Friday, April 25, 2008

radio freedom

FreeFM, the radio station inside Tower Street Penitentiary, the largest men's prison in Kingston, Jamaica, has an internet presence. Last summer, I was in Kingston for a couple of months, alongside Christina and some cool techs who came out for a week from the Antenna Alliance, helping with that project and the recording studio that was set up there (with smaller ones in South Camp, the lower-security prison and a very rudimentary one at Fort Augusta, the women's prison). Working in the prisons gave me an interesting perspective on Jamaica, but even more so on the role and nature of law and law enforcement in places where power imbalances are as extreme as they can be.

I don't know if the program schedule (available on the website for the group that organized the project, Students Expressing Truth- click SET FM, the old name, and look for the program guide) is still accurate, but the talk radio shows are especially interesting, and the music is I think what you would find popular anywhere in Jamaica.

One of my favorite memories of Tower Street was my first time walking into the SET room (having crossed the open yards of the prison center, a slightly nervous-making experience), to find a group of men sitting around a table piled high with newspapers, marking them up and making notes, and the station manager stomping around like J. Jonah Jameson tearing his hair out because the news wasn't ready yet and they had to go live soon. The atmosphere was just like any newsroom in college radio that I'd been in.

One example of a common difficulty in that world is that the inmates - even those who have special and theoretically blanket approval for access to the papers - get their newspapers on sufferance of the guards. If anyone of the guards feels like flexing, he can not provide a newspaper, and then the radio news doesn't happen. Everything is contingent, on power, on the weather, and on where things are physically. When I was there, much of what we spent our time doing is figuring out how and where to run the cable from the SET room to the only internet connection in the prison. People had some ingenious ideas, but there were numerous technical, physical and organizational difficulties. I'm glad to see they have been resolved. Praise to SET (the inmates) and to the forward thinking Commissioner Reese for this achievement.


  1. this wasn't by any chance the prison where Jah Cure produced (and broadcasted?) music was it?

    nuff respect for that work in the prisons, for real...

    see you next month at Surya Dub!! woo hoo!

  2. Yes it was the same oneTGEngme2