06 January, 2022

Prison Programming with a Mission

Beginning on 1 January, I took over as the custodian of XSTREAM Therapeutic, one of twelve closed-circuit TV channels broadcasting to the population of Eastern Reception, Diagnostic & Correctional Center. I willingly traded my previous responsibility, the prison's all-animation channel, for this one. In a true win-win-win situation, XTOON went to our resident anime fanatic, Jacob, who gave our sci-fi nut Paul his own movie channel, so that Paul didn't have to keep justifying the therapeutic value of, say, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Obviously, we get broad latitude in our programming choices, so handling XSTREAM Therapeutic ("XT" to us insiders) means big fun for me. It might not be so cool, except that we recently started receiving educational videos from the Web. How it works is, we give our boss a list of subjects, he goes into his office and returns an hour or so later with a hard drive full of MP4s for us to broadcast. This is a breakthrough that's opened up a veritable universe of possibility.

I've designated Monday as "Art Day," with documentaries on artists, "Great Paintings Explained" videos, poetry readings, and a drawing how-to thrown in here and there. That's followed by TED Talk Tuesdays. Thursdays are for nature and anthropology docs of the Nature and National Geographic sort. "Science Fridays" came from their equivalent on NPR. (We just got the Hubble IMAX documentary I never got to see, as well as cool videos on neuroplasticity, quantum physics, and microorganisms.) I also have a few academic lectures to satisfy the handful of lonely intellectuals skulking around this place. It's a good mix.

People often talk about things resonating with them based on their relatability. With this in mind, I've tried to get more BIPOC-generated content – especially when the subject is academic or falls within one of the fields typically associated with "white culture," such as publishing or classical music. I want this stuff to draw people in, then expand their horizons. Ultimately, I want to promote the empathy that's so sorely lacking in this place.

Because I'm a subscriber to the theory that no discipline better fosters empathy than the humanities do, I'm especially focused on the arts. With their woven webs of words, storytellers, poets, and writers offer real talk. Painters show us new perspectives. Musicians give us novel compositions packed with meaning. By repeated exposure to others' ideas beyond the hand-to-mouth reality of the streets, maybe the seeds of change will take root. Maybe self-esteem will grow. Maybe due consideration for someone else will gain foothold. Maybe inspirational fruit will be born.

Except in states like Vermont, it's an unfortunate reality that far too many of those identified as BIPOC in this country are imprisoned. (Although even in New England, black people constitute a disproportionate percentage within the criminal system.) I believe that XSTREAM's broadcasts should reflect this fact – albeit, without pandering to anyone. It's a point I've been tacitly making with a lot of choices on the job. And I think it's having an influence. Joining the push for inclusivity, our ad-hoc concert curator, Luke, has a growing list of black musical artists for the boss to seek out. (XT plays concerts on weekends.) I also run the Mix, another channel on our network, where I try to play mostly movies and series that feature black faces.

This whole effort could be nothing more than a quixotic attempt by a well-meaning but tone-deaf white person to do what he's deluded into thinking is right. No one's said anything to the contrary yet. In the meantime, if anyone has content suggestions, by all means, leave them in a comment below!