HOUSTON, TEX. - Every Friday evening a publicly-funded radio station in Houston broadcasts a two-hour program aimed at prisoners and their loved ones. The show has also attracted listeners interested in knowing more about prison issues and even has international listeners who find it streaming on the Internet.
A main feature of the weekly "The Prison Show" is the call-in segment, where people can address their imprisoned loved ones.
"Richard, I just want to say I love you and my birthday passed. I know your birthday is coming up too, so I want to go see you for that," said one caller.
Many of the people working on the show are former convicts, including producer David Collingsworth, who first listened to it in a prison cell.
"It showed me that somebody cared, somebody was actually out there who cared," said Collingsworth.
He said the show welcomes all callers, but there are often familiar voices on the line.
"We can name all the regulars who call in, and we are a part of their lives, and that is what really matters to us," he said.
In addition to the regular staff, "The Prison Show" counts on a number of expert guests who discuss subjects like prison health care, legal issues and the death penalty.
"Good evening everyone, especially the men and women on Texas death row and their families and friends who are listening in this evening…. As many of you already know, Texas leads the nation with 550 executions since 1982," begins one show.
Attorney Bill Habern informs listeners about civil and legal rights in the prison system/.
"We feed inmates information and we feed families information," said Habern.
When the show went on the air in Houston in 1980, it was the first of its kind, but Habern said it has inspired many others.
"What this show has become has led to other shows in other parts of the country adopting a similar format," said Habern.
The show sometimes features live music performed by former inmates like Dennis Price.
His experience emerges in many of his songs, but Price says he wants to move on.
"I want to be a good person for my son, but it is a chapter in my life and I have learned from it, and I think that it has made me who I am," said Price.
Price and most other ex-convicts criticize the Texas prison system as abusive.
Habern said many Texans favor candidates who are, in his words, "tough on crime," but that often changes when they have a close experience with the system.
"It is the quickest way I know to make a liberal out of a conservative is to have a member of your family go to prison," said Habern.
Habern said this program has pressed for reforms like prisoner telephone privileges, which was enacted in 2007, but, he said, there are many other issues for "The Prison Show" to address each week.