In the American state of California, prisoners are usually able to get out of jail before their sentence is completed.

Some prisoners win a conditional, or temporary, release from jail through acts of kindness or by doing good things. Others are approved for release after showing a change in behavior, like becoming a religious leader or advising others against drug use.

But for Walter “Earlonne” Woods, the path to freedom was a podcast.

Woods was released from the San Quentin State Prison after serving 21 years of a 31-year jail sentence for attempted armed robbery. Last November, California Governor Jerry Brown cancelled his sentence. Brown noted Woods’ leadership in helping other prisoners and his work on “Ear Hustle,” a podcast in which he talks about everyday life inside the prison.

The show has been very successful since it was launched in 2017. It has been downloaded 20 million times by people all over the world.

On the program, Earlonne Woods and Nigel Poor, a prison volunteer, talk with San Quentin prisoners about their struggles.

Some prisoners talk about the difficulty of sharing a 1.5 meter by 3-meter room with another person. Others tell why they take care of frogs or insects as if they were household pets. Some describe the effects of solitary confinement or being given a death sentence.

Woods said the podcast offers listeners a closer look into lives most people do not spend much time thinking about.

“People get to see the car chases. They get to see the trial. But they don’t know what happens after you get to prison,” Woods said.

“We’ve been able to really humanize people, and people realize that those in prison are just people who made dumb decisions.”

In 2016, Poor heard about a podcast talent competition. She asked San Quentin’s spokesman, Sam Robinson, for permission to enter the prison. Another co-creator, Antwan Williams, agreed to do sound design for the project. Williams is serving 15 years for armed robbery.

Poor said their idea for a podcast from San Quentin beat more than 1,500 other proposals from 53 countries and received support from of a group of broadcasters. 

One program talked about Woods’ first day as a free man. The first thing Woods did after his release on November 30 was get a look at the Pacific Ocean around San Francisco Bay. It looked, in his words, “as far as the eye can see.”

New “Ear Hustle” shows will be released later this year. They will include stories of Woods’ life outside of prison. 

“There’s a lot of people that’s in there that should be out,” Woods said. “I created a podcast, but I’m not the exception.”

Exercise 1


Read the following vocabulary with your teacher.


pet (n.) - an animal that people keep mainly for pleasure


podcast (n.) - a program such as a music or news program that is like a radio or television show but that is downloaded over the Internet


solitary confinement (n.) - the state of being kept alone in a prison cell away from other prisoners


talent (n.) - the natural ability of a person in a field or activity


dumb (adj.) - lacking in intelligence



Exercise 2


Answer these questions about the article.


  1. What did Walter “Earlonne” Woods start?
  2. What is the name of the podcast?
  3. How it has helped him?
  4. Is he now a free man?
  5. What did he do when he got out?


Exercise 3


Please give your opinion on the following statement and give your reasons behind it.


  • People are often wrongfully judged and sentenced



Exercise 4 


Have a discussion on following questions.


  1. Are there a lot of people in prison in your country?
  2. Does your country have a death penalty?
  3. Was this podcast a good idea?
  4. Can people change while in prison?



This lesson is based on a news article originally published by learningenglish.voanews.