One City One Book: This Is Ear Hustle

Blue background with cover of This Is Ear Hustle superimposed

Together, we read.

San Francisco Public Library is honored to announce its 17th One City One Book selection, This Is Ear Hustle by Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods.

From the co-creators and co-hosts of the Peabody- and Pulitzer-nominated podcast comes this illuminating view of prison life, as told by presently and formerly incarcerated people. The United States locks up more people per capita than any other nation in the world--600,000 each year and 2.3 million in total. The acclaimed podcast Ear Hustle, named after the prison term for eavesdropping, gives voice to that ever-growing prison population. Co-created for the Radiotopia podcast network from PRX by visual artist Nigel Poor and inmate Earlonne Woods, who was serving thirty-one years to life before his sentence was commuted in 2018, Ear Hustle was launched in the basement media lab of California's San Quentin State Prison. As the first podcast created and produced entirely within prison, it has since been globally lauded for the rare access and perspective it contributes to the conversation about incarceration.

Now, in their first book, Poor and Woods present unheard stories that delve deeper into the experiences of incarceration and share their personal paths to San Quentin as well as how they came to be co-creators. This unprecedented narrative, enhanced by forty original black-and-white illustrations, reveals the spectrum of humanity of those in prison and navigating post-incarceration. Bringing to the page the same insight, balance, and charismatic rapport that has distinguished their podcast, Poor and Woods illuminate the full--and often surprising--realities of prison life. With characteristic candor and humor, their portrayals include unexpected moments of self-discovery, unlikely alliances, and many ingenious work-arounds. One personal narrative at a time, framed by Poor's and Wood's distinct perspectives, This Is Ear Hustle tells the real lived experience of the criminal justice system.

About the Authors

Black background with Black man wearing orange track suit and white woman wearing black sweater and glassesNigel Poor is the co-creator, co-host, and co-producer of Ear Hustle (PRX & Radiotopia). A visual artist and photography professor at California State University, Sacramento, her work has exhibited nationally and internationally, including at the SFMOMA and de Young Museum in San Francisco and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. In 2011. Poor got involved with San Quentin State Prison as a volunteer teacher for the Prison University Project.

Earlonne Woods is the co-creator, co-host, and co-producer of Ear Hustle (PRX & Radiotopia). In 1997, Woods was sentenced to thirty-one years to life in prison. While incarcerated, he received his GED, attended Coastline Community College, and completed many vocational programs. He also founded CHOOSE1, which aims to repeal the California Three Strikes Law, the statute under which he was sentenced. In November 2018, then–California Governor Jerry Brown commuted Woods' sentence after twenty-one years of incarceration and he became a full-time producer for Ear Hustle. His efforts with CHOOSE1 continue, as he advocates for restorative justice and works to place a repeal initiative on the ballot in 2022.

ESSENTIAL EPISODES: New to Ear Hustle? We picked 10 essential episodes to get you started.

MAIN EVENT: Author: Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods, moderated by Piper Kerman - Thur., Nov. 3, 6–7:30 p.m., Koret Auditorium, Main Library/Streaming 

A not-to-miss evening with Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods in celebration of their book This Is Ear Hustle: Unflinching Stories of Everyday Prison Life, moderated by Piper Kerman, author of Orange Is the New Black: My Year in A Woman’s Prison.  Books available at the event. Doors open and 6 p.m., event starts at 6:30 p.m.

This program is sponsored by Friends of the San Francisco Public Library.



One City One Book 22 Logo1. What was your belief about the purpose of prison before reading this story? Has This Is Ear Hustle changed your perception?

2. Earlonne says, “People see things differently in this world. Some see no value in discarded things or people. Nigel looks more closely, sees the what if. ” Why do you think Earlonne and Nigel so easily connected in the Media Lab? What do they see in each other?

3. Nigel had an interesting path that led her to San Quentin. What odd clues or seeds have appeared in your life that have or could have shaped your career, hobbies or projects?

4. Earlonne does not shy away from his responsibility as he tells his story. But it becomes evident that the system did not do him any favors. Are there any events or interactions that stand out in which, had someone in authority responded differently, Earlonne’s life before incarceration might have been nudged in a different direction?

5. Earlonne writes, “There’s a saying that’s been important, and rung true, in my life: If you know better, you’ll do better. This was something that I had heard in my community, though I’m not sure who originally said it. Point was, I didn’t know better.” Why do you think Earlonne’s interaction with a total stranger—a stranger he held up at gunpoint—made him wake up in a way he hadn’t before?

6. Earlonne addresses an important but little discussed topic when it comes to incarceration: mental health. Why do you think he breaks the taboo and asks to see a psychiatrist? What were the benefits for him? How do you think a mental health counselor could be beneficial for prisoners?

7. The book discusses “convict etiquette.” What “rules” about prison life surprise you most? Are there similar dynamics that exist in the outside world?

8. Whose prison experience stood out to you? Why is that?

9. After reading This Is Ear Hustle, are there topics from the book that you want to explore more? If so, which ones?

10. Why do you think a podcast—and now book—like Ear Hustle is important? What do you think people can learn from these stories?

11. Are there any commonalities that you find between yourself and anyone in the book? Are there any shared experiences or thought patterns that you could identify with?

12. Nigel believes that focusing your efforts on small changes in places you can touch is what makes a difference. Others believe that engaging in larger global change is what makes the true difference. What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of each approach? How do you see social involvement playing out in your life?

Praise and Recognitions for This Is Ear Hustle

"Profound, sometimes hilarious, often heartbreaking."The New York Times

“A Prison University Project professor and a formerly incarcerated man bring together evocative first-person accounts from those who previously served in prison and those who remain there today in a starkly honest series of conversations.”Newsweek

“In this unforgettable book, Nigel Poor, Earlonne Woods, and a range of fascinating people generously share their prison stories, inviting readers to understand human struggle in an inhumane system via humor, contemplation, and community.”—Piper Kerman, author of Orange Is the New Black

This Is Ear Hustle is a jewel. Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods are gifted storytellers, and their ability to draw intimate, authentic stories out of others is extraordinary. With grace and humor they walk through what life is really like behind bars, showing the humanity and depth of those they meet inside.”—Catherine Burns, artistic director, The Moth

“The gift of the Ear Hustle podcast is that it’s just as revelatory for people who’ve done a bid as it is for those who have no idea what hearing a cell door closing really feels like. This Is Ear Hustle is the bildungsroman of one of the most influential pieces of art, broadcast journalism, and reportage to ever come out of a prison. Nigel and Earlonne have created a soundscape that is as inventive as it is provocative, and their book shows why we ear hustle, and why, somehow, sometimes, it makes us feel like we were there.”—Reginald Dwayne Betts, author of Felon



Related One City One Book Exhibits on View at the Main Library

This Is Ear Hustle’s Book Art on View and Artist Program

Sketch of man and womanRefined and realistic, the graphite illustrations in This Is Ear Hustle illuminate moments throughout the book. As part of the 2022 One City One Book program, Damien Linnane, artist, author, scholar, Ph.D. candidate and formerly incarcerated, speaks about his life and his work with Ear Hustle and beyond live from Australia.

Linnane was born in Sydney, Australia. His debut novel, Scarred, was written by hand while he was in prison serving a two-year sentence for crimes the sentencing magistrate described as “vigilante action”. Since his release from prison, he has become editor of the prison magazine Paper Chained, and is currently completing a PhD in law. He is also an illustrator, freelance writer and activist for incarcerated persons.                                      

The original artwork from This Is Ear Hustle: Unflinching Stories of Everyday Prison Life are now on display in the Atrium of the Main Library through December 29, 2022.                           

Related Event

Presentation: Damien Linnane, Illustrator of This Is Ear Hustle – Mon., Nov. 14, 7 p.m.

Facing Life with Pendarvis Harshaw & Brandon Tauszik

Facing Life is a multimedia web-based project that chronicles the experiences of eight individuals living through reentry after serving life prison sentences in California. Visuals by Brandon Tauszik & words by Pendarvis Harshaw.
Over two years, Tauszik and Harshaw followed their subjects as they faced everyday challenges associated with reentry. Facing Life is comprised of cinemagraphs, videos, 360VR clips and text, giving an intimate and extensive look into the lives of eight individuals living through reentry. This project was made possible with support from the Pulitzer Center. 

Harshaw is a renowned journalist and educator based in Sacramento and Oakland. He has taught journalism to high school students as well as incarcerated men. He is a staff writer and podcast producer at KQED, as well as a graduate of UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism. His first book, OG Told Me, is a memoir-style collection of essays about Harshaw’s coming-of-age experience as a black man in America.

Tauszik is a documentary photographer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles and Oakland. His long-term projects examine elements of America’s social periphery. His most recent works have incorporated the largely unexplored medium of cinemagraphs, a delicate hybrid between the still image and film. This work has received reviews from TIME, Slate, VICE and Medium, among others.
An exhibition of the portraits and stories from Facing Life are on display from October 1 through December 29, 2022, Main Library, The Bridge at Main, 5th Floor.

Related Event

Presentation: Facing Life: Pendarvis Harshaw & Brandon Tauszik in conversation with Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods – Sat., Dec. 3, 2 p.m., Koret Auditorium/Streaming