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tv   Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods This is Ear Hustle  CSPAN  January 22, 2022 4:20pm-5:31pm EST

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mmmm. hi everyone. welcome. welcome. hello and good evening. it's my job to welcome you to the program in forum and the commonwealth club it is so delightful to be here in person with all of you. i have to say this is the first in person event that i've done in almost two years, and i'm so
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thrilled to be here with you. my name is piper kerman and i'll be talking to these dazzling human beings today. i am the author of the memoir or in just the new black my year in a women's prison and also a board member at the women's prison association for those of you who are interested in the plight of women in prison, but today i'm excited. and very honored to be in conversation here with these dazzling human beings nigel poor you and erlon. hello. it's hello and they are the minds and the voices behind ear hustle. so nigel was a professor of photography at csu sacramento when she first began volunteering at san quentin prison the notorious san quentin state prison, and that's where she met earlon. was at that time serving a 31 to
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life sentence. and yet here we are today so they bonded over a love of storytelling. and with no formal experience began the now critically acclaimed wildly popular and i have to say like groundbreaking. i mean, it's hard to remember because i know that the the proliferation of podcasts has become, you know, startling but y'all were really one of the first big big podcast like back with cereal and ear hustle like groundbreaking and really establishing a medium in people's minds as a way to hear stories a way to get an information away to change your ideas about the world. and so i think you deserve a lot of credit. for that. thank you for those has everyone listened to your hustle. i can't really see you but i'm gonna okay, so you you know what? it's all about. we're gonna get into the meat of it in a minute and we're gonna talk about this beautiful book,
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which you may or may not have already taken a look at if you have a question that you would like to pose. we will make time for questions later in the program, but you have a question card on your seat. so if you have a question, please write it down the staff will be circulating and collecting them and we will read them on stage. and for those of you who are joining us virtually you can pose questions to just do it in the chat in the interface that you're looking at and we will definitely get your questions as well. so hey, hello. i'm so happy to see you both again. you know, they they have their office very close to where i live in berkeley. so every now and then we have a wonderful bump in at lunch or something, but it's been a minute. yes. i want to dive in because what we're really here to talk about today is all kinds of things but this beautiful book this is ear
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hustle unflinching stories of everyday prison life. all right, so i know from the book that there was not this sort of thunderbolt moment when you your eyes met a cross a crowd and crowded prison room and you're like no, that's the person with whom my life will be inextricably entwined right because my freedom is that a fair comment that your laws are inextricably entwined. okay. so given that there wasn't a thunderbolt moment. could each of you talk a little bit about how you decided to commit to the podcast together which ultimately is the thing. yeah that carried us to this moment where you're no longer in san quentin and we're talking to all you beautiful people love it. you want to go? no, no you okay. so i started volunteering inside the prison in 2011 through the prison university project and i found it.
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so interesting that i wanted to find a way to keep working inside of the prison and i made my way down to the san quentin media lab in about 2012 and working with some guys to try to do a documentary about life inside prison and erlon was down there working. he was super quiet. he was very much in the background and over maybe a three-year period that i was down there working. i got to know him and i'm someone who's always really interested in the quietest person in the room and believe it or not. that was erlon. he's not so quiet now, but i mean san quentin was great, but there was also a lot of turmoil happening down in the media lab and we just started talking a lot about it and and he was just someone i could work with i just saw something in him that that he was he was a hard worker. he was always there. he was a good problem solver. he was trustworthy like just the type of person. i'd want to spend more time with and so we started talking and
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talking and i was getting frustrated. i was going to leave the prison in iran said to me give me 90 days and we'll turn things around down here. and in that 90 days we started talking about doing the podcast and i proposed to him we try to do a podcast. he said yes, even though he didn't know what a podcast was and on october 5th, 2015. we still have the paperwork. we wrote out our plans for this podcast and that's how it happened. but there is one other thing. i just want to say i'm a photographer by training and every once in a while. i was able to bring my camera into san quentin and i remember one day i knew iran, but not that well and i took a portrait of him in the housing unit standing by a payphone and when i got home and looked at the image his face was so full of emotion and like tender and wistful and i could it just like he was in another place and the light on him was so beautiful and that was really one of the things that told me like, this is a person i want to spend time
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with so it was it was a photograph and it was also observing him for a couple years. yeah, --. yeah, it's a beautiful photograph. that's yeah. what about you orland? how did you know, i mean, you knew nigel pretty well from the media lab. how did you know they wanted to commit to the podcast particularly given that you were like, i'm not sure what a podcast is. no, i would i so when she suggested it, of course, you know, i didn't know what it was never heard a podcast because you don't hear them in prison unless you listen to talk radio and you pretty much got to be on the yard based on you can't get a signal. um, so when she was mentioning it, you know nigel listen to a lot of talk radio. that's what she always talked about. she listened to a lot of talk radio. so she was like, well, i'm gonna talk to robinson and and bring some in so she brought in snap judgment. so when i was listening to i was like finish it easy.
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the amazing podcast so different and i was just like, you know are they doing is talking and you know, that's it, you know, so i was like we can do that. we can definitely do that and yeah, i learned early that it ain't that easy. it's not like now we had like six hours of tape because when we started we was just interviewing a person tell us your whole life story, you know, so we have to distill six hours of tape down to 23 minutes and i was like, oh, yeah this this -- hard so but when she came with the idea, of course, i was like, let's do it. you know, i was eager to do it we had collaborated on a story prior to that for klw, which was a breast cancer story to do breast cancer walks in san quentin and i did a story for them and nigel was like one of the producers on that she helped out on that. so i was like, let's do it and we put together a minute and
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56-756 second promo and submitted it to the podcast and here we sit and you won it all you want it all that's right, and they didn't think it what we wanted all i mean i want to widen the lens and just say that simply doing the work that both of you came together met at the media center to do within the confines of a prison is incredibly difficult to say nothing of making a beautifully polished and incredibly humane depiction of people that you that you accomplished doing and so a prison is a place that is built to punish and it's built to i really think stifle creativity and yet you can't stop the hustle. yeah. no, you can't you really can't so those early early months like there must have been some big lessons learned. i know there are you can find out about those in the book, you
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know, sort of the story behind the episodes, but what was one of the first sort of mmm, it doesn't have to be a painful lesson, but a startling lesson that was learned as you got that podcast off the ground. yeah. well we did. online said we submitted for a pod cast contest and when we won we really said to ourselves. i don't can we swear? we were just --. now. we have to figure it disclaimer. yeah, now we have to fear how to do a podcast. i mean, we really didn't know how to do one and in some ways that was good because we didn't know how hard it was going to be. so i mean one thing is we i was at san quentin constantly, you know, sometimes five seven days a week from eight in the morning to like seven at night. we just worked so hard and we just didn't take no for an answer. like i always say working in prison there need three p's, which is patients politeness and persistence and with those three things. you can actually get things done if you don't have those three things forget it and so we just
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were really focused on you know, what our dream was and move forward. i don't remember. i mean, i remember when we were far into things and there was a lockdown at the prison for about three weeks and that was devastating because when there's a lockdown we're on and i couldn't have any communication and so he had to trust that. i was getting the work done on the outside that i could get done and i had to trust he was inside getting work done and we had like almost a telepathic way of communicating somehow. i mean we were so close we communicated without being able to always talk to each other. so i just always trusted things would get done. but when i look back on it, sometimes i can't believe that we actually did it and in a humble way. i mean, you know just it's hard. so i love this book, you know, i so i was incarcerated and then i also spent almost four years teaching in two amends and women's state prison in ohio. so i read this book and i i mean certainly when i listened to the
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podcast, but especially when i read the book i found myself identifying so powerfully with each of you you're you know, not identical struggles in doing the work and also you're both of your individual challenges and struggles which are so beautifully depicted here, you know, we're sort of almost jumping over sort of the origin story with my writing students who are incarcerated. we talk a lot about the intention of your writing and if you just have a really powerful intention you can always go back to that when you get lost or when things are really hard and so i just want to read a tiny bit. i know it's not a book reading, but we first got together to quietly hatch a new plan for a more focused and creative project. that would tap into the hidden surprising and unexpected stories of life in prison. we had a pretty clear shared goal from the start together with antoine's help. we would create a podcast that showed the commonality between
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those inside and those outside we would help bridge the divide and use voices and stories to bring people's humanity to the surface. and that's exactly what you did. that was our plan. i was really good. that was yeah. yeah. so what do you think made that possible both between your collaboration? and also what's happening in the wider world that made the wider world so receptive to what you're doing. it was interesting because i think in the beginning i didn't i didn't pay attention to you know people in society didn't know exactly what was going on in prison, you know, i don't know why i didn't even think about that, you know a lot of times people see the locked up shows and they see a lot of that depiction of that's life people banging their heads on walls, but i just never really paid attention that they didn't know exactly what was going on until we created your hustle and i started getting responses from people like like a lot of
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letters from people or nigel would bring in people reviews on the episodes and i was like --. it really it really blew my mind because in prison you don't get the up-to-date up to the minute what's going on? because i think when you used to come in i used to be like yeah, what's the numbers? how many down yes obsessed with downloads? yeah. yeah, and you know, i think i i very clearly the kinds of stories we wanted to tell on when i started going into san quentin. i looked to the things that grabbed my imagination and the things i wanted to know more about and i wasn't interested in crimes. i wasn't interested in how people got there. i was interested in how they made a life once they got into prison and so we were clear from the beginning. that's what we were going to concentrate on the minutia the small acts that make life interesting and those also help bridge the gap by showing a commonality between people inside and outside. so those are the two things. i was really interested in not
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huge sweeping stories, but small things that would grab people's attention. i thought if i was interested other people are going to be interest. tested to and we just brought our distinct personalities to the way we tell stories because again, we didn't know the rules. we didn't know what you were supposed to do or not supposed to do so, we just did what we were interested in but what i knew i wanted to do he was curse. that's that's separates everything in prison like this like a pg program. so like if you own a yard you giving a concert they don't want you to curse most of the places is like chapel so you don't curse, but i was like, it can't be real if we don't just say -- one time. yeah, you know like but that goes back to like being being ourselves. yeah, you know, hopefully we're both authentically who we are in the podcast and and if you're not trying to be something else it's a lot easier. i was listening to the bonnaroo the newest episode the bonnaroo episode and it just it fills my every time every episode. i listen to that's what makes my
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heart sing is that i just recall what an incredible struggle it is when you're incarcerated to try and regain some sense of normalcy, whether that's regaining some sense of who you used to be or some sense of who you might be in the future, but that's the struggle which reveals itself in every single episode that you do and so the bonnaroo episode if you haven't listened yet. i just i loved it. you know, i have i can i could think of three articles of clothing it's not episode about clothing that i had in prison instantly and i was like, oh i want to tell that story but it's just it's so it's such a consistent beautiful examination of often beautiful moments and people's lives and also incredibly difficult. yeah sometimes as well but yes, it's it's endlessly endlessly fascinating. thank you. so given that you this spectacular podcast why a book
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tell us about the origin story of the book. i think erlin has to tell this since i told the origin story of oh, let me i think so, of course the podcast is just you know, of course the voices of everybody in prison is not really about us, you know, we do sprinkle our life in there here and there but we just wanted to just really talk about how you know, of course both of us got to san quentin and how we was able to do this podcast and have the administration somewhat on board which was a it was a task, you know and to keep it going and to stay out everybody way. so we just wanted to basically talk about how lives and how we got there and how we was able to do this. and and what else do yeah, i mean, i always wanted to write a book about about the project and israel and said tell some of the background stories how we got to san quentin things. that weren't really appropriate for the podcast and i wanted us to have another challenge together. another thing to see can we do
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this? can we write a book together because it's hard to find a creative partner and when you do find the you know, your right creative partner you want to push the limits of it and so we had done the podcast and the next steps the next logical step to me was to write a book and better way to utilize covid. yes. we did it during covid. so it was a good way to utilize covid. so and we all wanted to as i think i already said this so give background to some of the stories and put some stories in there that we weren't able to do on the podcast for me. it's always about trying to get more women's voices on the show. so in the book, there's more women's stories erlon really wanted to talk about the three. okay one of things about our podcast is yes. it's a political podcast, but we never overtly talk about laws changing the laws. we try to give people enough information to make their own decisions about what laws need to change and erlon one of his passions is ending the three strikes law. there was no place in the podcast for that. mm-hmm, but there wasn't the
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book. yeah chapter 9. yeah chapter talk to us about chapter 9 because actually take a giant step back and talk to us about how it is that you come to be sitting here with us instead of behind the walls of san quentin. and thank goodness. you're here. thank goodness. i'm here. so i'm one of the fortunate ones, you know that i was serving a life sentence under the california three strikes law my first parole board hearing is in november of 2028, which is a few years away, but i was lucky enough to have the governor commute my sentence thanks to ear hustle. it's good meeting you nigel. i'm telling yes it was. all the time and so once my sentence was commuted i was released like 10 days later and i don't know if it's in the episode that we currently we was talking about was we talking about we was talking about
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survivors you right? yeah, so we told my survivors given i think the question was posed. let me do i have survivors kid. i was like now i don't have survivorous guilt. you know, it was i was my turn, you know, but then you know when you go back and you think about that that survivor skill, i think my if anything is more of i was in there with everybody that's simply situated with me. you know, i'm not an exception to them. we all you know. grew up in that prison changed our lives, you know what i'm saying? and i was just the fortunate one to make it out without having to complete a mandatory minimum sentence. so, you know one of my missions now is since i'm home is to try to end that -- mmm because you know three strikes laws is a cold law. it's an oppressive law, you know, and it's in the it's a law that primarily affects people of color, you know because i i'm gonna lived experience, you know, i've been through the prisons where there were only two prisons that took three strikers that will sell living and they were like 70% black so
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i figured like -- everybody got three strikes and that's what it was. so one of my missions out here is to utilize this platform. however, i can to end the law. so thank you. so chapter 9 is a good example of some of the things that people who are huge fans of the podcast will find that are very very different and dig a lot deeper into some of the the incredible appeal and that human, you know almost chicken's eye view that the podcast gives but there's a lot of opportunities where you widen the lens in this book. okay, really appreciate particularly around things like policy change and i do believe that you know, you just i mean it's fascinating to listen to the podcast and we feel like we the intimacy of radio the theater of the mind, you know makes you feel like we know you both so well, but the book reveals really interesting
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aspects of your individual stories which are totally unknown to listeners to the podcast. so i appreciate it. it's brave to put that forward right? is it a little scary? yeah, i think you i wasn't sure we were going to have that in the book at first. i mean we wanted to have some background about how we met but it went much deeper for both of us. i mean we both go back to our childhood our young childhood and it felt okay to do it in the book. so i guess it's it's not scary because we're doing it together. i mean, i always go back to that. it's not like neither of us are out there on a limb by ourselves. we're always like, you know, not really holding hands, but you know metaphorically holding hands. we've actually never held hands, but but so it wasn't as scary as one would think and we and we worked with really great editor and writing partner which made all the difference. so, oh you're in good hands. yeah. yeah i have put in a plug for
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random house random house our collective. yes, definitely very welcome to welcome to the house. yes. yes, wonderful and a woman that we worked with dominican aliotto, which you know, she was amazing and it was like finding yet another partner to make things really we had a nickname. yes, we were to dean dan monica. erlana knight. yes taved in a team being back here. here dan, and then i mean our editor lorena, right? yeah. it was great. so so so going from one medium to another is really interesting experience an adaptation. so i've experienced an adaptation from book to you know, filmed entertainment tell me what was most either yo interesting challenging, you know fill in the blank about that process of going from your paradigm of doing radio or excuse me podcasting. yeah, but that sort of theater of the mind to the written page,
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which i i was trying to imagine what it was like to be you and i was like, did they feel stifled or did they feel liberated? now, whoo, okay, i would say one thing erlang said when we started talking was that we thought when you did did a podcast you just talked. and what we learned pretty quickly is no you talk and you write a lot writing scripts rewriting scripts editing interviews. and so i think both of us became better writers through that process of learning how to edit a podcast. so we took that to the book. i've always enjoy writing like creative writing so i didn't feel horribly daunted by it. i also knew that we were going to be able to interview people and work from transcripts. the first chapter the of our both games and quentin isn't that is? pure i would pure writing. i don't know. is that fair to say that? yes, that is pure writing. but a lot of it was working from interviews that we did. so i felt like i had i was in a known territory because i was very comfortable doing interviews and talking to people
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so i knew it was going to be there it was how would we get that good part out onto the page and would it work like i'm talking too much. no, you're not you you good now one of the things the podcast also relies on is sound not just a sound of our voice but beautiful sound design by antoine williams ambi sounds that we use of the prison and of course none of that's in the book. so i did worry if it would somehow flatten without having that extra. oral oral backing i'm someone else will have to tell us if it didn't but that was one of my fears. um i think one of my fears was that it wasn't like my memoir or it wasn't you know what i'm saying? so it was like trying not to put everything in the world that i've ever seen and it you know, and which was hard like your early chapter though is very detailed and beautiful and wonderful his buddy good. i got a call for my sister
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yesterday. she like probably 14 years under me and she said bro. i'm on the first page and i'm dying. she was like, i did not know you and pop's had that type of real. i was like, yeah, i was kids y'all didn't see it, you know, but it was for me. it was it was i've always been intimidated to like write a book and i've been intimidated because you know, everybody don't have the organization of thoughts, you know can put it in to where just play out and i was i was intimidated that i wouldn't be able to do it because i'll be talking and i'll be everywhere like i'd be over here over there in 1988 and 95 all in the same, you know, so but teamed in yep kept me focus. know and what i needed to do, so. somebody from just a pen life pen life's calling us pain life calling somebody in prison, but i mean, that's the thing about working with the team aware of my strengths and my weaknesses and erlon is too and we support those what i'm not good at erlang's good at and it's true.
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he's not great at scheduling and organizing. that's one of my strengths and so i know i can do that for him and he knows what he can do for me and so we kind of nothing rebel, but we understand that and there's no judgment. so together we are our best selves working. that's how i feel. so appreciate she gave me a list like eighties all the things we got to do. i'm like cool and then he gets done. i love that. you mentioned your best selves though because i you know in in ohio in my classes, i sort of always felt like not just felt like but communicated to my students all i want is for you to come to class and try to be your best self. try to be your best self and you're writing try to be your best self in community with one another as we try to you know, push forward this boulder of of this shared creative endeavor that we're doing so given that i can only imagine. i i really tried to imagine what it was like in the media lab at
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san quentin all the different characters people real people that you pull in here who's you know, some of whom are really familiar to listeners of the podcast. i know that it's been a really tough almost two years of having very little access to the community that you built to create the podcast and even before that but you've been back a little bit and how's that been and our folks excited about the book? some people may have seen it some people, you know, it's hard to get a non-yo a hardcover book into a prison. so what's the vibe check? okay, that's funny. it just realized something when when you said that i hadn't thought about before i'm really nervous about bringing the book into the prison. i i didn't realize then i'd been said like dragging my feet and saying well, it's a hardcover we can't get it in even though the and tell me i can bring it in right so thank you for making me confront that i don't know why i don't know what people are gonna think i hope they like it. i'm worried that people will be like, why aren't i in there?
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you know, like i don't want to let anybody down and with the podcast it's possible. we let people down but it's there's something a little bit more ephemeral about it, even though you can always go back and listen to it with a book someone can point to a line and say i can't believe you said that or that's not true or whatever. so it feels more cast in stone. so i'm a little anxious about it. everyone probably doesn't feel that way. nah not i don't i mean i went back in san quentin not too long ago and i learned that early on that like i got it. i gotta go in there like maybe what three more times before i can get work done because i'm answering questions all day, so i don't think individuals are when they get the book. i think they gonna be like you did good man. you did i because you know, of course right in this book. i got a assistant can i say i got to put my sam robinson hat on? you know what i'm saying? and i put my sam robinson hat on
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because i mean prison is still going on. mmm, you know what i'm saying? so, you know my position especially in this book is not to you know. say anything crazy that you know, messed anybody stuff that they got going on today, but he always put my sam robertson hat on. that's what i was doing side. hmm because we know whether what we can say because when you talk about games you talk about this you talk about that some of those things like play a role on the safety and security institutions, you know what i'm saying? so of course writing the book it's like, okay. what is what is permissible what it's not permissible what you know, what can i say? what can i not say so i did i think right and it was more. of trying to get all the facts out. with my sam robinson hat on well with any prison story there's these parallel. there's like what the dance you have to dance with the people who control the prison but also there's the concern about like not burning the spot or not, you
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know not creating more conflict or pain for people who already in a really definitely circumstance. definitely. yeah. i trust i mean i feel so much responsibility whenever anyone tells a story that's not about themselves. that's about other people you're responsibility to do it with integrity is huge and it's so easy to make a mistake and when you make that mistake, there's no retracting it so i did just i think about that all the time when we're working on and again somehow with the book that seems the weight seems a little bit heavier, but but we'll see i guess i'm the most worried about people saying why didn't you write about me? that's the i mean people get people they get out of prison. they be mad at me like me why you didn't put me in the episode. i'm like, bro. one of the moment of your life not your whole story, you know, but i'm people like really really have issues because i didn't put them in episode and i'm like, right what it's not my call like that. it's the story but this is a thing that erlang can do like
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that's really hard for me. he'll just say to someone what do you want me to do? i can't do that. just say go talk to erlon. i mean, i think one of the things that is astounding and fascinating that you may already have experienced with the podcast, but certainly in my experience with the book is that people really want to be seen they and you know, obviously the millions of people we lock behind the walls of prisons and jails are very intentionally disappeared, but even the people who work in prisons in jails, want their lives to be seen and recognized and that is what you do totally and that's let's literally it's them. it's the most important thing and i've always believed that well as long as i can remember, i believe this but one thing the podcast and the book has proved to me if you ask somebody with intention a question and you really care about the answer people will respond to you. they can sense that you care and you want to understand more and it's not that hard to do and the podcast is about asking honest questions and caring about what
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somebody says and it's the same in the book. so i agree people want to be seen. nobody wants to be invisible and it's not that hard to make other people visible. deaf and people deserve to be visible. yeah with all their flaws everyone everyone in here has a wonderful story to tell everybody. yeah. all right. i have one more question and then we're gonna we're gonna turn to some of your questions and that is just again to bring it back to the book. so you know book titles are really challenging you, of course, you know already had the gift of your incredible first of all, and i know you say in the book that you didn't want to title that literally had prison in it like, you know prison hustle or yes. you genius? yes. your subtitle is unflinching stories of everyday prison life dominican why unflinching? this was a huge conversation was it? yes, it was. okay erlan why unflinching? that's a dominican question. no, no, but i think of course, i
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mean, you know you have you have some powerful stories, you know inside. you know individuals that that for some reason i come in front of us like not just say, you know, they just want to bear their you know, tell the truth be honest, you know living a moment, you know, a lot of especially at san quentin a lot of people been there for a long time and they, you know came to grips with who they are today, you know making a man's for what they've done and just just want to speak so you we have some powerful stories that come to us, you know, so flinting and flinching. i don't know if anyone gets the in joke about the title. this is ear hustle. so when i was growing up there was a beautiful children's series called this is san francisco. this is new york by joseph sudak. i think was his last name and so for me, that was the i was thinking about that when we said this is your hustle is that they do with prison, but it's just like a beautiful childhood memory of a book that was important to me, but we
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definitely didn't want prison to be in here. so like just earl so not yeah well with good reason. yeah, i like the enfield what one of the things that i was reminded of that. i like so much about the podcast which is all in the book when we say unflinching, you know, for example, the dealing with people's sex lives. yes or romantic lives. yes is a great example of you know, the unflinching nature and i'm so glad that you choose to to draw those stories out of people because that's what you know, that's the truth. yes. yes. all right speaking of the truth. let's get to some of these wonderful questions. all right. go with this one first any interest in an episode about the end of life in prison. yes. yes next season that's a big preoccupation for me is looking into hospice care in prison. and what does it mean to end your life in a place? nobody wants to in their life?
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yeah, it's a huge topic. okay, yeah. what can individuals with little to no experience in activism do in our everyday lives to advocate on behalf of incarcerated people? how can we get more involved? yeah, you can volunteer and stuff on the streets whether it's prisons, whether it's you know volunteering when people get out of prison to assist in some kind of ways. and yeah, i think that type of support is definitely needed for instance when getting out of prison. yeah, i think you have to look into your heart and see what it is that you have to give. and understand how you can give that so i was interested in prisons, and i didn't know how to get in there, but i was an educator a professor and i found out how to go in into san quentin as a volunteer teacher. and so i had i knew i had a resource to offer and from there
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everything else unfolded so i always say first look into yourself and see what it is that you have to offer an opportunity will come to you if you that sounds so wooey. but if you put that i think it's true if you put it out into the world. there'll be some answer i think activism for the sake of activism can ring pretty hollow if it's not somehow attached to your heart. i would only tag onto that and say, you know, there's there's sort of there's before there's the prevention the ways that we can divert people from ever going into the system, especially young people because the juvenile justice system is a trap that you can't get out of right definitely and there's the during and sort of advocating for the safety and not you know, so at the floor the safety of people who are incarcerated, but also the opportunity to gain access to education so things like higher education, for example, we know that people who gain access to higher ed or you know, even a degree best case
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scenario almost never go back to prison. yeah, and then there's that return home from prisons. so there's you know, there's a lot that each of us can do and for those who are politically minded. it's incredibly important for elected officials to hear from the most fortunate communities because almost everyone who's locked up is from our least fortunate communities. so that's the end of my answer to you great answer. all right, what's were the biggest pushbacks from san quentin for this to happen? i assume you mean the entire podcast not just the book and how was erlon able to get out of work assignments to participate? wow, they assume you got out of work assignment who so, um, i think there was any push back until i got out of prison that was pushed back when i got out of prison.
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more about that. they didn't want me to be a part of your hustle, which is the cdcr because they felt i wasn't in prison no more, but i was like, i'm on parole. i'm still under this --. you know what i'm saying? like no you're saying, you know. but i think that was like the only do you remember can we call it? he had to remember that was shocking when erlang got out and there was discussion if he was going to be involved anymore because your hustles are baby, and it wouldn't work with one of us gone. it's just not gonna happen. so there was that that lasted for nanosecond, but i don't know if they mean pushback creating the podcast or the book or on. being out i don't know. i suspect pushback on like let me let me see if i can interpret the question. yes, so i think for many people it's incredibly startling to learn that there's a media center at central and in some prisons. i've been to a lot of prisons in a lot of jails all over this
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country in some prisons and jails there is nothing like it is a desert in terms of any opportunity for people to pour productive energy into some kind of outcome. yeah, and then in other prisons you go to like the men's prison where i taught in ohio there that you know, there was a prison news network there so they were making films and and news clips and doing a whole host of various things. it was the first prison in the world that ever held a tedx talk and then that was widely copied by a number of others before it was eventually shut down. so there's always this precarious thing within a prison of giving opportunity and opportunity can always be taken away as well. so talk a little bit about that environment in san quentin a notorious prison that that there was even the opportunity for there to be a media. yeah. it's really important to say i don't think your hustle could have happened in just any prison lieutenant sam robinson who you hear on the podcast is the public information officer and without him so many things are
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not possible in the prison because he's just he's supportive and he cares so because there was a media lab and there has been a media lab. it's inquent for quite a few decades. we had a leg up in starting something but that doesn't mean as you say piper can get taken away at any any moment. and so we intentionally when we were starting your hustle pretty much worked under the radar meaning erlan and i are both pretty quiet and not boastful types. and so we just worked really hard and made it the podcast is indispensable as possible and then it was too late for the prison to say no to it. i don't think they knew what they were saying. yes to when they they let us enter the pod. quest contest and when we won and then there was a lot of national kind of looking at what we were doing and then i think the prison saw that is beneficial to them. so we got a hook in them without them knowing say more about why you think it would they found felt it was beneficial to them
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because i think i agree that you hit the nail on the head and that's why they let you do it. yeah. yeah because it's a quality program coming out of the prison. it says that these things are allowed to happen in a prison. it looks progressive. so there's you know, and they they trust us which i know for some people sounds a little dicey, but we we really have to walk a fine line of having trust of the administration and the people inside or we could never do the podcast and so we are very savvy about understanding that and and using it to our advantage. yeah, i didn't want to say we got too big for them. but in some ways that's you know, i think there would be pushed back if all of a sudden i think there would be maybe that's naive. maybe they could just shut it down. i think there would be pushback from everyone here, right? yeah. i mean, i think that a lot of those details the nuance of like how you all got it done is in this book so and and very
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entertaining shared and lieutenant robinson gets a gets a word in here you listen to the podcast over the eight seasons you will see he becomes a bigger and bigger like he actually clearly loves his voice too. so oh, yeah y'all here to edited version. yes, that's airline's job is editing down those. all right a couple more questions here. what did you think about being a finalist for the pulitzer prize this year? -- crazy, i don't have to say that was it was interesting. you know, i was like how you say that? and they had to bring it i could never get it. it was like pool it sir pulitzer pulitzer, but i mean it was for me. it was interesting because somebody had called me was like man. congratulations. i'm like congratulations for what it was. it was covidia time and you know was a shelter in place and you supposed to be in the house. i was in the car just driving around because that shelter in place, too. you know what i'm saying?
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i realized that when i can drive in my car for hours. yeah, and that's when i found out i called a team i was like hey, did we win something or something like that? it was like i don't know then they found out like yeah, so we didn't win. unfortunately we didn't win but we won. yeah, i mean it was shocking. it was a shocking thing. i mean also because i don't think of us is really journalists. i think of us as storyteller so that surprised me too in a delightful way. i mean wow. incredible. yeah political nominees. we won. all right in the future, do you envision any visual adaptations of the ear hustle? i would say storytelling paradigm. i would love that definitely. what he was happening. okay happening. i don't know there's always conversation. there's conversations that probably go places so don't go
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places. yeah, there's always conversations of that. got it. yeah what might that look like my dream would be a combination of animation and real life. what is i don't know what you call it real real film real stuff really in the flesh and in the flesh and and because i i don't see i don't want any kind of like reality show which is what people have come to us for which is just appalling that's not going to happen. and again, it's like you're dealing with real people's stories. so, how do you how do you make sure that's safe? i worry about it getting taken so far out of our hands that we would lose control and so i have this feeling with animation. we would have more flexibility to tell stories the way we like to tell them but i don't know. i mean it would be new for both of us, but we have been approached by a lot of people just as never so seven continental claymation that was cremation. we had a claymation clip. yeah.
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so, yeah, we should we should talk to you about that sometime what it's like. you're receptive. yes, very receptive. that's good. we can hope for that. yes. yes when the right partnership. yes. that's like okay, wonderful. fantastic, like orange is the new like orange is the new black what that'll be cool. all right. i could i could ask you a question all night, but i think that we are close on time. so i just want to encourage everyone to get a copy of this is your hustle unflinching stories. oh, wait, do we have more questions? sorry. thank you, sir. do you have time for a couple more questions? good good. all right now give it up a nigel pan. stay nice. they're photo based. it's the boots that really get me the boots are nice, too. yeah so back.
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all right. i know the answer to this question, but i'm gonna i'm gonna pose it to you. would you consider going on a tour and giving talk similar to this one across the country? yeah, if we get the invite we're there. yeah. yeah, we would love to do more in-person things. and which audiences are you most interested in talking to obviously there's fans of the podcast everywhere in the country, but when you think about the different people impacted by the questions that are raised in the in the podcast you know and the incredible accessibility of the podcast particularly. that's really good. i like the younger minds. i like the minds this in high school and you know that, you know college and but i mean everybody, you know, but definitely those those those be some interesting conversations. yeah, i can't say this would be my ideal audience, but we've had had the opportunity to talk at. the art was it was like the oh trevor noah's show for this show. i know where's the convention
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for people who work for corrections and and it was really interesting to talk to that group and we're going to be the keynote speakers for another corrections convention. unless in trevor noah call again set. i know i'm so mad at myself when i make a commitment. i make a commitment and we committed to talk at this convention and then we got invited to be on trevor trevor noah. that was that was a lieutenant robinson and he would have had anyway, we never got invited back. so i'm not saying this my ideal audience, but it's interesting to talk to an audience that you don't think is going to be receptive. and to feel the change in the room and then to hear the questions that come out of it, so i enjoy those kinds of challenges. have you experienced so an interesting question so you were so 2015 is when you began to work on the podcast and obviously it's been a runaway success and so on and so forth. how many? prisons or jails are now permitting or at least thinking about allowing people to do
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creative work along the same line. well, i will say i can't give you a number but we get so many more emails and and questions from other prisons where they're trying to start podcasts or other groups are starting podcasts. so i would say it's proliferating. i don't know what the number is, but we are also trying to get into other prisons. so spread outside of san quentin and obviously in california, but we'd also like to get in prisons and do stories outside of california. so that's one of our next big hurdles is how do we move outside of the cdc, california department of corrections? okay, and what do you what it what emerges is the biggest challenge and the big obviously the opportunity is vast. yes. so this is the biggest challenge. i think the biggest challenge is how do you recreate intimacy that you have in a place where you are known where you know people in san quentin know us we know san quentin and i think that's when the reasons are stories work. how do you recreate that in institution where you aren't you're just like anyone else going in and leaving and that's problematic. so i don't quite know how to
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solve that yet. it's spending a lot of time someplace. i don't know how we do that with our schedules. and for example, we did a story last season with leslie van houten who said a woman's facility in southern california. we we couldn't go in there. we had to do it all on the phone, but i feel like that story guided us a little bit into that prison because now we know her and people i think we know because of that more women in the prison will be interested. so i hope something like that helps, but you can't i don't think you can just jump in some place and expect to have trust you may not i feel we like we're going into the juvenile halls now. so in alameda county juvenile hall and i think we're gonna go in there this week and just get to know cats and you know chop it up with them before, you know, we teach them how to do podcasts and so it's just really getting to know him and under you know, get some type of rapport and then you never know. they're gonna say something
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that's like that's it. that's the story. we're gonna work on right there and it's putting in the time like it's like going into the juvenile center for a year probably before there's even a story. it's just getting to know people in there, but it's also giving the people inside the opportunity to get to know us like it's a two-way street, of course, you know, and so that just takes time and that's one of the things people aren't patient about good work takes a lot of time. or learn. so what do you think creates? it's not the entire prison obviously, but creates some cohort of people who are incarcerated who are willing to come around the media center or the specific i guess because you're absolutely right. you can't come in you can't parachute in from outside and replicate this work or only or simply inspire, you know people to go off and running it really comes from the community and the environment that the men or the women or the kids are creating
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themselves this opportunity, you know is having opportunity to do something different or have an opportunity to do something that that you can invest your time and you don't mind investing your time and you want to learn something different then just the regular trades in prison, or you know me i got to sand quinn because they had a media center and i've been to a lot of prisons and none of them had a media center. so i wanted to learn film and i was a matter of fact before we started this. that's what i was doing there film stuff, but i think is when you are in a place like that and you have the opportunity. is i think if all the prisons had that individuals, it'd be a lot more. probably podcast maybe but it's just the opportunity to have an opportunity a lot of prisons don't have those opportunities because they probably don't have the space for stuff like that. and my observation would be that you always see when there are those opportunities. you always see a whole cadre of people who are very committed to
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protecting the work. yes affecting the community. yes, and that can get territorials you talk about that in the book, but there is something incredibly beautiful about people's commitment to this one opportunity for a positive outlet of an opportunity for creativity to an opportunity to accomplish something. yeah, that is otherwise denied you. yeah. it's beautiful. all right. i think we have one more question here. and it's for all three of us. oh, why do you think there is so much interest now in life in prison? what do we think of that question? that's a good question. i think individuals i think sometimes you see things differently. you may have someone listen your life that's been incarcerated or you may hear a story. that's that's outrageous like a person getting a thousand years to life or something, you know, and individuals want to get
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involved. i think even in the criminal justice movement, you know, it's a lot of laws that's been changing. it's a lot of you know rolling back to scales of the tough on crime, you know, so i think a lot of individuals definitely see that they have a place to help change this, you know, so i think it's a culture that and which is a good thing. it's a great thing. i don't have anything good to say on that. i don't know why. i think except except that. i don't know. i mean, it's great, but i don't know what made that i don't know what changed it. i'm not necessarily convinced that it's changed. i think that there's always been a fascination with individual yeah, both the individual and the group struggle that had happens prison is inherently conflict ridden, but one thing that is obviously changed is that we have so many more of our people who are locked away, right? so, you know there have always been some pretty fascinating prison narratives told but
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there's proliferation of them because there's a proliferation of people who have who are incarcerated or have experienced incarceration and i think people are more alert to the way in which that huge, you know, 70 million people with a criminal record is a lot of americans. yeah, and so people are more alert. i think to the ways in which that is impacting all of us and therefore curious. but of course prison is a forbidden world and so naturally people are going to be serious no matter what but it does have this powerful impact on on every facet of our lives right down to democracy. oh boy getting another note and a oh. okay, as he's all coming from the same person. i think these these are coming from the internet. oh, you don't like that's the same hand, right? this is funny. i was gonna ask this question earlier in the program, but i i
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am glad someone else has done it so i'll phrase it as they do favorite episode. yeah, that's a tough one. it's a really tough one. yeah, i'm gonna erlen i'm not gonna say that when i always say oh roach. yeah. are you no, i mean, it's your story. yeah, i do. one of my favorite stories is called looking out about roach. i love that. i wouldn't do that. i know so i'm not that's the one i'm talking about. i did unfortunately just mention it. but the the story that's so deep in my heart right now is the one we did about leslie van houten because it had so many creative challenges and i also on a personal note had to face some things that i was really concerned about growing up at a time when manson was in the news. it was a story that had infiltrated my childhood in manson was the boogeyman to me so to be able to to get to know
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leslie in a different way and tell her story and have to figure out how to do it in 15 minutes phone call increments and i also have phone phobia. so there are all these things that personally hard for me and i thought it was such i thought it was so beautiful the things that we could get to with her and how intimate it got with three strangers talking on the phone. so that just gave me a lot of hopes. so right now that's my favorite and we have an ongoing, you know relationship with her we try to talk to her every every week. and so i'm very proud of that story. i think we didn't know if we could make it work and i think it worked really well and it gave someone who's been so demonized a voiced in a place to be seen and heard in a very different way. it's beautiful who goes to board next month because support next me tell roach though. but what about you? um, you know, it's is kind of hard to say, but i have to stick with. um, bittersweet bittersweet was
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the one the story about when i actually got out of prison, but i always wanted to do a story about my nephew. my nephew was shot 19 times. he was 19 unhorned by the police killed in long beach and i always just wanted to do something but didn't know what to do and my brother just so happened to be my cellmate. so and we never like talking about my nephew wasn't like a easy thing to do even though we in the cell we never really just opened up and and and and talked about it. so on the episode we were able to talk with him and my sister tyra and there was it was daycare issues like my sister-in-law, but i was able to just hear. them speak on it for the first time. so it was it. that was really that's one that i hold the deer. so personal definitely bittersweet that's that's i listen to it like every time i'm like, i'm on i'm on a trek. i throw it in every now and again and just just listen to it.
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gorgeous all right. they also ask least favorite, but i think that's not an answerable question. what was the most difficult episode to produce? let's i apologize to every answer to ask that question. yeah, i i very easily the most difficult episode to produce. it was called we did it last i think was last season too. it's called the trail. and it was move i don't want to end on this. it was a story of a very brutal rape and we want to do a story about about that crime and it's it's about the the man who committed the crime and also about the woman who was the victim and she had died in the time long before we even want to do the story. so it was trying to piece her together through talking with her sister, which is one of the most intense difficult and beautiful interviews i've ever done to talk to a stranger and have to go on this journey with
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her about who her sister was and what had happened to her. oh, it makes me choke up. just thinking about that interview, and so putting that together in an honoring her the woman who died honoring the sister and listening with an open heart and compassion to the man who committed this really brutal brutal crime the thing that every woman fears happening to them. so that was hard that was really hard and i think there was some pushback like, why are we telling us, you know, every your hustle story can't talk about how great everyone in prison is like it needs it needs to be real and and there's terrible things that happen and we need to talk about it. so i think that for me was the hardest one to produce and to feel like we did justice to everyone involved and that we didn't take advantage of anybody and it was hard when it came out. i think it was very hard for the man. who committed the crime to hear he i don't think he had great accountability and i've talked to him a few times since and
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it's really i think made him. dig deeper into why that happened in what his responsibility was. so who that was hard and you agree that episode, uh, that episode was a hard one. i say it's a lot of them that are difficult, i think one of one of the most difficult things in prison. was to get individuals who had been locked down maybe over 30 years to talk to us because they you know, a lot of individuals had the philosophy. we don't talk to media and we became media, you know, so. individuals i got one in here al king. he was one now keenan want to talk to us ain't that right now? see he don't want to talk now don't say our kids did about 38 years. he would not get on the mic. i was like, okay get on the mic man. you know, and i used to always
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tell og's like man, you gonna continue to build statistic if you don't get your story out there people don't know about you. they ain't gonna care, you know, so i used to use that one to get up on people, but i think one of the difficult one was probably dirty water. yeah because we do it the whole dirty water. it was about sex trafficking and and we did the whole episode and then the guy in the episode was like now, i mean, i can't do it. my lawyers. never say i can't do it man. i can't do the story and i was looking at him like what? we just did this whole story so then i had to talk him into why he should do the story so that became like so that one was difficult because it was almost a whole story that was complete and he was pulling the plug. yeah, but you did your magic i did i'll talk to them. yeah, you know, and that guy was a big talker. it was amazing you could do it and got him to agree. so that probably was real difficult. so would be they be those little little things behind the scenes that you know, add to the story. yeah, i mean i have to i have to
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again say to simply accomplish like the beautiful polished storytelling that you do in a prison is incredibly difficult in and of itself and to tackle these subjects and these wounds and the you know, whatever process of healings and one might have accomplished. is really tremendous. thank you, and i do think people in prison have this fascinating. frankness, but also an incredible and necessary circumspectness and self-protection. yeah, and you accomplish a way that is safe for people to tell their stories in a place that is not built to be safe. i appreciate it. thank you. can we end with something cheery? yeah. okay. so actually it was something cheery. so erlana and i have never never held hands, but we did we did we did on stage, but we did do something together which with my dream for a long time, which was
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here. oh you got we went and got tattoos together. this is our first i wanted to don't finish the story nigel. oh, she can't talk about this without talking like i'd like a baby. i couldn't believe it. i've never seen him act like that. he was so incons. ball and i was totally fine. but anyway, this has been he's gonna say his head more needles and blah mine had ten needles. she had one needle he claims it hurts more than childbirth. anyway, so this is our this is our everlasting hand-holding is that we have to lose together for me. that was a fun part. that's beautiful. yes. i heard by ink and yes, but ink bound by ink and pain like in blood so get some of this ink people you want this ink for sure. these lovely human beings are going to be signing books outside just outside that door. so if you're ready to get your book signed, they are ready to
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do it. i think i have a few concluding words. hold on one second. we just thank you. this is so great to talk with you. oh my gosh. it's obviously to talk to you. thank you very much. my great great pleasure. of course. we want to thank these two beautiful human beings for joining us today today at inforum at the commonwealth club. the book is outside as we mentioned if you'd like to watch more programs or support the commonwealth clubs efforts in making virtual and in-person programming this year, please visit commonwealth club dot org slash online. thank you so much and enjoy all that the the transition into a new medium brings you and and each and every one of you. thank you for coming out and being here in person with us. it'sn the near
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future on book tv. thank you. let me welcome everyone here today to cold war studies seminar here at the davis center of harvey university. today. we're going to be discussing this book from warsaw with love in the subtitle of it will give the title itself may not convey the substance of the book but the subtitle polish spies the cia and the forging of an unlikely alliance does the book is an unusual

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