“Uncuffed” Podcast Explores Friendships Formed in Prison

“Uncuffed” Podcast Explores Friendships Formed in Prison

September 12, 2023 | Greg Eskridge

A July 2020 Interfaith Vigil at San Quentin State Prison.

So, the story is about two cellmates who became friends while in prison, right? It’s hard enough to find a good cellmate in prison and it’s even harder to even find a good friend in prison. And these two found both of them within each other, right? And so here comes the pandemic. COVID hits the world and it’s catastrophic for everyone, and Kelton’s cellmate gets sick. He gets carted off to the ambulance and wheeled out to the hospital. Kelton doesn’t know what’s going on with his cellmate, his friend. He doesn’t have any information. All he knows is that his friend and cellmate contracted COVID, and he was concerned.

Kelton decided to go on a hunger strike. He stopped eating. That was the only thing he could do to support his friend. He was willing to put his own life and health in jeopardy to protest the treatment he saw as inadequate for not only his friend, but other incarcerated people as well.

On our podcast Uncuffed, which is produced by people who are incarcerated, we have roundtable discussions about the issues brought up by a producer’s story. Everyone was talking about COVID and how impactful it was on all of us. We were devastated, just like the rest of the world, if not worse. I mean, I’ve seen so many deaths around here. I’ve seen people, no, I’ve seen friends that have died. I was helpless in this situation as well. And here it is, this one person who got tired of being helpless and did the only thing that he thought he could do to get some attention to his friend and his friend’s circumstances.

One of the most personally surprising elements of Kelton’s story was the friendship he created inside of the prison because friendships are so difficult to find there. You have a lot of good cellies, but they don’t always become your friends. You have a lot of good friends who don’t always become your cellie. The ultimate, ultimate sign of a friendship in this story was when Kelton went on a hunger strike. When you go on a hunger strike, refusing to have food or drink, you can also get a disciplinary action taken against you for being on that hunger strike. Being on a hunger strike is basically a rule violation. Kelton didn’t care about any of that. 

True friendships can be formed while inside of a prison system. We’re all we’ve got, and this story really illustrates that. At the end of the day, we are all that we have. We may have family and friends on our side, but we don’t see those people as often. We may see them on the weekend; we may not. We may have received letters; we may not have. But you see your cellmate every single day. This person is more than a friend. This person becomes true family.

I understood what he was going through, and I would’ve wanted somebody to do the same thing for me. 

Greg Eskridge headshot

Greg Eskridge is an award-winning journalist and a founding member of San Quentin Radio, where he currently serves as a facilitator and mentor. His stories have aired on KALW’s CrosscurrentsUncuffed, Life of the Law, and Crooked Media. Uncuffed is a finalist for the 2023 Media for a Just Society Award in the podcast/radio category. He co-produced Life of the Law’s live storytelling event, “Stand Up San Quentin,” which won a local Emmy with KQED. Greg is a member of the Northern California chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists. He is also pursuing a college degree and facilitates many self-help groups. As a journalist, his goal is to give incarcerated people a platform to express themselves as well as give the public an accurate account of prison life. When he is not producing, Greg is living out his basketball dreams. Despite almost 30 years of incarceration and being 50 years old, Greg still has a little game left.