The decision to take a television channel from inmates lies within the complete discretion of the New Jersey State Prison’s staff. And recently, an undue amount of television channels were replaced or removed. This seizure began when COVID-19 abruptly shut down the prison.
The administrative staff members determine what is and what isn’t appropriate for us to watch on television. That’s a problem because the staff of New Jersey State Prison is almost entirely White — unlike the prisoner population.
Black people are overrepresented in the New Jersey prison population. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, 54% of New Jersey’s total prison population is Black even though only 14% of New Jersey’s total population is Black. White people make up 26% of the prison population and Latinos make up 21%.
Channels are often changed, lesser programs swapped for better programs. For example, before COVID-19, one of the stations on my TV was the Bloomberg business news channel. I believed that this news channel displayed the news in an unbiased way and allowed me to hear and learn the business lingo. It also opened my mind to the world of business trade. So, naturally, I was confused when the staff snatched the Bloomberg channel and replaced it with Fox business news.
Initially, I thought “Cool! Fox business will probably be as open and unbiased as Bloomberg.” But, I was wrong! While I do watch Fox news on occasions, I was expecting Fox business to be politically disinclined. That was definitely not the case. To my realization, Fox Business News and Fox News were one and the same.
I am not a petty person. So I said, “Hey, nothing to harp over.” I switched to the American History channel, a slow-paced network with content that I could listen to while I read or wrote.
Then, another switch took place. Many channels were suddenly erased and replaced with new, weirder ones. Among those added were One America News and Newsmax. My American History channel was deleted.
Why had the staff made those changes to our channels? And why now? It had only been a month since the last changes; Usually, the channels changed every six months. With no other explanation to turn to, I chalked it up to COVID-19. “Maybe someone is finally available to keep the channels in continuous rotation,” I thought.
Soon after, I noticed that TV One and Fuse were missing. A true crime channel emerged. Not my thing. So, I settled on HGTV.
A few days later, at lunch, I heard a fellow inmate yell: , “Yo they just gave us Revolt!”
“Yeah, that Puff channel.”
I was instantly gratified and enthused. I had heard a lot about this network. The entire prison was excited. Hip-Hop was a huge part of many of our cultures, and it had been forever since we’d been able to engage with it.
I watched Revolt TV all day because, of course, I’m unapologetically hip-hop! The network taught us about the business side of hip-hop, showed us hip-hop news (Black news with Ebony K. Williams and the Breakfast Club), and gave us education and inspiration through hip-hop. The network also played hip-hop music videos.
“I’m lit! I’m never changing the channel,” I thought. At one point in time, N.O.R.E. was my favorite rapper. The podcast Drink Champs, I’m locked in.
Then, last week, prison chatter emerged. The prison was taking away Revolt because they saw something that they did not like.” What!?
Usually, I pay no mind to the function of the prison (it will drive you crazy), and I ignore most gossip. But somehow, I could not avoid this noise. It was too loud. I kept my ears open. Everywhere I went, I heard: “They’re taking Revolt!”
At this point, I started to notice a pattern. The channels we watched and enjoyed were being swiped and replaced with right-wing propaganda.
Fox, CNN, MSNBC, Newsmax, OAN, Vice, ESPN, TCM, Bravo, MTV and VH1 are the only channels we are left with now. In fact, “Ray Donovan” is playing as I write. Last week, a movie called “The Human Centipede 3” was being played on one of these channels. In it, inmates were being surgically joined, mouth to anus! As a human locked behind bars, it was appalling to watch, but the warden had no issues with that movie.
Also, we still are able to watch the Ultimate Outdoor Network, a hunting channel with a slew of second amendment proponents, gun programs, Glock commercials, Kel-Tec commercials, etc. I guess the prison administration has issues with hip-hop but not with gun-wagging right-wingers.
What threat could any channel possibly pose to the orderly function of the prison? Taking away Revolt TV was just a direct stab at our culture. Today, I am hurt and angry by this decision.
I am Kory McClary, and I am #unapologeticallyHipHop!
(Additional reporting by Elena Townsend-Lerdo)
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.