For many family members of incarcerated men and women, the barriers to staying in contact with their loved ones behind bars can be tough to overcome. Separated by long distances and inflexible schedules, these families ultimately lose touch with each other, depriving prisoners of the support and encouragement needed to make a break from past behavior and to successfully endure the time spent in prison.
A radio station in rural Kentucky is hoping to change that.
WMMT, a low-power station in Whitesburg, sits across the state line from two correctional facilities in Virginia. For the last 15 years, the station has reserved an hour each week for the program, “Calls from Home.” From 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM every Monday, the program airs prerecorded messages from moms and dads, sons and daughters, nieces and nephews to their loved ones in the Red Onion and Wallens Ridge correctional facilities. The prisoners are able to listen to the broadcast via MP3 players that they can buy at the prison commissary.
“I got to know these families through the show and heard their lives unfolding through the radio,” says Sylvia Ryerson, a producer at the station. “I learned more and more about the actual obstacles these families faced in getting there to visit.”
Ryerson was so moved by the short 1-2 minute “shout outs” that she began organizing trips to bring in some of the family members to the prisons for actual face-to-face visits. Driving a 15-passenger van herself, she transports people from faraway places like Washington, DC, and Hampton, Virginia, to the two western Virginia facilities.
Ryerson has also started producing a longer version of “Calls from Home,” called “Restorative Radio.” She spends extended time with the families of the incarcerated, producing longer, better engineered interviews that serve as an audio postcard from home.
Maintaining contact with family members during incarceration is one of the best indicators for success after prisoners are released. Prison Fellowship seeks to strengthen family bonds through Angel Tree and for support of other in-prison activities such as Day with Dad. To learn more about how you can help to strengthen families and to encourage those in prison, visit our action page.