Ear to the Ground is a yearlong radio conversation with individuals navigating Baltimore’s schools, addiction treatment centers, social services, and criminal justice system. The series can be heard on WYPR 88.1 FM’s The Signal, Fridays from noon to 1 p.m., with a rebroadcast from 7 to 8 p.m. Aaron Henkin is the series producer and host. Ear to the Ground is supported by a grant from OSI-Baltimore.
Henkin approaches each radio story as an opportunity to share what is elemental and universal about the human experience. He allows each guest to tell his or her own story. According to Henkin, “My hope is to share some important life stories that might otherwise never get to be heard by the world.”
These days, Tonier Cain travels the country running workshops for service providers at women’s correctional facilities. What she has to teach, she’s learned from long years of experience. Tonier has been arrested 83 times for crimes including prostitution, theft, and drug possession. Behind her criminal record was a childhood kept locked in a dark corner of her mind for most of her life. Tonier was finally able to confront the abuse she suffered during her early years, and since that revelation she’s been on what she calls a boundless ‘upward spiral.’
Dale Henderson was a teenager when he came out to his dad. The reaction was disapproving silence and an emotional wall. So Dale did something drastic–he exiled himself from his own family home, and he spent five months living on the streets, without telling a soul.
Nine years of teaching theatre arts in the Baltimore public school system has given Koli Tengella plenty to ponder. He’s studied the kids, their parents, his fellow teachers, and himself, and he’s discovered along the way that real, meaningful educational breakthroughs can’t necessarily be measured by test scores.
Family, friends, sanity, youth, and dreams…. Robert Harris, Jr., counts all of these among the casualties of his heroin addiction. He says the drug led him on a “walk through Hell” that lasted 12 years. He’s been clean for a decade now, but he’s still struggling to piece together the fragments of a shattered psyche. It was drug addiction that inflicted the wound, but it’s another habit that’s been helping to heal it: the written word.
Nabil Karim served 23 and a half years in prison for armed robbery and murder. That prison sentence was a crucible. Nabil watched as some fellow inmates slid from bad to worse within the penitentiary walls, surviving through violence and intimidation. He also met others, men who searched inward and supported one another spiritually and intellectually. Nabil chose the latter path, a patient quest for self-knowledge and a shot at redemption. What he taught himself in prison–listening skills, compassion, and peaceful conflict resolution–he learned against all odds. After his release, Nabil searched for meaningful work, and he found it, ultimately, in the last place he thought he’d ever want to go: back inside penitentiary walls. Today, Nabil works as a prison pre-release counselor, coaching others who are about to step into society and, like him, to embark on a new chapter of life.
Joyce Lewis was a career woman with a government job. She was the mother of a straight “A” student. And she was a Sunday school teacher. All the while, she was maintaining a secret crack cocaine habit. As her addiction grew, Joyce lost her job and eventually lost her family home. But even as her own life was spiraling out of control, her daughter’s life was flourishing. Joyce became a grandmother around the same time she became homeless, and she found herself in a precarious situation–taking up in a spare room at the home of her daughter and baby grandson. After lies, confrontations, and some serious soul-searching, Joyce came clean to her daughter. Then the other work began–getting clean from her addiction.
The first installment is a profile of poet (and recovering addict) Clarence Brown. Clarence used heroin for 26 years. It cost him his home, his family, and his freedom. But now, he finds himself at a fragile crossroads. He’s currently in a residential recovery program, with nine clean months under his belt. He says each new day is a struggle for mindfulness. He focuses on avoiding relapse, he studies the broken shards of his old life, and he concentrates on patience and humility as he looks ahead to the future. It’s a long road, but Clarence has found a powerful ally along the way: pen and paper.