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.
Video submission for the 2020 Local That Works Competition
KALW, an NPR member station in San Francisco, has led classes in audio production inside San Quentin State Prison since 2012, and Solano Prison since 2018. Since then, KALW has aired over 80 stories produced inside the walls.
Radio producers from KALW visit the prisons to teach classes in audio production, and to help edit the stories. Audio engineers at KALW do some final polishing before it goes out to the world.
KALW’s classes in prisons are supported by the California Arts Council's Arts in Corrections program, which is funded by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Our work has been featured in The New York Times, Ear Hustle, Reveal, Snap Judgment, KQED, The California Report, KCRW, the UK’s Inside Time and National Prison Radio, Capital Public Radio, the San Francisco Public Press, Podcast The Newsletter, and 48 Hills.
Video versions of Uncuffed play on TVs throughout the California prison system on the DRP channels.
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.
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.
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.
Tommy "Shakur" Ross has been imprisoned for 35 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 declares, "I'm no longer doing time - I'm serving it."
Thanh Tran is an incarcerated journalist who was 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.
Solano State Prison
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. Some have described Dámon’s ability to socialize, empathize, and genuinely connect with people across the widest spectrum of humanity as nothing less than “magical.” 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. Shalom.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Ben Trefny, Executive Producer
Ben Trefny is the director of KALW’s news department. He produces the nightly news and culture show Crosscurrents, and supervises special projects including KALW's Audio Academy training program and Uncuffed. He has a Master's degree in journalism from the University of Oregon and has been teaching in prisons since 2012. He currently serves as the president of the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and helped establish its satellite chapter at San Quentin.
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 Los Angeles and is a multi-instrumentalist.
Ninna Gaensler-Debs, San Quentin Program Director & Senior Producer
Ninna Gaensler-Debs is the director of 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.
Andrew Stelzer, Solano Program Director
Andrew Stelzer has been teaching and editing stories at San Quentin since 2017, and Solano since 2018. Over the past 20 years, 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.
Angela Johnston: Editor and instructor
Angela 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.
Audio Engineers: Tarek Fouda, Gabe Grabin, Kristin McCandless, and James Rowlands
KALW News Production Manager: Shereen Adel
KALW Managing Editor: David Boyer
Past Teachers and Editors: Leila Day, Kristin McCandless, Holly Kernan, Marissa Ortega-Welch, Jessica Placzek, and Tiana Williams.
Isiah Daniels is a certified CADC-II Substance Abuse Counselor who was the inside Director of the Addiction Recovery Counseling Program at San Quentin Prison. Arts In Corrections gave him an avenue to release the pain and anger that he had bottled up inside. It provided him a place to breathe when he had none. To this day he paints and has art shows throughout the Bay Area with the William James Association.
Kenneth E. Hartman is an award-winning writer and prison reform activist. Sentenced to life without the possibility of parole at the age of 19, he served 38 years before Governor Brown commuted his sentence. He was paroled in 2017 and remains free. His essay “A Prisoner’s Purpose,” won a 2004 Power of Purpose award. His book Mother California: A Story of Redemption Behind Bars won the 2010 Eric Hoffer Award for memoir. He is an internationally accredited Life Coach and a Certified Community Teaching Artist. Ken is currently the Advocacy Coordinator for the Transformative In-Prison Workgroup.
Joe Loya is an essayist, TV writer, and film consultant. He is the author of the critically-acclaimed memoir "The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell" chronicling his bank robberies and changed life. In 2019, Loya hosted and co-produced the podcast "THE SCORE: Bank Robber Diaries." Loya founded Watcha Media in 2020, to promote the stories of the formerly incarcerated. He is currently developing a TV show based on his successful podcast, and working on a memoir about how prison prepared him for fatherhood in the pandemic.
Anthony Robinson Jr. is an insatiable revolutionary for humanity. Awakened by a 23 year prison sentence at the age of 18, Anthony raised his work out of the darkest corridors of high security institutions to serve his community. Inside, he obtained an Associate’s in Social and Behavioral Sciences with a Certificate in Business Management and wrote for the San Francisco Bay View. Robinson paroled after 20 years. He was nominated for the Grand Jury by the Mayor of Stockton. Today, Anthony is off parole, and is the host and Executive Director of The Echo Chamber nonprofit and podcast.
Thanks to the CDCR staff who make it possible for us to make the show.
San Quentin State Prison: Mr. Brown, Mr. Carlton, and Lt. Robinson
Solano State Prison: Lt. Speight, Mr. McCann, Mr. Vandeventer, and Mr. Unden
Division of Rehabilitative Programs: Mr. Choate
Special thanks to...
Ajuan Mance, for logo design.
David Jassy, for original music.