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From locked up to looking up: Radio DJ class inside Solano State Prison inspires real change

Radio DJ class inside prison walls
Radio DJ class inside prison walls 03:20

VACAVILLE -- Life after lockup is the focus of nearly 100 re-entry programs for inmates at Solano State Prison in Vacaville. One of those classes is teaching prisoners a skill many never thought they would be fine-tuning: the art of becoming radio DJs. 

"Uncuffed," a prison radio training program and podcast where people in California prisons tell their stories, invited CBS13's Ashley Sharp to see how the class and its positive impacts are changing the narrative when it comes to rehabilitation.

In many ways, there's freedom found behind bars for inmates who spend time mixing up more than music.

"This is what the microphone does. It gives us the opportunity to be heard beyond the wall," said inmate Walter Evans. 

Evans and a team of producers are locked up but looking up. 

"This program is a gift," said inmate Brian Thames. 

At Uncuffed, they work full-time jobs inside the state prison -- producing a radio show airing on KALW.

They pick the songs and the voice track between tells their story of life and lockup.

"It's the closest thing to the outside world," said Dedrick Glasper. "Up here, you can let your guard down. Actually, be yourself and get to express your feelings."

While his peers produce, Glasper is one of several students learning the craft in the classroom attached to the audio editing room.

It's a first-of-its-kind radio DJ class inside prison walls.

"It keeps me out of trouble, keeps me positive. It's a good thing," said Glasper. 

This is also a statewide push in practice.

Gov. Gavin Newsom in March announced at San Quentin State Prison that the focus is shifting to rehabilitation at state prisons.

"Two-thirds of folks coming out of the prison every year violate some probation order or commit another damn crime. Two thirds? And we perpetuate that system and call that public safety?" said Newsom at the March announcement. 

So does change start with something seemingly small? In spaces where those incarcerated are given both an outlet and a skill? 

"It is the best form of rehabilitation I personally have ever experienced," answered Evans. 

Where songs and stories meet, they're writing their next chapter.

"We are making strides to get back on the streets to show we can be on the streets," said inmate Donald Vaughn, who is not a part of the program himself, but has shared his story on Uncuffed. "This being prison, you know everybody's supposed to be tough. You can't show your vulnerability. That's better for us to be able to show our vulnerability, it shows we are human." 

Producer and inmate Anthony Ivy says he would never have thought he'd learn audio editing and storytelling skills behind bars, but he is grateful. 

"I know when I get out, I'll use these skills they teach me and put it to good use," said Ivy. 

Bryan Mazza, also a full-time producer and inmate, had no experience working with computers when he became incarcerated, now, he's a pro. 

"It's really beyond my imagining of what I would do when I started this term," said Mazza. "This is all to show that people can come to prison and go through the change that makes them better people."

Each producer and classmate says Uncuffed is helping break the chains of incarceration, finding their humanity again. 

"I am grateful for that part of me that's been forced to come to the surface. Before that, I would have to admit I was a fractured human being. This has helped make me whole. And I'm grateful," said Thames. 

To hear some of the radio sets and stories produced inside the prison, visit the Uncuffed website. 

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