Friday, April 07, 2017

CFRC: Calls From Home

If you hadn't heard, Kingston, Ontario is Canada's Prison Capital. That reputation isn't new. The book God's Plenty, (2011) by William Closson James points out their first prison opened in 1835. The 1989 book Crumbling Walls by Ruth Morris uses the same phrase describing Kingston. It is that reputation that probably led to the creation of the radio program "Calls From Home." Kristiana Clemens, operations officer at CFRC was quoted in 2012 as saying "...the announcement of proposed prison expansions in Kingston provided added impetus to begin focusing on prison issues more regularly,”

Calls From Home is a weekly radio show from 7:00 - 8:00 PM on 101.9 CFRC that connects friends and family with their loved ones inside Kingston’s prison walls. Prisoners are encouraged to contribute poetry, essays, letters, or other content. If that weren't remarkable enough, the program also broadcasts messages from prisoners inside to their loved ones on the outside. Friends, family, and supporters can leave a message on a special voicemail. These messages are screened and then broadcast on the last Wednesday of each month. Their programs are also stored on archive.org.

The 3,000 watt signal of CFRC can be heard inside six prisons in the greater Kingston, ON area and one in New York State including:
  • Millhaven Institution 
  • Collins Bay Institution 
  • Joyceville Institution 
  • Bath Institution 
  • Frontenac Institution 
  • Pittsburgh Institution 
  • Quinte Detention Centre 
  • Cape Vincent Correctional Facility
Text book descriptions of the program seem stiff and disconnected from the emotional reality of being forcibly separated from people you care about. For example the book Historical Geographies of Prisons describes the program in it's end notes
"CFRC 101.9 Kingston's community and campus radio station, airs a weekly program called CFRC Prison Radio (CPR), whose activism-based programming features prison justice issues and "Calls From Home," a segment in which inmates can communicate with community members through song requests and messages."  
The description is accurate but narrative details help you get more of a feel for why people care about the program. Take this quote from an article on their 2012 Christmas Special published in Queen's University Journal:
"You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave,” echoed in seven Kingston-area prisons over the holidays, after an anonymous caller dedicated the Eagles’ “Hotel California” to those spending time behind bars... Erin is waiting for her partner Pat to finish his sentence at Millhaven Institution. In the meantime, she uses Calls From Home to connect with him. “You’re the most important person in my life and I would never have been able to get to where I am if it wasn’t for your love and support. Hang in there and always remember, after the rain,” she said in a message that aired on Dec. 21."
Similar programs air on three other Canadian radio stations: Prison Radio on 90.3 CKUT in Montreal, QC Guelph Prison Radio on 93.3 CFRU in Guelph, ON and the Stark Raven Media Collective produces a monthly prison radio show on 100.5 CFRO in Vancouver, BC.