Transforming the lives of prisoners through music

The rabble podcast network offers an alternative take on politics, entertainment, society, stories, community and life in general. All opinions belong to the podcaster; however, podcasters are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new podcasters -- contact us for details.

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support for as little as $5 per month!

Image: Resonant Pictures. Used with permission.

Prison reform in the United States is one of the most complicated issues to address. While mass incarceration is understood to be a serious problem, with over three decades of politicians promoting a "tough on crime" stance, we must also address the problem of how to view prisoners as real humans that deserve compassion.

Changing our perspectives about prisoners has become Speech's mission. (Speech is the name he is best known by. His other name is Todd Thomas). During the 1990s, Speech was part of the Grammy-winning group Arrested Development, praised for their socially conscious music during the rise of gangster rap. Although the band broke up soon after, Speech continues to tour and use music to change lives. As captured in Sam Bathrick's film 16 Bars, Speech has dedicated himself to working with inmates not only to create an album, but also to create a space where they can express themselves in a positive manner. The end result is not only an album of soulful and emotional songs, but also the realization of how much talent we lose from not addressing the structural barriers that keep inmates from receiving support.

Speech joins hosts Gilad Cohen and Simona Ramkisson to discuss his experiences filming 16 Bars, why it is so difficult to change the prison-industrial complex, and music's role in social justice.

Download the episode transcript here.

Hosted by Gilad Cohen (Founder, JAYU) and Simona Ramkisson, produced and edited by Brandon Fragomeni and Alex Castellani. Associate producer: Ron Ma.

Image: Resonant Pictures. Used with permission.

Theme music created for The Hum by Jeff Morrow.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.