Caption: PRX default Piece image
PRX default Piece image 

Poetry on Death Row - voices from inside

From: Arndt Peltner
Length: 27:50

The voices from Death Row Inmates

Default-piece-image-1 For nine years I have been corresponding with and visiting an inmate on California's Death Row in San Quentin State Prison. Over the years I have met other inmates there as well. Some of them write to deal with their situations or pasts or to be creative in an environment filled with death and destruction. This feature gives them a voice. Originally I produced a one hour program for German public radio entitled, 'Poetry on Death Row'. After some months I wanted to work with these voices in a different way, and here is the outcome -- a sound collage. All of the interviews with inmates were conducted over the phone because the State of California will not permit one-on-one interviews. The signal you will hear during the phone calls is a disruption that is purposely put on the line by prison officials to interrupt the calls for the media as well as to alert callers to the fact that they are talking to an inmate and that the call is monitored and recorded. I could have edited out these sounds, but I decided against it in order to keep the situation more real (or authentic) somehow. The feature is built around a 1927 article by the German writer Kurt Tucholsky. He was a critical voice of his time --an anti-fascist, a pacifist, and a strong believer in Democracy.

To hear the full audio, sign up for a free PRX account or log in.

Piece Description

For nine years I have been corresponding with and visiting an inmate on California's Death Row in San Quentin State Prison. Over the years I have met other inmates there as well. Some of them write to deal with their situations or pasts or to be creative in an environment filled with death and destruction. This feature gives them a voice. Originally I produced a one hour program for German public radio entitled, 'Poetry on Death Row'. After some months I wanted to work with these voices in a different way, and here is the outcome -- a sound collage. All of the interviews with inmates were conducted over the phone because the State of California will not permit one-on-one interviews. The signal you will hear during the phone calls is a disruption that is purposely put on the line by prison officials to interrupt the calls for the media as well as to alert callers to the fact that they are talking to an inmate and that the call is monitored and recorded. I could have edited out these sounds, but I decided against it in order to keep the situation more real (or authentic) somehow. The feature is built around a 1927 article by the German writer Kurt Tucholsky. He was a critical voice of his time --an anti-fascist, a pacifist, and a strong believer in Democracy.

2 Comments Atom Feed

User image

Do you think it's possible to get an updated version of this?

Have you considered producing a new version that reflects the fact that some of the inmates, like Tookie Williams, have died? This is an amazing concept and I really want to air it for poetry month, but I don't want to air outdated material.

User image

Review of Poetry on Death Row - voices from inside

This program features the voices of inmates on death row - out of necessity they're all on the telephone - which gives the piece a kind of call-in energy - these voices sound exactly like all of the other telephone voices heard on the radio every day - they're so ordinary - even their poetry is basically ordinary - but they are people in exceptional circumstances - and that alone makes it rather eye-opening. The text read by the producer, along with spare music, some additional interviews - including a pretty imaginative prison guard - and an unusual voice reading billboard titles - creates a patchwork of alternating coolness and tension that is appealing. A nice, controlled piece of work.

Related Website

http://www.radiogoethe.org