Feature Archive By Marisa Demarco
|Folks met up at La Plazita Institute in the South Valley and split into groups to offer narratives about New Mexico’s prison system. Photo By Eric Williams|
It started with a chess game. Volunteer radio DJ Nick Szuberla challenged the Wallens Ridge State Prison to offer up its most skilled inmate for a match.
The game took five months to complete. Szuberla would announce his move over the airwaves each week. Then a letter would make its way to the station from the prison in Wise County, Va., issuing a counterstrike.
The DJ lost to Big Daddy Duke.
"Holler to the Hood," Szuberla's hip-
Coal mining was the major employer in that region for decades. As the process became more mechanized, the local economy tanked. To shorethings up, states in the area built prisons as a form of economic development. Hence: Wallens Ridge, Virginia's second major supermax prison. Szuberla's from nearby Whitesburg, Ky., a town that's not even twice the size of the prison's population. (About 2,100 people live in Whitesburg, according to the 2010 Census.)
With this newfound audience reaching out to him, Szuberla organized a day where families and friends of prisoners could call and be broadcast on the radio. He wasn't sure what to expect. As the day began, some people rang the station to say they were upset about the show. Correction officials disliked it, too, and were vocal about it on the airwaves: The prisoners don't deserve this, they said.
Then kids started calling in. Their families couldn't afford the prison's phone rates, so they hadn't spoken to their parents in months. Family members from other states began offering shout-