Prison Radio and it’s power with Phil Maguire

Prison, by definition, removes someone’s liberty as punishment for the crime committed.

But there are two ways to spend that time inside, and therefore, two ways to see prison.

Prison can be a horrible place to suffer for the crimes that have been committed.

Or it can be a place to reflect, to learn, to gain skills, and to be better.

Today I talk to Phil Maguire who became the founding Chief Executive of the Prison Radio Association (PRA) in 2006, and has been running the award-winning charity that uses radio to support prisoner rehabilitation ever since.

We talk about what prisons looked like in London in the 90s: Riots, racial tension, deaths in custody and lots of incidents of self-harm. A sad and desperate place.

And then how things have evolved from there.

We talk about what happens when you create a conversation between the people living in prison and the people running a prison.

And what happens when you empower people in the most difficult of situations.

Phil talks about how their award-winning model has people who live in prisons at the heart of everything they do – including being the award-winning hosts and producers of their programmes.

You’ll hear about what happens when people leave prison and how they continue to engage people “beyond the gate”.

And how they are building a global movement of people using audio in criminal justice systems for social good.

Talk about the power of humanity!

This is a movement you will love to know more about. So grab that favourite beverage or throw on those running shoes, and enjoy this conversation with Phil.

Please don’t forget to let us know what you think of this episode, leave a review and subscribe.

And definitely check out:
The Life After Prison Podcast: ⁠https://lifeafterprisonpod.com/⁠
More on Prison Radio: ⁠https://www.prisonradio.org/⁠
And connect with Phil here: ⁠phil@prison.radio

00:00:02:05 – 00:00:27:03
Philippa White
Welcome to the show, where we unearth new ways of looking at ever evolving lights around the world. Seen from a number of different industries, cultures and backgrounds. But there’s one thing that unites everyone I speak to. They all want to do their part to make the world better in their own unique ways. It’s a uniting passion. Whether they’re from the commercial world, third sector or public sector from the Global North or the global south.

00:00:27:15 – 00:01:08:01
Philippa White
My name is Philippa White and welcome to TIE Unearthed. Prison by definition is a place one goes to be isolated from the rest of society as punishment for the crime committed. That isolation is the punishment for doing something wrong. But there are two ways to spend that time, and therefore two ways to see prison. Prison can be a horrible place to suffer for the crimes that have been committed or it can be a place to reflect, to learn, to gain skills and to be better.

00:01:09:04 – 00:01:42:03
Philippa White
Hello and welcome to Episode 65 of TIE Unearthed. Today I talk with Phil Maguire, who has dedicated his life to the latter. Phil became the founder and chief executive of the Prison Radio Association in 2006, and he’s been running the award winning charity that uses radio to support prisoner rehabilitation. Ever since this conversation is fascinating, we talk about how the National Prison Radio came about.

00:01:42:12 – 00:02:20:03
Philippa White
The world’s first national radio station for people in prison with a large and loyal and growing audience, with 86% of people in prison tuning in for more than 11 hours each week. And we talk about Phil’s vision for prison radio International, which is a growing global movement of people using audio for social good in criminal justice settings. Phil brings to life what happens when you empower people in the most difficult of situations and the power of humanity.

00:02:20:24 – 00:02:34:05
Philippa White
This is a movement you will love to know more about. So grab the favorite beverage or throw in those running shoes and enjoy this conversation with Phil. Hello, Phil, it’s wonderful to have you here. Happy New Year.

00:02:34:13 – 00:02:36:19
Phil McGuire
Happy New Year to you, Phillipa. Thank you for having me.

00:02:37:02 – 00:02:50:13
Philippa White
Thank you for joining us. So I always like to ask this question, as our listeners will know, because we do speak to so many incredible people all over the world. It’s just really nice to picture where people are. So where am I looking at you right now? Where are you?

00:02:50:20 – 00:03:11:05
Phil McGuire
Okay, so I’m sitting in my house in the beautiful city of Bath in the southwest of England, which is a UNESCO World Heritage City. And it’s a house that I share with my beautiful wife and my beautiful children, two boys. And we’re very fortunate that at the top of the house we have a large loft room, which is a multipurpose room.

00:03:11:06 – 00:03:29:10
Phil McGuire
So it was a pool table. So, yeah, it’s my office, it’s my studio. It’s where I record my audio. It’s a games room. So it has a pool table which doubles as a table tennis table, and we have a big TV. So we use this for watching films and wonderful movies. Yeah. So so I’m at home in Bath and I’m delighted to be joining you in Brazil.

00:03:29:19 – 00:03:42:04
Philippa White
Yes, well, I know Bath. I remember being in Bath so, so many years ago, but I absolutely adored it. And I live in Orlando, which is also UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. So, yeah, we have that in common. Are we going.

00:03:42:04 – 00:03:42:18
Phil McGuire
To do.

00:03:43:09 – 00:03:57:09
Philippa White
So? Phil, tell us a little bit about you before you got into producing prison radio, which is what we will be talking about today. But I just your history and your story is incredible. So a little bit of the back story would be fantastic. Okay.

00:03:57:09 – 00:04:21:01
Phil McGuire
Well, I mean, where do I start? How far back do I guess? I’m the youngest of four brothers. I am from Manchester. My parents are working class folks from Manchester. My father died when I was three, went through a bit of trauma as a kid, I guess you could say. And and that kind of, I think, got me thinking about justice and fairness, which has been a thread that’s run through all of my work.

00:04:21:01 – 00:04:37:20
Phil McGuire
I spent a few years in the wilderness after being asked to leave education to leave aged 17. I wasn’t pulling my way or attending any classes and I was asked to leave and I was living on my own at that point. So I spent a few years in the wilderness. I built a network of friends around me that became my family.

00:04:37:20 – 00:05:00:18
Phil McGuire
Really, I suppose. And then a couple of years later, when I was about 21, 22, I talked my way into university and did a degree in international development studies after university got a job in a children’s home in Manchester, working as a residential social worker, working with kids that couldn’t live with their families for a variety of reasons, and did that for a few years and then went to Bolivia for a year.

00:05:00:21 – 00:05:21:15
Phil McGuire
I was then three months traveling through Ecuador and Peru and then spent a year living in La Paz in Bolivia, running an international volunteer project in a children’s home. There I worked in education. I worked teaching children that had been excluded from school. And then eventually I decided I wanted to really focus and build a career. And I’d always been passionate about radio.

00:05:21:15 – 00:05:39:10
Phil McGuire
I’d always loved radio. The familiar story that you might have heard about people at nighttime when they’re supposed to be asleep, having a little radio under their pillow and listening. So I was always a big fan of radio. It was always a big part of my life, and I decided I wanted to learn how to become a radio journalist and how to make radio stories.

00:05:39:19 – 00:05:59:04
Phil McGuire
So I sold the house that I owned in Manchester and used the money that I got from that to fund my way through a masters degree in broadcasting. And and it was doing that masters degree in broadcast journalism that gave me an opportunity to knock on the door of the BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation, to say, Hey, I’m doing this masters degree, I need some work experience.

00:05:59:04 – 00:06:03:04
Phil McGuire
Can I do some with you? And that led to a job at the BBC, South Africa.

00:06:03:08 – 00:06:25:23
Philippa White
Wow. What a story. Prison radio. Can you give us a little bit of an understanding as to why was it set up in Feltham and then Brixton? How did you get involved? What were the challenges that were being felt by the prisoners? And why was prison radio started? Where did that all come from? How did it come together?

00:06:26:11 – 00:06:52:08
Phil McGuire
Yeah, it’s a good question. So in the UK, it started in Feltham. You mentioned the word Feltham, that Feltham is a prison for young man boys near to Heathrow Airport in London. And in the early 1990s it was having lots of issues. It was in the media, was in the press a lot for all the wrong reasons. So there were riots, there were deaths in custody, there was racial tension, there were lots of incidents of self-harm.

00:06:52:23 – 00:07:18:24
Phil McGuire
And it was a sad and desperate place. And there’s a man called Mark Robinson, and he lived quite close to the prison and he’d never worked or been in a prison and he’d never worked in radio. He worked in PR and marketing and he came up with the idea for a radio station for these lads. So he wanted to find an opportunity to give them something comforting that they could feel ownership of that would keep them company when they were at their most vulnerable.

00:07:18:24 – 00:07:37:16
Phil McGuire
So I guess in a dark, cold cell at night, they could turn on their own radio station and listen to the voices of themselves and their friends talking about issues that were relevant to them and to their situation. So he took this idea to the prison governor, the boss of the prison, and the governor said, Well, it’s a great idea, but we’ve got no money.

00:07:37:17 – 00:07:55:10
Phil McGuire
If you can make it happen, feel free. We’ll find a space. And he then pulled in a friend of his Roma, who who again hadn’t worked in prison and hadn’t worked in radio, but saw that this was an incredible idea. And she helped him raise the money. And they launched Radio Feltham, which became the first prison radio station in Europe.

00:07:55:11 – 00:08:18:14
Phil McGuire
It was a really special thing. The problem it was solving was the isolation, the loneliness, the tension that that was being felt by the boys in that prison. And it really did do something very special. It was the first of its kind. It was a real center of positivity, but the lads were spinning records, chatting in between and probably breaking all of the broadcasting rules because there was at that point there was no real professional input.

00:08:18:14 – 00:08:38:07
Phil McGuire
It was just some people with a really nice idea and some good, well, radio felt, some continued for many years as the only prison radio station in the UK. And then eventually the Mark and Roma wrote to the then director general of the BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation, to say, Look, we’ve got this really innovative radio project in a prison.

00:08:38:07 – 00:09:00:03
Phil McGuire
Is the British Broadcasting Corporation interested in helping us to explore how this might be expanded across the country or developed? And the BBC said we’d be interested in looking into that. So it’s a very long story short. At that point I was a radio producer, occasional reporter on a radio show called The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio two.

00:09:00:03 – 00:09:20:20
Phil McGuire
It’s Europe’s biggest news and current affairs radio show. I saw a job advertised a nine month posting for somebody from within the BBC to go and manage this partnership project between the BBC and the Prison Service and the guys at Feltham to explore the potential for prison radio to do more than it was doing, it felt. And so I applied for the job.

00:09:20:21 – 00:09:40:11
Phil McGuire
It took lots of my boxes. It was, you know, Feltham was a project that worked with young people. I had the experience working with youngsters in the children’s homes, so I applied for the job and I got it. This was in September 2005. I started the nine month attachment secondment and I did it for nine months. So from September 2005 until June 2006.

00:09:40:11 – 00:10:01:21
Phil McGuire
So I moved from London and from the BBC’s plush studios in London to spend most of my time for nine months inside two prisons. One was HMV Birmingham, better known as Winson Green Prison, and one was then called H. MP Hugh Grange, now called HMV Hugh. And we built studios in the prison in Birmingham. We knocked a wall down between two prison cells.

00:10:01:21 – 00:10:19:21
Phil McGuire
We built a radio studio, and in the other prison we found a nice space and built a studio in that. What I really did over those nine months, I tried to do lots of learning. I knew prison radio had the potential to do incredible things, but I needed to understand what that potential was really. What did people need to hear and what difference could a radio station really make inside a prison?

00:10:19:21 – 00:10:46:11
Phil McGuire
We did a few things. We worked with people that were serving prison sentences. We found a way of delivering education, qualifications, certificates to those people in in audio journalism. And we taught them how to become radio storytellers and good ask us of powerful questions. And we also listened to people that left in the prisons about what it was they wanted to hear, what did they need at first I had this idea that we can find a way of bringing the world end to people in prisons.

00:10:46:11 – 00:11:04:20
Phil McGuire
We can talk about world affairs. You know, they all said, no, we don’t want to do that. What we want to know about is how we can survive and possibly even thrive inside this environment. Tell us about what’s going on in this prison. Tell us about the services that are available. Tell us about the courses that we can access, help us survive our experience.

00:11:04:20 – 00:11:22:14
Phil McGuire
And so we did that. We launched two radio projects that did precisely that. The programs were presented and co-produced by people living in prison. The programs were made specifically for other people living in prison, and they talked about how to get by in prison. So we did that for nine months. At the end of the nine months, we had a celebration event.

00:11:22:14 – 00:11:41:13
Phil McGuire
Lots of bigwigs from the BBC and big wigs from the prison service all got together to say Congratulations, what a great project this is. And lots of people would congratulating me and putting me on the back. And I must say lots of, I guess, middle aged white men in gray suits with gray hair. They all congratulated me. And I then said, So this has been a pilot and I think we’re all agreed it’s a success.

00:11:41:18 – 00:12:00:20
Phil McGuire
What happens next? And nobody had any answers. And so it became very clear to me at that very moment that if prison radio was going to continue to develop and grow and thrive in the UK, that I was going to need to leave my job at the BBC and to set up this new organization called the Prison Radio Association, which is why I did so.

00:12:00:20 – 00:12:08:07
Phil McGuire
I left the BBC in June 2006 and became the first employee of this brand new little NGO, this little charity.

00:12:08:09 – 00:12:32:22
Philippa White
It’s so incredible what you have jointly created because obviously this has been a labor of love with a lot of people. And so I just love to understand what does it look like now? I mean, we’re talking a long time from 2006 to 2023. And what were the challenges that were being felt by the prisoners? And and I want to understand that sort of human element and the people behind all of this.

00:12:32:22 – 00:12:56:07
Phil McGuire
I’ll do my best. So, yeah, a lot happened from 2006 to now. The BBC supported my salary costs for the first three months after I left the BBC. I think it was a bit complicated. We were a small organization with one employee, so our turnover wasn’t big and it was a new and innovative project. And philanthropists and charitable trusts and foundations like to fund new and innovative projects.

00:12:56:15 – 00:13:18:03
Phil McGuire
So it wasn’t that difficult for us to find the funding that we needed at the beginning and then to grow. And we grew relatively quickly right at the beginning. The aim of the organization was to just support the development of prison radio in the UK in the first 18 months I visited more than 50 prisons at the invitation of the bosses, the governors of those prisons, and found out about what we were doing and saying we want to learn more about how we can do this and how it can benefit our prison.

00:13:18:03 – 00:13:34:03
Phil McGuire
And then I landed at Brixton Prison. It’s in South London, but it’s pretty central. It’s London’s oldest prison. It’s just over 200 years old. And I had a meeting there with the governor who said, Look, Phil, I’m sold on this. I want prison radio in this prison, but I don’t want to run it myself. I don’t want the prison to run.

00:13:34:05 – 00:13:49:17
Phil McGuire
I want the Prison Radio Association to run it. I want you to run it. So we made the decision then that we would make that our operational headquarters, we would build a radio station in that prison. It would be the first prison radio station to broadcast 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we would do all our real learning from that.

00:13:49:17 – 00:14:05:13
Phil McGuire
We sat down and thought about what the people want and what the people need and how can we put people that live in prison at the heart of what we’re doing? How can we let them drive the editorial, drive the direction of travel, ask the right questions in the right way, using the right words to the right people?

00:14:05:14 – 00:14:18:22
Phil McGuire
It’s quite interesting. Right at the beginning we put a few caveats in place for the boss of the prisons that come in and do it. I said, okay, but only if you let us interview you on a regular basis on the radio. And he said, Yeah, no problem, you have to answer all the questions you’re asked. You can’t say, I’m not answering that question.

00:14:18:22 – 00:14:41:09
Phil McGuire
Okay, fine. We’re not going to edit any of your answers afterwards. Okay, fine. We got him on board and we created a program called Governance Questions, and it became a really important part of what we were doing because it created a conversation between the people running the prison and the people living in the prison for the audience who just discovered this brand new radio station that’s broadcasting just for them in prison, they were right to be skeptical about it.

00:14:41:10 – 00:14:59:10
Phil McGuire
Who’s running? This is a tool of the authorities. What’s going on here? What they found when they tuned in was there were people that were living in the prison prisoners. I prefer to call them people talking about issues, about life in prison, but importantly asking really tough questions to the people running the prison and getting responses, getting answers.

00:14:59:10 – 00:15:18:00
Phil McGuire
It really did a great job in terms of giving information to the people listening, but it also builds trust. They understood that it was their radio station and it was doing a job for them. And that has become a central plank of prison radio ever since then, like the media is supposed to do in the outside world, to ask really difficult questions of people in power.

00:15:18:00 – 00:15:35:03
Phil McGuire
That’s what prison radio does inside. So we work in partnership with the prison service. The partnership is important because we couldn’t do it without that partnership. We couldn’t go in and work within the prisons. But we’ve always had the agreement that we maintain our journalistic integrity, we maintain our editorial independence, and we ask really difficult questions to people in power.

00:15:35:03 – 00:15:51:08
Phil McGuire
So we started small at Brixton. We built this amazing radio station. We were listening to the people inside and developing something that worked for them. So we launched that radio station in 2007, and then in 2009, for the first time we entered, they were called the Sony Radio Academy Awards. They’re like the Oscars of the UK radio industry.

00:15:51:08 – 00:16:08:01
Phil McGuire
They’re now called the Arias, but they used to be called the Sony Radio Academy Awards and we entered and that year we won four. We want to gold awards and two bronze awards, beating some of the biggest broadcasters and the biggest radio stations and the BBC. And we became the story of the night. We were in all the big news, but we were in the Guardian.

00:16:08:01 – 00:16:32:23
Phil McGuire
We were in the Times. We were in Time magazine. We made a big splash. It’s very unusual for an initiative based in a prison to generate positive media coverage, and we use that success and that positive media coverage to go back to the government and say, look, we’re doing something incredible in Brixton prison, changing the lives of the 800 men that live in there are more than 80,000 men, women and children living in prisons throughout the country that could benefit from this.

00:16:32:23 – 00:16:51:14
Phil McGuire
And what we want from you is the commitment that you will support us in turning what was called Electric Radio Brixton, named after the Eddie Grant song Electric Avenue. Well, it wasn’t. It was named after the road Electric Avenue, which is which Eddie Grant sings about in the song. So, which is in Brixton. We want your support in helping us to turn electric.

00:16:51:14 – 00:17:11:14
Phil McGuire
Eddie, our Brixton International Prison Radio and PR the better empire of the Two Empires for the Americans listening, you’ll know that National Public Radio I love NPR in the States, but you know, and we got that support. We got the support from government and we started what was electric radio. Brixton started to broadcast to more and more prisons until eventually it was broadcasting to all the prisons.

00:17:11:23 – 00:17:30:15
Phil McGuire
Today where we are is we run National Prison Radio. We have a team of 20 odd staff. Many of them are radio producers. We still have our operational headquarters in Brixton Prison. We also, for more than, I think now 14 years, we’ve had a studio in a women’s prison. We are giving a voice to women on National Prison Radio as well.

00:17:30:18 – 00:17:48:12
Phil McGuire
And that’s important that women in prison get to have a voice and that women in prison get to hear other women talk about issues that are relevant to women in prison. It’s also really important that the 96% of prisoners in this country that are men get to hear women being strong and confident and intelligent on air and have that positive influence in their lives.

00:17:48:12 – 00:18:15:20
Phil McGuire
We broadcast 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we work in partnership with around 200 organizations each year, more than 200 organizations each year. And they range from being government organizations. Government departments mainly, though with charities or NGOs that work to support people in prison with issues like homelessness, accommodation, managing money, self-awareness, some victim awareness issues about around drugs, around mental and physical health.

00:18:15:20 – 00:18:38:00
Phil McGuire
And what we’re able to do is to take the messages of those organizations and quite literally amplify them and broadcast them directly into prison cells across the country. We’ve now got 88,000 people in prison. We know that 86% of them listens in National Prison Radio for more than 11 hours each week. So we’ve got a huge audience and we receive from people living in prison.

00:18:38:06 – 00:18:55:21
Phil McGuire
I think it’s around 40,000 contacts each year. So either a voice mail, we’ve got a voice mail service that people can phone and leave a message or letters. But yeah, we have a great relationship with our audience. The audience informs the development of the station and the content, and we still put people that live in prison at the very heart of what we do.

00:18:55:23 – 00:19:18:06
Philippa White
As you were talking about the importance of the questions, because at the end of the day, for you to have those results of so many people 11 hours a week, 86% of prisoners listen to the radio station. So the only way that that’s possible is having people running it, to have that understanding of asking the right questions and getting those insights and finding the right stories.

00:19:18:06 – 00:19:31:12
Philippa White
So you have people obviously hired who work at prison radio, but then there’s the prison, the people who live in the prisons that are very empowered to do this. I mean, that’s what’s beautiful about this. I’m just wondering how you get the quality.

00:19:31:13 – 00:19:50:10
Phil McGuire
That’s a great question. The reason we’re so successful is because we’ve developed this unique production methodology. I think there are there are two relevant bits to that. One is something that we’ve been practicing this from the beginning, and it’s solutions journalism or constructive journalism or some people call it solutions focused journalism. And we were just doing this as a natural way of working.

00:19:50:10 – 00:20:04:07
Phil McGuire
This came very easy to us, what I mean by solutions focused most of the time you turn on the news and it’s bad news and there’s a reason for that. You know, if there’s an explosion somewhere or a natural disaster happens or, you know, there’s an uprising, it’s news and it’s relevant to people, but it’s not great news.

00:20:04:07 – 00:20:26:01
Phil McGuire
What we try and we acknowledge on National Prison Radio that the situation in prisons isn’t good. You know, it’s a terrible situation that people are living in and it’s very difficult to run prisons and to run them well. So we acknowledge that. But rather than focusing on all of the terrible things that happen and looking into why they’re so terrible, we acknowledge, okay, this isn’t a good situation, but let’s have a look at what’s being done to try and rectify the situation.

00:20:26:07 – 00:20:49:21
Phil McGuire
Let’s put as much analysis, as much resource is into looking at the solutions that are being attempted than trying to dissect the reasons why everything’s so bad. But the other reason I think we’re so successful is because of this unique production methodology. We have very experienced, very dedicated professional radio producers working side by side, hand in hand with people that live in prison.

00:20:49:21 – 00:21:08:00
Phil McGuire
Well, the content is relevant and it’s credible. We’re talking about the right things in the right way, in the right tone of voice and asking the right questions because of the involvement of people that live in prisons. But the programs that we make together with those people that live in prisons are incredibly high quality because they’re being made with very experienced professionals.

00:21:08:04 – 00:21:28:20
Philippa White
Do you have examples of the impact that it has? For example, people who have been through prison and then they come out and they reflect on the had I not been involved in the radio programing at this prison over the last five years, I genuinely would not have done this with my life. I guess that’s one question I have.

00:21:28:20 – 00:21:40:14
Philippa White
And one thing that really stuck with me was this incredibly transparent questionnaire asking to the governor of the prison. And I’m just wondering, you know, what sorts of questions have been asked.

00:21:40:15 – 00:22:07:16
Phil McGuire
Yeah. Okay. So so the first question I think was about the impact on individuals and yes, the impact of what we do. I think there are several layers of impact. So there are the individuals that we work with on a day to day basis, the people in prison that co-produce and present the programs that we make and the benefit that is the disproportionate because they gain skills, they gain experience and they make for many years we’ve been we’ve continued every year to win many different awards.

00:22:07:16 – 00:22:18:15
Phil McGuire
So they’re involved in this really amazing, impactful award winning radio station. And quite a few of them have gone on to get jobs in the media. And there are examples.

00:22:18:18 – 00:22:20:09
Philippa White
So that’s so incredible.

00:22:20:13 – 00:22:25:21
Phil McGuire
And I think it’s important to us as well as an organization that we employ people that have prison experience. So we’ve now got.

00:22:26:04 – 00:22:28:06
Philippa White
Oh my gosh, of course, four.

00:22:28:06 – 00:22:43:03
Phil McGuire
People, four people on staff that I’ve spent time inside. And I think that’s really important and I want to do more of that on my board. My boss is a voluntary board of trustees and and I think 30% of my board of trustees have spent time inside as well. So I think that’s a really important part of what we do.

00:22:43:03 – 00:23:04:04
Phil McGuire
There’s an example and this is really interesting. COVID changed everything because our operating model is predicated on the fact that we’re inside prisons. And if we can’t be inside prisons, then we can’t work directly with people that live in the cove. It happened to pull my civilian staff out. We had to come out of prisons. All of my civilian staff had to set up a little studio at home, get a microphone like the one I’m talking into now.

00:23:04:04 – 00:23:24:13
Phil McGuire
And for a little while, all of our programs were made by my staff, and so we lost that access to people living in prison. Fortunately, some of my staff have lived in prison. That credibility, that relevance to the audience was still there. But what we did is we went through all of the people over the last 15 years that we’d worked with inside and saw, in an ideal world, who would we like to work with?

00:23:24:13 – 00:23:41:01
Phil McGuire
And we got in touch with some of the very best presenters and producers that we’ve worked with whilst they were serving a sentence in prison and said to them, How would you fancy doing some freelance work? What if we send you a microphone and we send you some software and we give you a bit of online training? Would you like to make some national prison radio programs again?

00:23:41:01 – 00:24:01:00
Phil McGuire
And I’m going I’ve got these bums talking about this because it was like the most incredible solution to a really, really big problem. Everyone that we approached said yes. And we now have a roster of ten, 15 people that regularly make programs on National Prison Radio from home or from our community. We now have a community studio from our community studio, people that we’ve worked with inside that we’re now working with outside.

00:24:01:00 – 00:24:19:21
Phil McGuire
And that’s incredible. A guy called James Phillips and his story is remarkable. He was serving a sentence many years ago and he during his first week in prison, he turned the radio on and heard the rock show and he said, What the hell is this? What’s this national prison right here? Where are they based? And how do I and he engineered to have himself moved into the prison.

00:24:19:21 – 00:24:34:20
Phil McGuire
We were both during the induction when they were telling him about all the different opportunities that were available. He said, I’m not interested in it all. I’m going to go and work for National Prison Radio. He persuaded one of the officers to bring him to the National Prison Radio studio, where he introduced himself as your new rock show presenter.

00:24:34:21 – 00:24:48:16
Phil McGuire
So he came to work for some National Prison Radio and he became the rock show presenter and he did a great job during lockdown. We’ve not seen him or spoken to him for several years. We got in touch with him. James, would you like to present the rock show again? Absolutely. He does an incredible job with it. He makes an amazing program.

00:24:49:00 – 00:25:09:17
Phil McGuire
And last year at the Arias, which are the the UK’s radio Oscars, he won Best New Presenter Award. So he was the first the first award of the night, and the auditorium just exploded. There’s a lot of love for what we do in the radio industry in the UK. We’re very well known in the radio industry and whenever we’re at a awards ceremony on one of our programs or one of our presenters wins, everybody goes.

00:25:10:05 – 00:25:11:09
Philippa White
Yeah, of course.

00:25:11:09 – 00:25:30:09
Phil McGuire
Because if you ask me, you ask me about asking tough questions to the governor, and I think I’ll talk about COVID again, because that really developed. When COVID happened, we became very aware that we didn’t want to lose touch with people inside because we weren’t going to be inside anymore. I’m utterly convinced the National Press and radio provides a lifeline to people living in prisons.

00:25:30:09 – 00:25:49:23
Phil McGuire
But then COVID happens, and everybody in prisons is then locked up for 23, 23 and a half hours a day with no access to visits, legal visits or personal visits, no access to worship, no access to education. Very, very limited time out of so. And it became an incredibly difficult time for people living in prisons. So National Prison Radio became so much more important.

00:25:50:13 – 00:26:09:14
Phil McGuire
So right at the beginning of lockdown, we secured an interview with the Secretary of State for Justice and we spoke to him. And it was just after there had been a big issue in Mexico where people in a prison in Mexico had discovered that they were being locked down and all their visits were being canceled. But they discovered it not from the prison authorities, but from the media on the outside.

00:26:09:18 – 00:26:27:03
Phil McGuire
And that caused riots and people broke out of prison and people lost their lives. It was a big deal. So when we got the Secretary of State for Justice on National Prison Radio, we said to him, Look, due to a lack of communication in Mexico, look what’s happened. What do you plan to do? How do you plan to keep people who are inside inform through this pandemic?

00:26:27:03 – 00:26:49:08
Phil McGuire
And his response was, I am right now sitting here talking to you. I will commit to using national Prison Radio as the way that we keep people across what’s going on. We get that this isn’t going to be easy, but we commit to trying to be as communicative as we can throughout this and that throughout the pandemic. Every single week we had the chief executive of the Prison Service on National Prison Radio answering questions directly from people in prison.

00:26:49:08 – 00:27:07:24
Phil McGuire
So people in prison would phone us and leave a voicemail and with other read the voicemail or play the voicemail to Phil couple, run the service very well. And that became a really important part of what we do. And they were asking questions, you know, the kind of questions that you can imagine that very desperate people aren’t asking, what am I going to get a vaccine, I’m going to get access to a mask.

00:27:08:10 – 00:27:13:17
Phil McGuire
I’m not going to be allowed any time out. So when am I going to get to see my children again? So the kind of question.

00:27:13:18 – 00:27:37:21
Philippa White
Like real human questions of and yeah, of course. Yeah. And treating people like humans. I mean, it’s incredibly emotive, isn’t it, what you’re doing. Just thinking about it’s very easy to dehumanize people who have done something wrong and you know, or not, I mean, it depends on if they are actually guilty and they obviously recognize the fact that they will have done something wrong if they have.

00:27:37:21 – 00:27:54:24
Philippa White
But there’s something to be said about second chances. And and also being able to work through the experience and being in there, but not letting it define you and having the system and other people recognize that and having a chance for change.

00:27:54:24 – 00:28:17:10
Phil McGuire
I mean, that’s what prisoners is. I mean, it’s supposed to do two things. I think it’s supposed to punish and it’s supposed to rehabilitate. Losing your liberties, the punishment, taking somebody’s freedom away from them is the punishment. And I think from there on in, once you’ve established that fact, prisons should be a place of positive change. Prison presents us with an opportunity to support people that have done wrong, have wronged other people.

00:28:17:10 – 00:28:42:22
Phil McGuire
You know, there’s many people in prison that are the victims of crime as well. There are many people in prison that have been failed by society, by government, by family. There are lots of people who’ve been through very difficult circumstances that find themselves in prison. What prison officers is an opportunity to help people understand themselves and their situation better, the impact that their actions have had on others, and to give them an opportunity to develop skills and confidence to live a more constructive life after release.

00:28:43:01 – 00:29:01:16
Phil McGuire
I think that’s a no brainer. I think the idea that we should be punitive and that prison should be a really difficult place to be in because people at the moment are faced. The loss of liberty is punishment. Then everything else that we do, we want people in prison to spend that time in there learning the thing and getting more angry and learning more about how to commit crimes and coming out angrier and better criminals.

00:29:01:20 – 00:29:28:02
Phil McGuire
Or do we want them to come out with a better understanding of who they are and their circumstances and the opportunities that are available to them and how they could potentially live a more constructive and successful life afterwards. And I think National Prison by Day can play a really important part, does play a really important role in supporting that idea and as I said before, giving a voice to more than 200 organizations that work to support people and help them in a whole range of different areas.

00:29:28:02 – 00:29:38:12
Philippa White
The international arm of prison radio and sort of Life After Prison Podcast, which is run by former inmates. Can you talk to us about where things are heading?

00:29:38:15 – 00:30:02:09
Phil McGuire
So you asked two things. You asked about Life after Prison podcast and you are international. So I’ll deal with the podcast first. So for years and years we’ve been focusing on National Prison Radio broadcasting from prisons to prisons and only into prisons. So National Prison Radio is only available in prisons. And we’ve long wanted to take some of the stuff that we’ve learned about making programs for people inside, to make programs for people outside National Prison Radio.

00:30:02:09 – 00:30:37:20
Phil McGuire
It becomes like an arm around the shoulders of people inside. It becomes like a best friend, becomes a really important part of people’s lives. And anecdotally, we know that when people get out of prison that quite like to somehow maintain a link with this radio station that’s become such a low. Yeah. And so people have been telling us that for years and it got to the point, particularly with the pandemic and the work that I’ve talked about, where we got in touch with former national prison radio presenters and producers and started offering them opportunities and paid work to make programs on National Prison Radio, it became really clear to us that we had a role

00:30:37:20 – 00:30:59:07
Phil McGuire
to play after prison beyond the gate. And so we’ve developed Life of the Prison podcast, and it’s presented by two amazing people, Zach and Jules, who’ve both spent time inside. We have a podcast team, Becky and Beth, who are amazing, amazing producers. And essentially what we’re doing with those podcasts is what we do in National Prison Radio is we are listening to people that we want to support.

00:30:59:11 – 00:31:05:01
Phil McGuire
We’re talking to people who have spent time in prison, and we’re making programs about how to survive after prison.

00:31:05:04 – 00:31:14:02
Philippa White
I love what you just said as well. Beyond the gate. I mean, it’s just it’s visually beautiful. Yeah. And the International.

00:31:14:10 – 00:31:36:11
Phil McGuire
Prison Riot International. So National Prison Radio is the world’s first national radio station for people in prison. And given that we’ve got a really close working relationship with the Ministry of Justice and the Prison Service, and given our links with the BBC, there are lots of people around the world who hear about what we’re doing and come to us for information and advice or are doing it themselves and then learn about the fact that we’re doing it too and want to exchange information and learn from each other.

00:31:36:11 – 00:32:00:16
Phil McGuire
So the very first time we had experience of this was I think it was about 12 or 13 years ago. We had a visit from two amazing people called Garth Sinclair and Natasha Nunez from Trinidad and Tobago. They presents a radio program, a weekly radio program called On Dependency on a national radio station in Trinidad and Tobago. And they were coming to the UK to interview Caribbean nationals that were incarcerated here for drug importation offenses.

00:32:00:16 – 00:32:17:00
Phil McGuire
When they were here, they found out about what we were doing and they just fell in love with the idea of prison radio. So they took it back home to Trinidad and Tobago. They started talking to lots of people and they engineered for me and my colleague Andrew to be invited out to Trinidad and Tobago to try and convince the authorities there that it was an idea worth investing in.

00:32:17:05 – 00:32:32:12
Phil McGuire
So a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it right. So we went we flew out there. We met with the secretary of state for justice, the head of the prison service. We visited a couple of prisons. We had lots and lots of meetings in a very short period of time. And we convinced the authorities there that this was worth investing in.

00:32:32:13 – 00:32:46:06
Phil McGuire
There was like a national press conference, breakfast meeting with the national media there at which the Secretary of State for Justice stood up and said, I’m going to write a check for this. I’m going to make it happen. 11 months later, we cut the ribbon on the station and we went back for a second time to help with the launch.

00:32:46:06 – 00:33:08:07
Phil McGuire
That was an incredible experience and it taught us that perhaps we had some information that can help elsewhere. In the years following that, we created relationships with lots of people. So people in Australia has got an amazing prison radio, seen lots of different projects. There’s lots going on in the USA. We worked with a team in Israel that developed a station called Radio Focus, which became the world’s second national radio station for people in prison.

00:33:08:07 – 00:33:33:20
Phil McGuire
And crucially, we’ve got an amazing bunch of colleagues in Norway that run over radio and my Norwegian accent’s terrible, so forgive me. My colleagues in Norway, they make amazing programs across a handful of prisons across the country, and they produce a program that’s broadcast every week on an arc. The Norwegian National broadcaster, they’re BBC. So every week NRK carries a program that’s made in prisons and they are hoping to develop a national radio station as well.

00:33:33:20 – 00:34:01:12
Phil McGuire
But they’re amazing people doing incredible work. Lots of other countries as well. We’ve worked with Morocco. There’s a guy in Kenya that’s been in touch with us recently. He’s trying to develop something there. Hungary, India, the some great work on and then recently a colleague and I went to do stage one of a project in Latin America where we work in Argentina and in Uruguay to discover what was going on with prison radio in South America we’ve discovered lots of activity happening, so all of that’s been going on in the background for many years.

00:34:01:20 – 00:34:18:00
Phil McGuire
And if anybody’s come to me and said, Can you offer us any advice or can you help us? I can do my best. As I’ve always said, yes, but I’ve never had a budget for doing that and I’ve never had a real strategy for doing it. I’ve just done it because you can’t say no when you believe in something as strongly as we believe in this this idea.

00:34:18:08 – 00:34:45:10
Phil McGuire
You can’t say no to offering that support and advice. And I’ve learned so much from other people doing it in different ways. All of this sort of cross-pollination was going on for years. We used to run an annual conference in London that was that was for people in the UK. But increasingly friends from Hungary, Israel, Norway and other countries coming to our conference and we talked about developing Prison Radio International together as a collective and for many years we didn’t find the time, the money, the strategy to do it.

00:34:45:10 – 00:35:01:20
Phil McGuire
But then during COVID again, it all comes back to my colleagues in Norway said, Well, why don’t we just get everyone together on Zoom? Why don’t we just do it on Zoom? And I was so glad they said that. So I worked with my colleagues in no way we ran over COVID to international prison radio, international conferences, and and they were great.

00:35:01:20 – 00:35:04:16
Phil McGuire
They were amazing. I was among my people around the world.

00:35:04:16 – 00:35:05:06
Philippa White
Totally.

00:35:05:06 – 00:35:05:15
Phil McGuire
That was.

00:35:06:12 – 00:35:06:21
Philippa White
Great.

00:35:07:06 – 00:35:25:11
Phil McGuire
And then the Norwegian saying, the amazing Norwegian saying, lots of people around the world look to Norway because Norway has a very progressive prison system. The idea that prisons should be as like community in society as possible and that prisoners in Norway can vote. They can’t vote in this country. In many countries, prisoners can’t vote their very progressive in many different ways.

00:35:25:16 – 00:35:43:07
Phil McGuire
And lots of people around the world look to Norway to learn from them. And my colleagues worked in prison radio in Norway, went to the Norwegian prison system and said, How about we host a conference? So in June 2022, they hosted the most incredible, very first in-person Prisoner Radio International Conference. We are learning from each other all the time.

00:35:43:07 – 00:35:59:15
Phil McGuire
So I’m still at the point where I’m developing this idea. I’ve got a great team waiting in the wings, but I need to find the money to develop this activity. We are still, as an organization and my Board of Trustees is still really focused on UK based work that fully bought into the international work if we can find the budget to do it.

00:35:59:15 – 00:36:24:12
Phil McGuire
So we are fully engaged in trying to raise the funds to develop Prison Radio International as an office within the within the Prison Radio Association. We’ve got an amazing advisory board. We’ve got a strategic plan. We’ve got big plans for a conference in London in September in 2023. There’s lots of goodwill. There’s lots of people who are really into the idea and are doing incredible work around the world and changing lives.

00:36:24:12 – 00:36:35:08
Phil McGuire
And we’re just trying to find a way of building something that supports all of them. We’re building a community, a global community, a global movement of people using all the criminal justice systems for social good. Yeah.

00:36:36:12 – 00:36:46:24
Philippa White
I can I can feel the energy. I can feel the energy. You know, maybe you can think of an example of a life lesson that you’ve learned that you can share with our listeners.

00:36:47:00 – 00:37:04:01
Phil McGuire
Work with good people and trust them to get on with it. I’m the chief executive of this organization and I think what I brought to the game was a real passion and enthusiasm for it and the ability to convince people it was a good idea. But the reason it works is because of the people that we’ve found to work with.

00:37:04:02 – 00:37:09:24
Phil McGuire
I learned to let go and what I learned to do was to find really great people and to trust them to get on with it.

00:37:09:24 – 00:37:33:22
Philippa White
And your energy is incredible. It’s clearly how you’ve driven this as far as you’ve driven it, and it’s become this incredible program, NGO movement. When we had our conversation that a while ago for the holidays, the energy was extraordinary, and I was like, I can’t wait to have this conversation, so thank you for your time and thank you for all that you do.

00:37:33:23 – 00:37:56:10
Philippa White
Because, again, I do feel I’m talking a lot about it at the moment, just things that I’m writing and things that I’m sort of putting together. But I do feel like there’s a human renaissance. I think it’s happening. I think in so many we talked about politics, just seeing Lula’s inauguration and just how important it is to, you know, it’s not just about that one person leading anything, a prison, a country, a company.

00:37:56:10 – 00:38:17:11
Philippa White
No, it’s about them doing it for the other people. Right. And I think that’s where the world is going. We need to come together. It’s about citizenship. It’s about humanity. It’s about working with people, not about ego. It’s not about power. And think in the prison system, it could so easily become that. And it does. But you’re doing something that is just so important.

00:38:17:11 – 00:38:19:11
Philippa White
It’s incredibly emotive. So thank you.

00:38:19:11 – 00:38:42:20
Phil McGuire
I really appreciate you for inviting me onto your podcast and for the time that you’ve taken to learn about what we’re doing and research the Prison Radio Association and to ask such a question. So I’m really grateful, but I’m really, really grateful to anybody that’s listening to this and hopefully enjoying our conversation. And if anybody wants any more information about what we do, if anybody wants to support work that we’re doing because we always need support.

00:38:42:20 – 00:38:59:17
Phil McGuire
And particularly around the international the prison radio international development you can email me at Phil at prison dot Radio, so please feel free to get in touch. And if you just let me know that you heard me on this podcast and I’d be delighted to talk to you. But Phillipa, I really appreciate your time and I’ve had a ball.

00:38:59:17 – 00:39:02:19
Phil McGuire
You’ve got me on my favorite subject, and I’ll talk to you again any time.

00:39:03:09 – 00:39:07:01
Philippa White
Wonderful. Thank you. Phil, have a wonderful rest of the day.

00:39:07:06 – 00:39:08:11
Phil McGuire
Thank you so much. Take care.

00:39:08:21 – 00:39:34:00
Philippa White
Think. Hey, everyone, this is Phillipa again. I hope you enjoyed listening. Now this is your chance to get involved with Thai. If you work in the commercial world, whatever your profession, your position or your experience, then TIE could be for you. You may have been in business for decades, but have always felt there’s another way. Or you may just have a few years experience but want to do more equally.

00:39:34:03 – 00:40:01:17
Philippa White
If you want to create game changing employees and see your company impact the world, we’ve got you covered. TIE has never been more necessary than right now and you can be a part of it. Reach out to me at Philippa at the International Oil Exchange, Skoda UK and I can tell you more or join the TIE accelerator intercession for more information apply dot TIE accelerator dotcom better leaders, better companies, better world.

00:40:02:05 – 00:40:20:21
Philippa White
I’m your host, Philippa White. This podcast has been co-produced by Beth Navarra and Me Music by Ben Viera and artwork by helps the house. I hope we’ll meet again soon.

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