08 April, 2022

What Exactly Do I Do at the Job Where I Do So Much?

Enough questions have come up about my job here at the prison. I thought it was time to review what I do, for those who don't quite follow. Even though my work encompasses such a wide variety of duties that "typical workday" isn't an applicable label, I'll nevertheless try to explain it.

XSTREAM is the name of the prisoner-run media center at Eastern Reception, Diagnostic & Correctional Center. We're like a little TV station inside the facility (except we probably do more than your average network employees). From two small roomfuls of computers and A/V equipment adjacent to the gym, we broadcast twelve dedicated channels of content for the prison population – movies, TV series, music videos, in-house video productions, program listings, and institutional information. From what I understand, XSTREAM pumps out more content than our equivalent at any other state facility in Missouri.

A database that was developed in-house manages our 12,000-plus hours of video on a 90-terabyte RAID server. From my desk I program two channels – EXCEL and The MiX. My coworkers Luke, Jacob, Paul, and Josh each run two of their own. Twon runs one. The responsibility of the team's newest hires, Danny, Steve, and Rodney, is to import subtitles into our system for the benefit of hearing-impaired viewers (a process that XSTREAM recently developed). I basically pick what seems like a good blend of programs for a given week, then schedule them to play, each in a twenty-four-hour cycle, with each showtime beginning on the hour.

We do a bit of videography work. An eight-foot-tall green screen in our studio serves as a stand-in for the exotic locations where we'd rather be shooting. I personally produce a weekly music show called The Playlist, starring my coworker Twon. He looks like a very small Snoop Dogg. Guests from the population bring a song that they love, we play a sample, and a fifteen to twenty minutes of conversation with Twon (aka "Twizzo") ensues, usually spiraling off into deep, fascinating realms. Recent discussions have covered drug addiction, intergenerational divides, self-esteem, grammatical and syntactical changes in hip-hop lyrics over the decades, Deaf culture, emotional regulation, and much more. I've yet to hear one bad word spoken about the show.

Our boss, ERDCC's Recreation Director, also has us writing and producing serious videos for distribution around the state. The first we did was "Out Inside," a production about transgender people in prison, meant to foster understanding by staff and other inmates alike. (Predictably, it caused a bit of a stir.) Now I'm heading up a suicide-prevention video that incorporates not just warning signs and "get help" messages but also proven tactics for fighting depression. Our boss supplied from the Internet any informational resources that we've asked for – Wikipedia articles, lists of trans celebrities, studies on the effectiveness of media campaigns, whatever was called for. We want to be sure to follow only evidence-based practices.

In addition to broadcasting stuff, XSTREAM is designing a software package called the Offender Management System, which tracks prisoners’ movement within the facility, based on where they most recently scanned their ID card. I designed its interface. The beta version has tracked comings and goings from the gym for the past six months. We're getting ready to expand it to track basketballs, weight belts, board games, and other recreation equipment that people can check out. Then we'll move past the confines of the recreation building. By the end of summer, we expect that the OMS will be operating in the chapel and programs rooms. Then in the library. After that, probably, in the dining hall. Then throughout the Missouri DOC.

Less grandly, in the here-and-now, we oversee the Learning Center, where people can come to watch on-demand educational videos, as well as newly released movies, at individual viewing stations during their recreation periods. The Great Courses lectures are popular. We also host a monthly theater event in the gym, when we set up a thirty-foot inflatable screen, concert speakers, a popcorn machine, and 100 chairs for qualified attendees to watch the newest big-budget Hollywood release. It's a good-behavior incentive that people really enjoy. Here's my team at a recent XSTREAM Theater event.

In short, we're lucky to have a boss who gives us broad latitude for creativity to flourish. I'm sure he's happy to have such a dedicated crew to help him look good at what he does. I deeply appreciate that, when giving a tour, he enters our area announcing, "And here are my nerds." I know I'm phenomenally grateful to have that freedom to geek out in this otherwise constricting place.


  1. Your amazing and creative job feels like a reward for my own "good-behavior". And, that's a great photo.

  2. So glad you get to do something you love. I'm always surprised by how much you guys are able to achieve even though you don't have access to most things people do


Byron does not have Internet access. Pariahblog.com posts are sent from his cell by way of a secure service especially for prisoners' use. We do read him your comments, however, and he enjoys hearing your thoughts very much.