Prisoner Soul



In the 1960s and early 1970s, a number of U.S. prisons allowed inmates to form bands and produce commercially available LPs. Today, many of those records are collectors' items.

Gary Younge tracks down some of the men who were in these groups, finding out how the music shaped their lives and hearing from those who supported this progressive initiative in the face of the old punitive regime.

Gary travels to Huntsville, Texas, where a bespoke studio was built within the prison. Visiting the maximum security Wynne Unit, Gary is joined by the scheme's former music director, Harley Rex. This is the first time Harley has returned to the unit in over thirty years and he details the scale and impact of the project. Outside the prison's high walls, Gary and Harley meet ex-inmate John Indo who explains how the music affected the 17 years he served inside.

Over on the East Coast, in New Jersey's Rahway prison, Reginald Haynes was another inmate with a similar initiative. Reginald was spotted at a convict talent show by established music producer George Kerr and a group now known as The Legendary Escorts was formed. Reginald tells the extraordinary story of how the group's first album was produced, and of the changes the scheme would bring to his later life on the outside.

Back in Texas Gary meets the local people who live near the prison and finds out what impact commercially releasing the music had on people's perceptions of the prisoners. He'll hear how inmates performed locally, including at the always popular prison rodeo.

Produced by Vivienne Perry

A Like It Is production for BBC Radio 4.

Gary Younge tracks down US prisoners who released records from behind bars in the 1970s.