KWCW fosters links to community, penitentiary inmates

Ami Tian

credit: Alden

Some of KWCW’s most loyal listeners are tuning in from the Washington State Penitentiary.

“Blues Therapy,” KWCW’s award-winning blues show, gets one to two letters a month from an inmate who calls himself “Dreamer.”

“Dreamer says he likes the show because the music is so great and we mix up our selections: playing new releases as well as old favorites,” said Ray Hansen, co-host of “Blues Therapy” and Walla Walla resident. “He also enjoys the joking that goes on between me and my co-host.”

Hansen views the interaction between KWCW and the state penitentiary as another part of the station’s interaction with the Walla Walla community in that KWCW plays music that inmates and community members can’t hear on other stations.

“I see the relationship K-Dub has with the inmate listeners very much the same as it is with the community at large,” said Hansen. “KWCW programming is eclectic and finds fans from all walks of life.”

However, interaction between KWCW and inmates sometimes requires regulation. In certain cases, KWCW must determine an appropriate level of involvement in issues concerning the state penitentiary.

“It can get weird,” said senior Joe Gustav. “Last semester . . . what happened was this inmate was calling in collect to shows. I don’t exactly get what his deal was, it was something about how he was homosexual and he couldn’t get into this church group and he wanted us to do something about it and tell people about it.”

KWCW advised the DJs not to publicize the issue and redirected it to authorities within the penitentiary.

“We should never, ever, ever be involved with anything like that,” Gustav said. “Thankfully we have a bunch of DJs who are community members, not Whitman students, who have either worked in the pen or are familiar with how it works and referred this specific case to the proper people. It’s not our place to interfere in this. We don’t know the veracity of the statement given. He may just trying to be incite stuff or whatever, and we don’t want any part of that.”

Nevertheless, Gustav emphasized that interaction with the inmates is mostly positive, and the DJs always have the power to determine the degree to which they want to interact with their listeners.

“That’s the only time I can remember [when] it’s ever gotten weird. And you know, I tell our DJs, ‘Put as much of yourself out there as you want, because there are people you don’t know who are gonna respond, including sometimes inmates in the penitentiary.’ So a lot of people just use code names on the air and don’t give out their real names, or they’ll get a letter and just stop the correspondence right there,” he said.

First-year Patrick Wiley, who currently co-hosts “The Schmorgesborg,” was contacted by state penitentiary inmate Ramon Silva at the end of last semester. Silva wrote Wiley a letter after Wiley gave out his name on his show. Despite Wiley’s initial surprise and apprehension, he is now glad for the contact.

“I think it’s really cool,” he said. “It was weird, when I went to get my mail: I have a Bank of America account: and I was like ‘Oh great, more spam from Bank of America.’ I pulled [the other letter] out and I saw that it was written in like actual handwriting, so I was like, ‘Oh sweet, a letter,’ but then I looked at it closer and it said ‘penitentiary’ on it. I was like ‘Oh shit, what is this?’ and I opened it and there it was; it just blew my mind.”

At first Wiley was hesitant to respond.   The letter was “a pretty heavy letter” and described problems that Silva struggled with within the penitentiary.

“I didn’t write him back right away because I wasn’t sure how comfortable I was with it, but [my co-host] and I had talked about doing like a group letter from North [Hall]. And that I was down to do because I wasn’t comfortable enough to do it totally alone, and so now we’re getting together a letter and hopefully it’ll be sent next week.”

Part of what convinced Wiley to write back was that he felt an obligation to support Silva, who was making an effort to turn his life around. The letter expressed a desire that Wiley put Silva in contact with other Whitman students. Wiley thinks that the interaction would be beneficial to Silva, who in turn offered to answer any questions Whitman students had about life inside the penitentiary.

“I’m not saying that my life is perfectly in order,” said Wiley. “But certainly I’ve had more opportunities than this guy: and I mean just I was thinking if I were in jail and had nobody around, I would love if people wrote to me so I’d have something to do. So I feel like when people who’ve made mistakes or whatever reach out and try to get their life back in order, then it would be extremely hypocritical of me just to ignore it and be like ‘Well, you’re already down the drain.'”

Wiley views radio as an opportunity for the inmates to establish a relationship with the outside world, as well as with members of their own generation.

“The guy mentions in the letter he’s been locked up for all of the YouTube era, all of the Myspace and Facebook. He’s never seen that stuff and doesn’t know how it works so he’s disconnected a lot, and having a radio connected to a college is key to that part of our generation and our experience. I think it gives: especially someone who’s been locked up for a long time and has lost themselves: gives them a chance to be a little bit connected, and I think that’s the most important part of what K-Dub does.”

Anyone interested in writing to Silva should address their letters to:

Ramon Silva
DOC #326609
Washington State Penitentiary
1313 N. 13th Ave
Walla Walla, WA 99362