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Incarcerated producer finds purpose in running a radio station from prison

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A new radio station launched last week, and it's a little different from the ones you may already know.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Ladies and gentlemen, Inside Wire Colorado Prison Radio is about to connect to all Colorado prisons and beyond.

MARTIN: That's Inside Wire. It's the first statewide prison radio station in the country. Inside Wire is on the air around the clock over a closed-circuit network for the incarcerated men and women in all Colorado state prisons. It offers original programming and music in all genres, and it's also available to audiences outside the prison over their website and app. Not only that - the station is operated by incarcerated men and women, with help from the University of Denver's Prison Arts Initiative and the Colorado Department of Corrections. With us now to tell us more about it is Anthony Quintana Jr., one of the producers with Inside Wire. He's currently incarcerated at Limon Correctional Facility in Limon, Colo., and he joins us from there now.

Mr. Quintana, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us. Congratulations.

ANTHONY QUINTANA JR: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So what was it like that first day when you went live? What was that like?

QUINTANA: It was super exciting. It was kind of unbelievable because up until a couple months ago, we had planned to launch for just inside of the department, within the Colorado Department of Corrections. And then our executive director had a meeting with us and said, guess what, guys? We're going live, not only to the - all the prisons here in Colorado, but we're going live to the public, and it's going all over the world. So you guys are doing good work, and I'm excited about it. And so when it did - and that launch day, it was just - it was out of this world. It was something, in the 33 years I've been incarcerated, have never experienced.

MARTIN: So talk a little bit more about how the idea for the station formed and some of the work that you needed to do to prepare to run it.

QUINTANA: Well, what we did was, well, DU PAI, as you know, came in here, and they had an idea. They started doing - they do a lot of different things. We've done plays. We've done different type of programs that they have through their Prison Arts Initiative. And I guess the idea came - hey, let's try a radio. So when they came in, they actually started training us in audio producing and storytelling. And like, right now, we're working on narrated journalism and so that we can narrate some stories. And - you know, kind of equipping us, teaching us audio engineering and stuff like that.

MARTIN: You mentioned that you've been locked up for 33 years. How old were you when you were locked up, when you were locked up for this stint?

QUINTANA: I was 19 years old.

MARTIN: So you've been in longer than you've been out.

QUINTANA: Oh, way longer. Yes, ma'am.

MARTIN: How have you sort of kept yourself focused and focused on something better in all of that time?

QUINTANA: By maintaining sense of meaning and purpose, purpose and meaning in my life in here. You know, I've always tried to educate myself, use every opportunity that the DOC - department has given me to either educate myself, to - I've had wonderful jobs in here. You know, I've been anywhere from a carpenter to a musician to a student in school and anything they've offered me. In fact, I was one guy that - I helped start a newspaper. A few of us came with an idea, and this was in another Colorado prison. We wanted to do a newspaper and feature stories of men, feature ideas and art and different, you know - kind of share what the programs, what we're getting out of the programs, the power in the programs.

MARTIN: You said in one of the interviews that you were also hoping that people who had been harmed by some of the incarcerated people would receive this and that it would be a way to communicate with your victims. Do you want to talk a little bit more about that?

QUINTANA: I can. Well, that's a tough area for me. You know, like I said in that interview and what you've already heard is that I did - you know, I - when I came to prison, even though I was a young kid, I created a lot of harm. And I took a man's life. And in that respect, there's remnants of that that that still exist. And I try to live my life in a way that honors that man and his life because in whatever I do, in the 33 years I've been in prison, I've never, ever been violent. And it's because I don't want that. I came in here being violent. But I want to be able to - not only that, but I want people to be able to see because I think that would bring them healing, to know that, you know, I'm not the man that I was when I - or even the young man I was when I came to prison and when I created that harm.

But I also want my story, my testimony, this opportunity to maybe reach into other kids' lives and be able to see that, you know, you don't have to go down that road, that there's so much more for you. There's so many more opportunities. And that's one of the greatest things that we want to use this radio for is there's so many men - it's way beyond me. There's so many people in this department that want that opportunity, even if they're just saying I'm sorry to the universe in their story. And wherever it goes, it don't necessarily have to be to the victims, but you want to just let that out into the universe because you want to just - you feel the need to do that.

MARTIN: So before we let you go - and, you know, this is a hard thing to ask, but I have to ask. You know, there are people who - there are going to be people who feel you shouldn't be doing this or this is like a treat or a luxury that shouldn't be afforded to you. For somebody who feels that way, what would you say?

QUINTANA: I would say that we are still whole human beings. We're still whole, functioning, feeling, sensing. We have every sense of emotion, from sadness to joy to happiness to hurt to despair. We still go through life as whole, functioning human beings. And even though we're incarcerated, we still have to maintain a sense of purpose. We still have to have that meaning in our life to go forward. That's our existence. That's what we hold onto.

Yeah. I don't think it's a thing that you're giving us an opportunity to have more than what we should. Our whole freedoms are taken away from us. We're incarcerated. We're without being able to be with our families, my grandkids, those people that I love and care about. I mean, if that's not the case, well, then what's the alternative? Lock me in a box and give me no purpose? I don't know. I guess that would be a question for society to hear. But the other side of that is that there's 90-some percent of all of those people incarcerated are going to make it home again. And wouldn't you want them people to be equipped with knowledge, with wisdom, with skills, with the ability to where they have invested in their lives and who they are so they can contribute and give back to that society?

MARTIN: That was Anthony Quintana Jr. He's a Colorado prison radio producer for the radio station Inside Wire. You can listen to Inside Wire on coloradoprisonradio.com or on the Inside Wire app on the App Store and on Google Play. Anthony Quintana, thanks so much for talking with us. We wish you continued success.

QUINTANA: Thank you, and make sure you listen to Anthony "Q-VO" (ph) Quintana on Inside Wire, Colorado Prison Radio - and the rest of our team. We have great stories. We have awesome interviews and so many things that I think you guys will enjoy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.