Thursday, March 02, 2006

Holler to the Hood / Appalshop

H2H Mission Statement

Holler to the Hood is a multi-media human rights project designed to foster collaboration and communication between urban and rural communities. The project was initiated by Appalshop artists in response to the growing prison boom in the economically distressed central Appalachian coalfields. We believe in the power of art to speak boldly for human rights and positive social change in our communities.

Holler History

Holler was started in 1999 by artists Nick Szuberla and Amelia Kirby in response to concerns about the rising number of prisons being built in central Appalachia, and the cultural tensions created when a large number of urban prisoners, the majority of whom are people of color, were transferred into this predominantly white, rural area. Holler to the Hood artists and grassroots partners believe that the placement of prisons in rural areas is an opportunity for building alliances between urban and rural communities.

Holler is a project of Appalshop, a rural arts and cultural center founded in 1969 in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Appalshop’s purpose has been to work with mountain communities as they create solutions to their own problems, use media and performing arts as a means to create positive social change, explore diversity and cultural respect through local identity, and participate in regional, national and global dialogue toward these ends. Appalshop is based on the principle that local people can control their images and that media-based cultural and political expression can empower communities to fight for social and economic change.


Holler to the Hood Documentary

Holler to the Hood is a one-hour television documentary produced by Nick Szuberla and Amelia Kirby. In 1999 Szuberla and Kirby were volunteer DJ’s for the Appalachian region’s only hip-hop radio program in Whitesburg, KY when they received hundreds of letters from inmates transferred into nearby Wallens Ridge, the region’s newest prison built to prop up the shrinking coal economy. The letters described human rights violations and racial tension between staff and inmates. Filming began that year and, though the lens of Wallens Ridge State Prison, the program offers viewers an in-depth look at the United States prison industry and the social impact of moving hundreds of thousands of inner-city minority offenders to distant rural outposts. The film explores competing political agendas that align government policy with human rights violations, and political expediencies that bring communities into racial and cultural conflict with tragic consequences. Connections exist, in both practice and ideology, between human rights violations in Abu Ghraib and physical and sexual abuse recorded in American prisons.

Calls from Home / A radio broadcast for prisoners and their families

Calls From Home is an effort to educate the public about the criminal justice system. Community radio stations, prisoner family groups, and artists are working with Holler to bring the voices of prisoners’ family members to the airwaves on stations across the country.


In an effort to explore the intersections between rural and urban cultures, Holler to the Hood brought together Dirk Powell, a traditional Appalachian musician, and DanjaMowf, a hip-hop rapper and producer, to collaborate on combining the two types of music. Grounded in the distinct hip-hop and Appalachian cultural traditions in which the artists are immersed, the music seeks to explore, compare, and articulate the struggles and issues of contemporary rural and urban communities that have been juxtaposed through the political maneuvering of the American justice system.

Thousand Kites

Utilizing audio, video, live performance, and digital mediums, Appalshop’s Holler to the Hood (H2H) project has created a local and national web community around prison issues. In the past five years, thousands of kites – in prisoner slang to fly a kite is to send a message – have flown between H2H and prisoners—including raps, songs, and poems performed over toll-free phone lines hooked to H2H’s weekly radio and web broadcast. Hundreds of letters, essays, and pieces of prisoner art have been posted on H2H’s website. The Thousand Kites project relies on this web network, and innovative use of the digital medium itself, to create a series of live community-based performances.

Performance creation will begin with the prisoners in two Appalachian super-maximum prisons cited in 2001 by Human Rights Watch for physical abuse, racial intimidation, and sexual humiliation – and, importantly, with these prisoners’ home communities. Working virtually with prisoners and in-person with families of prisoners, the H2H and Roadside ensembles will use their combined expertise to jump-start script development; the theater’s community story-circle methodology, will be mirrored in digital space by H2H to allow for prisoner and prisoner network participation. This creation process will produce a script that can be adapted to the culturally specific, local content of each presenting community. Family photo albums and prison art will be important design elements in each of the local productions.

The 15-30 live performances will premiere simultaneously in December 2006 in prisons, churches and community centers in prison communities, co-produced by members of the national prison network of activists and prison family organizations associated with H2H. These performances will be broadcast on 100 radio stations located near prisons—from Sing-Sing to Red Onion to Angola—which are also part of H2H’s network. After the premieres, the script will be available for public use free of charge through H2H’s website. H2H and Roadside conceive of their artistic work in cycles of planning, creation, and assessment within 10 year time frames, thus what is learned from this effort will become the basis for the next cycle of their prison work.

Weekly Radio Program

What if artists and activists in central Appalachia ran a weekly hip-hop radio program in response to the burgeoning prison population? What if the show brought urban and rural communities together? We answer these questions together every Monday night with Holler to the Hood's weekly radio show. Listen Mondays from 8-11pm on WMMT 88.7. To send your shout-outs, poems, prayers and songs over the airwaves call 606-633-1208 or email:

Appalshop is a multi-disciplinary arts and education center in the heart of Appalachia producing original films, video, theater, music and spoken-word recordings, radio, photography, multimedia, and books.

Misc Prison Resources

Southern Illinois Prisons
Federal Bureau of Prisons / Facilities
Illinois Department of Corrections / Correctional Facilities
"The Color and Geography of Prison Growth in Illinois" / Paul Street (.pdf)
"Starve the Racist Prison Beast" / Paul Street
"Race, Place, and the Perils of Prisonomics" / Paul Street
"The Political Consequences Of Racist Felony Disenfranchisement" / Paul Street
The Chicago Reporter / "Census dollars bring bounty to prison towns"
Prisoners of the Census / Illinois
Illinois Labor Market Review / "Prisons and Southern Illinois"
Illinois Labor Market Review / "Throughout Southern Illinois: Mines Move Out as Prisons Move In"
Illinois Issues / "Hard Time"
SIUC Perspectives / "Scrutinizing the Supermax"
Critical Resistance
Prison Sucks: Research on the Prison Industrial Complex
National Institute of Corrections / Illinois
2004 Illinois Statistical Abstract / Crime and Law Enforcement
The Next American City / "A SORRY EXCUSE FOR A DECENT LIVING: How Rural Illinois Has Staked its Revival on Prison Growth"
Newtopia Magazine / "The Vice Lords of the Replacement Economies: How the Drug War and the Prison-Industrial Complex connect in a vicious cycle of violence, vice, and profit"
American Indian Prisoners
California Prison Focus
Newtopia Magazine / "A Less Fashionable War"
Drug War Facts
AlterNet / Drug Reporter
"Drugs and Disparity: The Racial Impact of Illinois' Practice of Transferring Young Drug Offenders to Adult Court"
The Corrections Documentary Project / Corrections: A Documentary Film
Prison Maps
The Real Cost of Prisons PROJECT / WEBLOG
Recording Carceral Landscapes / "From Military Industrial Complex to Prison Industrial Complex" / Prof. Ruth Wilson Gilmore in conversation with Trevor Paglen
De:constructing Recidivism
U.S. Department of Justice / Bureau of Justice Statistics / Prison Statistics