A radio program gave prisoners 'meaning and purpose.' Why did it end?


DENVER — Cynthia Gonzalez has been incarcerated in Colorado for more than 25 years.

Serving a life sentence for a murder conviction, Gonzalez said she found “meaning and purpose” — feelings that had eluded her for more than two decades — when she became a producer for Inside Wire in the spring of 2022.

A first-of-its-kind radio program in Colorado produced by incarcerated people, for incarcerated people, Inside Wire inspired Gonzalez.

“We believe in bettering ourselves, and it’s important to us that we change. We work every day to be better people,” Gonzalez said about her motivations for joining Inside Wire.

Now, Gonzalez will have to find other avenues for fulfillment. Inside Wire unceremoniously ceased production this summer, quietly drawing its operations to a close. Its final episodes, which aired in August, do not mention the program coming to an end. Months after Inside Wire’s final broadcast, the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) and the University of Denver, which helped produce the show, are offering limited information about why the project ended.

Inside Wire launched in March of 2022 as part of the University of Denver’s Prison Arts Initiative. The show broadcast from the Denver’s Women's Correctional Facility as well as men’s prisons in Limon and Sterling. Its programming featured music, announcements, first-person narratives and profiles of incarcerated individuals as well as prison employees. The 24/7 radio station streamed to every prison in the state, and to the general public. Inside Wire’s soundcloud archive includes hundreds of segments from the past year.

So why did the show end?

“Unfortunately, we are not in a position to be able to speak publicly about this matter at this time, but will reach out as soon as we are able,” Lilly Stannard, the assistant director of programming for the Prison Arts Initiative said to Rocky Mountain PBS in September.

DU’s director of media relations Jon Stone sent a follow-up statement to Rocky Mountain PBS, explaining that the partnership between the Prison Arts Intiative and CDOC "has come to the end of its term" and that is why Inside Wire went off the air.

“We are grateful for the work we have been able to do together to enrich the lives of those who live in the Colorado Department of Corrections," Stone wrote. "We will work with CDOC to evaluate the potential of continuing the partnership. We also are in the process of imagining and planning our next steps for Inside Wire and are excited about the possibilities that are emerging.”

CDOC is also continuing to evaluate opportunities for future partnerships, according to interim public information officer Alondra Gonzalez.

The contract with DU’s Prison Arts Initiative was initially set to expire in June of 2020, said Gonzalez, but was renewed “over multiple years.” The final extension term ended Aug. 30 of this year. CDOC did not answer Rocky Mountain PBS’ question as to why the contract was not renewed.

“The Department of Corrections recognizes the positive impact the program has had on many of its participants,” Alondra Gonzalez said of the Prison Arts Initiative. “With the contract coming to an end, the Department is using this time to take stock of its programming and assess the best opportunities going forward for the Department and its incarcerated population.”

It’s not just Inside Wire that ceased production. The Inside Report, a newspaper published by incarcerated people that was also part of the Prison Arts Initiative, is no longer publishing now that the contract between DU and CDOC expired. You can read the final issue here.

Stone told Rocky Mountain PBS that “programming is limited while DU PAI continues to seek other funded programming possibilities.” Asked which of the Prison Arts Intiative’s projects are still active and which ones are on pause, Stone replied “I am not sure and at this point I'm not able to provide any more details.”

Alondra Gonzalez said CDOC does not have "any DU PAI programming" anymore, but that the department still offers academic courses, career and technical education, faith programs and more. 

DU Prison Arts Initiative officially launched in 2017. Its first production, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” debuted in September of 2019 at the Sterling Correctional Facility. The show went on tour to nearby prisons and received coverage in The New York Times. Not long after, the Prison Arts Initiative launched The Inside Report. When the COVID-19 pandemic began in the spring of 2020 — which disproportionately affected incarcerated people — DU and the inmates pivoted to remote instruction.

[Related: 'Chained Voices' art exhibit aims to show a different side of Colorado prisoners]

Research shows that prison arts programs are undeniably beneficial for incarcerated people. A study from the University of Florida found that “expressive therapy and art education reduces violence within the prison system as well as decreases parolees’ recidivism.”

Another study published in the Justice Policy Journal identified a “very strong correlation between arts education and self-confidence, motivation to pursue other educational and vocational programs, and self-discipline to manage time more efficiently and effectively.”

When Inside Wire began production, CDOC and the University of Denver were eager to make hosts and producers like Cynthia Gonzalez available to the press, leading to national coverage in outlets like NPR, CBS News and NBC News. With Inside Wire now inactive, however, CDOC declined multiple requests from Rocky Mountain PBS to interview Cynthia Gonzalez for a follow-up.

“We recognize the positive impact the program has had on many of its participants and the impacts of the contract coming to an end,” Alondra Gonzalez said in an email, repeating language used in the previous statement. “Unfortunately, I still wouldn't be able to accommodate a follow-up interview with Ms. Gonzalez.”

The Prison Arts Initiative encourages people who are interested in receiving updates on the future of Inside Wire to fill out this contact form.

If you have information on the end of Inside Wire that you would like to share with Rocky Mountain PBS, please email journalism@rmpbs.org.

Kyle Cooke is the digital media manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at kylecooke@rmpbs.org.

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