“Here’s the story of a boy who at a young age was forced to grow up
and be a man. With little knowledge of this life, straight skipped adolescence and
before long he soon felt the bitterness and sufferance of having to carry
the world in his hands.”
From the poem Faith by Alias
Started in 2009 by Spy Hop Productions, a nonprofit youth media organization in Salt Lake City, Utah, this groundbreaking program works with students in several Utah youth corrections facilities to write, record and produce personal narratives, poetry, short fiction, spoken word, and interviews. The pieces are then shared online to an audience that rarely hears from youth with these experiences.
The only youth-in-custody produced podcast in the country; Sending Messages provides these youth with a platform and mentorship to share their stories. Not only are participants finding healthy ways to express their hopes, fears, memories and dreams, but they are also finding out what it is like to be heard, often for the first time.
They’ve produced over 60 episodes so far, winning numerous awards along the way, and quietly gaining audiences from around the world. Over one hundred students have participated in the program and the podcast has been downloaded over 10,000 times. The podcast has won several awards, including a ‘Best Of Utah’ Award from Salt Lake City Weekly as well as the Community Awareness Through Media Award from the American Probation and Parole Association. The program has also been featured on NEA‘s Arts Podcast and NPR‘s State Of The Re:Union podcast.
“There was this happy little girl, she had everything in the world
she never would have thought that her world would fall apart.
The day your parents fought was the day they split apart.
She stood there in despair, and her mother only stared.
And she prayed that the next day her father would just stay.
But she had to face reality. She no longer had her perfect little world.
From the poem Perfect World by Shaggy
The stories revolve around topics that the students choose. These are sometimes broad vague concepts such as ‘buried and forgotten’ or very specific themes, such as ‘fathers day’. The pieces are available as stand alone works, as well as curated together into episodes available on itunes, Stitcher and other podcast providers.
For so many incarcerated youth, the experience of being locked up is a catalytic one. They are truly at a crossroads, and trying to contextualize what their experience means. Giving them the opportunity to talk about their experiences to an audience who could be different than them, or an audience that may be made up of youth who are in danger of making the same mistakes, the meaning in their storytelling changes, taking on new weight. The participants begin to think deeper about their choices.