photo by Ross Hubbard
The freely downloadable CD, “Outside in, Inside out- Volume One- Mics and Bars,” opens its first track with a cold, robotic voice announcing that, “Phone calls other than properly placed attorney calls may be monitored and reported.”
The avenues of communication available to Wisconsin’s inmate population are at best primitive and restrictive. Reaching outside the bars is the most difficult contact as an inmate’s audience is limited to a monitored and censored few. More often than not, any positive message they can give from their prison experience falls upon deaf ears. That is, until now.
Boss Lady, who captains the DJ chair for “The Universal Soul Explosion,” Saturdays, WORT 89.9 FM, midnight to 3:00 AM, is a study in contradictions. Bouncy, energetic, optimistic, beautiful, and White, she hardly conjures up the image of the most recent winner of the Madison Hip Hop Awards “Radio Personality of the Year.”
“Life is full of stereotypes,” she muses. “Even though Wisconsin has the highest Black male prison population, not every Wisconsin Black male has been a prisoner. Incarceration isn’t based on any given demographic. Anyone can find themselves in the “system”, subject to the same restrictions and treatment as any other inmate.”
Where Boss Lady garnered her humanitarian and common sense approach to this issue is also an enigma. Central Wisconsin born and raised, she was drawn to radio as far back as she can remember, always in search of more music not readily available to the general population.
“My big sisters were in to Cameo and Morris Day, “she remembered,” but looking back my most memorable event was Aerosmith pairing with Run DMC on the remake of “Walk This Way”. It brought Rap/Hip Hop in to the mainstream for the first time.”
Following the music, she migrated to Madison and immersed herself in what was then a lively and robust Hip Hop community. She could always be found at one of the many Hip Hop events, learning the business first hand. She frequented many of Madison’s short lived Hip Hop clubs, meeting the owners and making connections. Most recently she became a board member of the Madison Hip Hop Awards, and got a show on WORT.
“The MHHA does a lot more than just give awards,” she said. “The board organizes fund raising and works closely with local artists to give back to the community and teach kids that Hip Hop can have a positive message.”
WORT has also been a useful vehicle for her many ideas. She originally subbed for other DJ’s, learned the trade, and, as WORT spots are rare, she waited her turn. Since taking the reins of “The Universal Soul Explosion” over a year ago, she has been busy.
“The show has become more than just playing music,” she said. “It’s turning in to a place where members of the Hip Hop community can get together and share music and ideas with each other and the listening audience. And it is also, if the number of letters in my radio mail box each week is any indication, very popular with the Southern Wisconsin prison population.”
And she would seem to be right. Inmates on good behavior are allowed to listen to the radio, and more often than not, they choose Boss Lady’s show. It has become, she says, their “Saturday Night Live.” Not only can the inmates relate to the show’s content, it has become the only true “Shout Out” radio show in the listening area. “The Shout Out,” she explains, “is a way for someone to get a personal message to someone listening to the show, with only a 20 second delay. A close friend or family member calls the station, I put them on the air and their loved one hears their message unrestricted and direct.”
The studio phone will start ringing a half hour before her show and will be ringing still when she packs her gear and heads home early Sunday morning.
“The Shout Outs are almost exclusively directed to an inmate,” she said. “I try not to put a time limit on the calls because sometimes the whole family wants to leave their individual message of love and support.”
And as the popularity of the show grows the inmates weekly mail input grows as well. “Most people don’t know how difficult and expensive it is for an inmate to try to contact the outside. If an inmate wants to phone out, he or she must set up and pay for an individual account. Usually all they can afford is their attorney and one family member. And it’s not any cheaper to mail a letter,” she continued. “Recently an inmate sent me ten stamped, blank envelopes. He wanted to help send the artwork of the CD to other inmates so they could see what it looked like. Well, since most inmates only make pennies per hour doing prison labor, that $4.60 could’ve been his entire weekly salary.”
Another item she has gleaned from the weekly mail is stacks of hand written messages to youth. “Some of them are difficult to read,” she said pensively. “The inmates pour their hearts out, pleading with young people not to follow them, not to make their mistakes. And that is the true meaning of the letters,” she said finally. “The inmates have countless positive and meaningful messages that the public, especially young people, should be hearing. But all those voices are inside. There had to be way to bring them out.”
One of Boss Lady’s best friends is DJ Big Juice (host of The After Party, Friday nights 2:00 AM to 6:00 AM on WORT) and they’ve collaborated many times producing, promoting, editing, mixing, performing and educating. They came up with the idea of producing a free CD with music from local artists and spoken words from the inmates. “The musicians were more than happy to support the project,” she said,” but how to record the inmates was another problem.” The answer was ingeniously simple.
They created a phone account where any call that came in was immediately downloaded to Boss Lady’s computer. When an inmate called his family, they put him on speaker phone. Taking a second phone they dialed Boss Lady’s account line and put the two phones together. Whatever the inmate said was instantly stored. “With modern sound technology it was simple to download the messages,” she said proudly. “And legal problems did not exist as the message had already cleared the prison censors when it jumped the wall. Now it was in the public domain guarded by the First Amendment. It was Free Speech.”
Several local artists gave freely their talents including Milwaukee’s Coo Coo Cal. DJ Juice mixed down the sound, dropping the music around the inmate’s voices. The finished project was inserted at audiomack.com (search: Outside in Inside out) and is available for free. To date no one involved in the project has made a dime.
“We’re all really happy with outcome and eternally grateful for the support of the arts community,” Boss Lady reminisced. “And the beautiful thing is this project is not unique to Wisconsin. It can be repeated anywhere. And with a digitally connected world, anyone can hear the message.”
She plans the next CD will launch in late April. Mindful of her privacy she likes to keep the public informed from her chair at WORT. If you can’t stay up that late, wortfm.org has an Archives section where you can hear her most recent show in its entirety 24/7. If you wish to contact her, leave a message at: bossladymarketingandpromotion (at) gmail (dot) com.
“People sometimes ask me,” she said, packing up to leave, “why do want to help these people. Don’t you have enough to do already? I always give the same answer. When you’re struggling and you try to help others who are struggling, you both struggle a little less. The message we and the inmates are trying to convey is that music is entertainment, incarceration is real. And it’s not a real you want in your life.”
Let’s hope the message is heard.(5204) Page Views Boss Lady Online:
CD: Outside in, Inside out - Volume One - Mics and Bars Record Label: Self Released