social Good Program. She is also an Above and Beyond Computer Science
(ABCS) Fellow. She is a connector, and believes in providing opportunities to people who lack
Rasheed Stanley-Lockheart is a program manager for The Ahimsa Collective, where he
facilitates groups in two different prisons and manages a re-entry house. He's also an activist
and advocate, and a former San Quentin firefighter and EMT. Rasheed wrote one of the
letters in our first special episode of Letters from the Outside.
Thanh Tran is a founding host of the Uncuffed podcast, a founding member of Forward This
video productions at San Quentin, and currently a Policy Associate at the Ella Baker Center.
Past board members: Isiah Daniels, Manuel Gomez, Kenneth E. Hartman, Joe Loya, Anthony Robinson, Jr.
San Quentin State Prison: Mr. Brown, Lt. Berry, and Ms. Tenney
Solano State Prison: Mr. Benton, Mr. McCann, Ms. Nessi, Lt. Speight, Mr. Vandeventer, Mr. Gen
Division of Rehabilitative Programs: Mr. Choate
Ajuan Mance, for logo design.
David Jassy, for original music.