Tue 12 Dec, 2017

Prison Pod Picks: Phil Maguire

Each month a member of the PRA team recommends their current must-listen podcasts and radio programmes.

This month, Phil Maguire, the PRA’s Chief Executive, brings us the finest storytelling on Earth – from inside prison and out.

“My go-to, number one show of the moment is the podcast, Heavyweight. So far there have been 14 episodes – and there’s not one that isn’t utterly compelling. It is produced and presented by the wonderfully talented, funny and emotionally intelligent, Jonathan Goldstein. His writing is beautiful; his presentation captivating. It is one of Gimlet Media’s shows and they say it’s about “…journeying back to the moment when everything went wrong.” My suggestion is to start with Episode #2, entitled, Gregor. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

“Each episode of my next recommendation ends with the words: “This is Lieutenant Sam Robinson and I approve this story.” Sam Robinson is San Quentin State Prison’s Public Information Officer. The stories he’s approving are from the Ear Hustle podcast. In prison slang, “ear hustling” is eavesdropping. And this incredible podcast gives the whole world the chance to eavesdrop on the lives of the men in San Quentin. The shows give a beautifully nuanced view of prison life, while humanising those whose stories are told.  Just like National Prison Radio, Ear Hustle puts the real experts on prisons at the centre of the action – prisoners themselves. Antwan Williams and Earlonne Woods are gifted producers and storytellers, and both are serving long sentences. Hats off too, to the third member of the team – the amazing Nigel Poor. The programmes are produced with sensitivity, intelligence and humour. A must-listen for anyone interested in life inside.

Death, Sex and Money is a podcast from WNYC Studios “…about the things we think about a lot and need to talk about more.” In it, host Anna Sale discusses the big questions often left out of polite conversation with a range of guests, some famous, some not. Sale is the most empathetic interviewer I think I have ever listened to. She’s incredible at putting her interviewees at ease, making them feel comfortable and safe enough to open up about some of the most personal and intimate issues. She manages to do this while seeming to really look after her guests; maintaining a genuine sensitivity. This is powerful, intimate, revealing and sensitive radio at its best.

“My final suggestion is also a podcast, but this one is from this side of the pond. The Anon Podcast comes from Big Issue North and is produced by the brilliant John Ryan from Manchester-based radio production and consultancy business, 2ZY. The Anon Podcast sets out to shine a light on “…real people in the North, whose stories, if told at all, are rarely told well by the mainstream media.” It’s brand new and so far, only one episode has dropped – it tells Ramona Constantin’s story. She came to the UK from Romania in 2007. Since then she has worked as a Big Issue North seller, been the victim of the prejudice and hate that often comes with being an immigrant, raised a family, and delivered projects within Roma communities in Manchester to aid integration. Ten years on, John hears from Ramona, and others whose lives she has touched, to learn about her life here. This is a powerful story well told by Romona herself, narrated with confidence and compassion by veteran broadcaster, Allan Beswick.”