What if media artists in the rural coalfields of Appalachia produced community radio in response to the growing number of prisons being built in their region? And what if the primarily urban prisoners and their families began working with the media artists and their friends to produce a program that speaks boldly and eloquently for human rights and justice? This is what is happening at the 36 year old regional media arts center Appalshop with its project Holler to the Hood (H2H). It was started in 1999 by two young media artists to confront the social impact of moving hundreds of thousands of inner-city, minority offenders to supermaximum security prisons in rural Virginia. Using a variety of mediums (live performance, radio, video, and digital) and forms (including a multi-media installation and a website), H2H provides the means for all those effected by the prison system to tell their story in their own voice.
"Holler to the Hood" (Holler is Appalachian dialect for hollow, a steep, narrow gorge; many Appalachian people live up a holler.) is WMMT, Appalshop's community radio station's regular Monday night program. The show is a mix of hip-hop, hill-hop performed by Appalachian youth, gospel, and shout-outs phoned in by the families and loved ones of the prisoners incarcerated in the two supermax facilities in the listening area. During frequent periods of lockdown, inmates are not allowed to make or receive phone calls, which was the case one Monday night. The radio station's phone rings, and to the surprise of the D.J., Wallens Ridge prisoner Marc has somehow managed to make it live on the air. As the D.J. lays down a beat, Marc begins a ten minute freestyle rap. In the background, behind the rap and its beat, radio listeners and those nationally and internationally catching the webstream can hear the cheers of inmates as Marc's words of hope reach them through their radios. As he expected, for his transgression he spends the next six months in solitary confinement, talking to no one. Holler to the Hood (H2H) is on the air every Monday thereafter with Marc's rap introducing the show. The program is the only live forum for the families of prisoners and the families of prison guards, alike, to express themselves publicly. On Christmas 2004, H2H expanded its network to 100 radio stations near prisons across the U.S. for a holiday special of the show, providing the only real-time way for many inmates to receive holiday wishes and prayers from family and friends.
This year will be the 6th year that "Calls from Home," the holiday special version of the show, will be aired locally, the second year it will be aired nationally. The program will be recorded on December 12th from 7-11p.m. (eastern) and a toll-free line will be open at 888-396-1208 to take shout-outs and holiday greetings for prisoners from and to all over the country . A one hour version of the program will be offered for free to stations across the country for re-broadcast. Stations that will be carrying the program are listed on the calls from home website, www.appalshop.org/h2h/calls . Last year's program broadcast on over one hundred stations, including the prisoner run station of WLSP at the Louisiana State Prison in Angola. There will be a shorter, "house party," version offered to the public, along with talking points, for groups who want to use the program in their community as a tool to host a discussion on the effects of the criminal justice system.