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Nonfiction Review: This is Ear Hustle Unflinching Stories of Everyday Prison Life by Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods

Title: This is Ear Hustle: Unflinching Stories of Everyday Prison Life
Author: Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods
Year published: 2021
Category: Adult nonfiction
Pages: 304 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location: (my 2022 Google Reading map)USA (CA)

SummaryWhen Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods met, Nigel was a photography professor volunteering with the Prison University Project and Earlonne was serving thirty-one years to life at California’s San Quentin State Prison. Initially drawn to each other by their shared interest in storytelling, neither had podcast production experience when they decided to enter Radiotopia’s contest for new shows . . . and won. Using the prize for seed money, Nigel and Earlonne launched Ear Hustle, named after the prison term for “eavesdropping.” It was the first podcast created and produced entirely within prison and would go on to be heard millions of times worldwide, garner Peabody and Pulitzer award nominations, and help earn Earlonne his freedom when his sentence was commuted in 2018. 

In This Is Ear Hustle, Nigel and Earlonne share their own stories of how they came to San Quentin, how they created their phenomenally popular podcast amid extreme limitations, and what has kept them collaborating season after season. They present new stories, all with the same insight, balance, and rapport that distinguish the podcast. In an era when more than two million people are incarcerated across the United States—a number that grows by 600,000 annually—Nigel and Earlonne explore the full and often surprising realities of prison life. With characteristic candor and humor, their moving portrayals include unexpected moments of self-discovery, unlikely alliances, inspirational resilience, and ingenious work-arounds.

One personal narrative at a time, framed by Nigel’s and Earlonne’s distinct perspectives, This Is Ear Hustle reveals the complexity of life for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people while illuminating the shared experiences of humanity that unite us all.

Review: I am a big fan of the podcast "Ear Hustle" with its stories of incarcerated people, their lovers, their children, their families, and yes, a bit about their crimes. The focus of Ear Hustle is really on humanity and I love it. I feel like I am invested in the incarcerated people who host and produce the show and I am excited when they are released and live successfully outside of San Quinten.

I wasn't going to read this book since I have already listened to every episode of the podcast, but I realized it would be a good one for the nonfiction challenge so got a copy. Then I just read Tunnel 29, which is also linked to a podcast. Oh well. This was a good read and different from most of the books that I read so it was a nice change.

The book is told by both Nigel and Earlonne and is a history of their friendship and partnership in the podcast (and I LOVE their friendship!) as well as stories from their podcast. Since I have heard all their episodes, I already knew some of the stories, but I didn't care. Reading them a couple years after hearing them was a fun reminder of some of their best stuff. The book is a quick and easy read, it's fascinating, and educational.

Challenges for which this counts: none

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