Sunday, July 13, 2014

Spoon Jackson & Judith Tannenbaum: Poetry, Prison, Two Lives
Show for July 13, 2014

He’s serving life in prison. She’s a poet and teacher. Spoon Jackson and Judith Tannenbaum discuss how they met, discovered a mutual love of writing, and forged a 30-year friendship, as told in their joint memoir, By Heart: Poetry, Prison, And Two Lives. Originally broadcast in 2010.

Spoon was also featured in the recent documentary film, At Night I Fly by Michel Wenzer, who I interviewed in 2013.

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Click the play arrow above to hear the interview, or the download icon on the upper right to get your own mp3.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Show for Nov 3, 2013. Learning to Live While Doing Life in Prison.

Filmmaker Michel Wenzer isn’t interested in the lurid fare that typifies popular depictions of prison. He is interested in how some inmates manage to find a way to live and to grow in a place of desolation. For the men profiled in Wenzer’s documentary At Night I Fly: Images from New Folsom, salvation comes in the form of self-examination and artistic engagement, helped along by the remnants of California’s once-thriving Arts In Corrections program.

Michel has a very personal connection to his subject; it was his immersion in reading, literature and music that sustained him while growing up in the foster care system in Sweden. We talked about his experience filming in New Folsom (younger sibling of the original Folsom Prison) and the life lessons we could all learn from some of the lifers he met. I played some clips from At Night I Fly and also some bits of interviews I’ve done over the years with prison artists, including the poet Spoon Jackson, who was the inspiration for Michel’s film.

At Night I Fly has its west coast premiere Wednesday, Nov 13 at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz, Ca. in a benefit for the Prison Arts Project. More info here.


Spoon Jackson in New Folsom (photo from At Night I Fly by Michel Wenzer). My 2010 interview with Spoon is here.

Click the Listen arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Show for May 5, 2013. Jill Wolfson: Justice, Retribution, High School and Young Adult Fiction.

Jill Wolfson was last on the show discussing the Beat Within writing program for incarcerated teens. You can hear my interviews with Jill, her colleague Dennis Morton and some of kids they work with in Juvenile Hall in this program from 2010. Jill has also written extensively on juvenile justice, crime and retribution as a journalist and non-fiction author, and those themes figure prominently in her latest young adult novel, Furious. Inspired by Greek myth and the tragedies of Aeschylus, it’s about three high school girls who become modern incarnations of the avenging Furies. We talked about the challenges of writing for the “YA” audience, the wages of revenge, the indelible impress of high school and Jill’s own teen years.

You can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Show for Jan 27, 2013. Life and Death in Angola Penitentiary.

Louisiana State Penitentiary, better known as Angola, is in many ways a world apart: a former slave plantation bigger in area than Manhattan, nestled in a crook of the Mississippi, where prisoners still work the fields overseen by guards on horseback. Many live out their days there and are buried on the grounds. It’s a world Marianne Fisher-Giorlando counts herself lucky to be a part of. She’s a criminologist who’s spent a good share of her life studying and volunteering in Angola. She’s become an authority on its workings, culture and history, and despite the fear and loathing the place may evoke, her experiences there have been surprisingly upbeat.

I met Marianne through filmmaker/musicologist Ben Harbert, when we did a show on his documentary film Follow Me Down: Portraits of Louisiana Prison Musicians. After hearing her story, I decided to share it with listeners.

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Marianne Fisher-Giorlando in the Angola Museum.



Angola on Animal Planet (go figure). Some good glimpses here, despite the sensational treatment.

You can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Show for Jan 6, 2013. Filmmaker Ben Harbert on Louisiana prison music.

In 1933, folklorists John and Alan Lomax went inside Louisiana’s Angola prison and made a series of celebrated recordings and musical discoveries. Eighty years later, filmmaker and musicologist Ben Harbert followed in the Lomax’s footsteps, visiting Angola and other Louisiana penitentiaries to document the state of prison music today. Ben and I discussed his new film Follow Me Down: Portraits of Louisiana Prison Musicians, which screens in Santa Cruz this week (more details here). As we listened to performances from the film, Ben talked about the place of music in inmates’ lives and the ethics and challenges of shooting a doc in the joint. Also featured: Tony Seeger, musicologist (and nephew of Pete, Mike and Peggy Seeger), who advised Ben on the film.

You can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Show for Sept 16, 2012. Errol Morris and A Wilderness of Error

Errol Morris and I have talked about his investigative ardor in our previous conversations, and we’ve touched on his decades-long delvings into the case of Jeffrey MacDonald, the Green Beret doctor serving a life sentence for murdering his wife and children. This time we get into the details, working our way through the evidence and Morris’s contention that MacDonald was railroaded. Morris says the investigation was bungled from the beginning (one forensic expert called it a “colossal clusterfuck”) and that MacDonald was the victim of a peremptory narrative that blinded the police, the courts and the public to many of the facts. Errol’s new book A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald isn’t just a meticulous anatomy of a murder case, but a sobering reflection on our sometimes wayward truth-finding apparatus and all-too-corruptible justice system.


Jeffrey MacDonald as a young army doctor and after three decades in prison.

Click the Play arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Show for Aug 19, 2012. Errol Morris Confidential, Pt 2 of 2.

I continue interrogating the interrogator in this second of two wide-ranging conversations with filmmaker/detective/truth-seeker Errol Morris. Among the many subjects discoursed on:

  • Whether and how much the past can be recaptured through the art of investigation.
  • Errol’s latest book A Wilderness of Error, about the Jeffrey MacDonald murder case.
  • How he gets people to spill the beans on camera.
  • Errol’s beef with his former PhD adviser, historian of science Thomas Kuhn.
  • His next movie (The Fog of War with more fog?).


Errol Morris, conducting an interview using his interrotron.

Click the Play arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Show for Aug 12, 2012. Errol Morris Confidential, Pt 1 of 2.

Errol Morris’s relentless search for answers – philosophical, psychological, forensic – has led to a vast and ever-growing body of work that includes his celebrated documentaries, dozens of short films, weighty essays and cognitive experiments in the NY Times, books, actual criminal investigations and some pretty fetching commercials (example below). The backstories are often as interesting as the finished products, and Errol shared some of them with me in a very illuminating look at his career, his preoccupations and motivations. Topics discussed in this first of two installments include:

  • His interest in serial killers and his recent re-investigation of a famous murder case.
  • Why he started making movies.
  • His early films and stylistic development.
  • The many projects that haven’t come to fruition – mostly for financial reasons, but in one instance because of brute force.
  • The influence of Werner Herzog and their legendary bet.


Errol Morris’s latest mini-doc for ESPN.

Click the Play arrow at the top of this post to listen to the show, or you can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Show for April 10, 2011. Can Violence be Unlearned?

While criminal rehabilitation seems to have fallen out of favor in much of America’s penal system, San Francisco’s Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP) is bucking the trend. RSVP aims to reform violent felons in SF’s county jails, and the program appears to be working. In this broadcast, originally from 2009, we spoke to RSVP founder Sunny Schwartz (author of Dreams from the Monster Factory) and to Ramon Garcia, who participated in the program, first as an inmate and later as a teacher.

Click the “play” arrow above to listen to the interview, or download the MP3 here.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pledge Drive Continues: Still Time to Give

Many thanks to those of you who made contributions during our pledge drive show yesterday. Same to all who’ve pitched in during this drive. And to those of you who haven’t (yet), there’s plenty of time. Just call 888-777-1507 or go to KUSP.org. It’s soooo easy. And tell them what your favorite shows are.

On yesterday’s 7th Ave Project, we aired some choice bits from the past year’s shows. An accidental (and pledge drive-relevant) throughline emerged. If you want to hear the full stories from which the segments were taken, here are the links:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Show for Oct. 17, 2010. From Prison to the Stage: The Poetic Justice Project

The Poetic Justice Project is a theater company for the formerly incarcerated, presenting stories of prison and jail by people who’ve been there. Members of the project discuss their lives behind bars and after parole, the impact of prison art programs and their performances in a new musical drama, Off the Hook, that’s been touring California.

Click the “play” arrow above to listen, or download the MP3 here.

Poetic Justice Project website.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Show for Apr 25, 2010. Spoon Jackson and Judith Tannenbaum: By Heart

He’s serving life in prison. She’s a poet and teacher. Spoon Jackson and Judith Tannenbaum discuss how they met, discovered a mutual love of writing, and forged a 25-year friendship. Their new memoir is By Heart: Poetry, Prison, And Two Lives.


Spoon Jackson at New Folsom Prison

Click the arrow above to listen. If you don’t have Flash player or have other playback problems, click this link for the MP3.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Show for Jan 3, 2010. Voices from Juvie

"The Beat Within" is a weekly magazine that collects writings by teens in California juvenile halls. I talked to kids in the Santa Cruz Juvenile Hall who participate in the program, and who told me about their lives, hopes and writing. Also: Beat Within workshop leaders Jill Wolfson and Dennis Morton.

Click the arrow above to listen. If you don’t have Flash player or have other playback problems, click this link for the MP3.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Show for Dec 20, 2009. After Exoneration: The Rick Walker Story, Pt 2 of 2.

Rick Walker spent 12 years in California prisons for a murder he didn’t commit. In the second of this 2-part story, Walker talks about his life after prison, and film makers Gwen Essegian and Mark Ligon discuss their new documentary about Walker’s fight to get restitution for the years he lost. Also, Lola Vollen, director of the Life After Exoneration project, on the plight of exonerees nationwide.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Show for Dec 13, 2009. When Justice Fails: The Rick Walker Story, Pt 1 of 2

Rick Walker spent 12 years in California prisons for a murder he didn’t commit. In the first of a two-part series, he talks about his conviction, his years behind bars and his release. Also, Alison Tucher, the attorney who spent years proving Walker’s innocence and gaining his freedom.

Photo: Pelican Bay State Prison. Credit: John Burgess, Santa Rosa Press Democrat