Podcasts of the week: on crime and punishment
Featuring Life Jolt, Prison Bag, Prison Break and The Lazarus Heist
It’s hard to take a camera crew into a jail without “making a nuisance of yourself”, said Fiona Sturges in the FT, but audio is much more nimble, and can be just as revealing – which is why there are so many excellent prison podcasts. Ear Hustle, Uncuffed, Bird and The Secret Life of Prisons are all standouts of the genre; and now there’s Life Jolt, a brilliant Canadian documentary about Ontario’s Grand Valley Institution for Women. The focus is not on the practicalities of prison life, rather “what led the women there, how they are adapting and how it has made them feel”. The presenter, Rosemary Green, served a five-year sentence for drug trafficking. I shed tears listening to her “agony” and shame. And her narration is “extraordinary, her empathy and depth of understanding providing insight that another presenter simply wouldn’t have”.
Prison Bag was also superb, said Hannah J. Davies in The Guardian. In the podcast and radio series, Josie Bevan charted the impact on her family of her husband Rob being convicted of fraud. Its follow-up, Prison Break (on Radio 4 and BBC Sounds) continues Bevan’s “striking and honest” account of her experience: the moment when she and Rob unpack his prison bag is particularly memorable. But this second series is also a broader examination of the justice system from the perspective of those who have experience of it. Contributors include Carl Cattermole, who wrote a book about his time in Wormwood Scrubs and describes prison as a “static pirate ship”, and Dave Merritt, whose son Jack was killed in the London Bridge terror attack while working with ex-offenders.
For a lighter listen, still in the field of crime, try the “madly intriguing” The Lazarus Heist, said Miranda Sawyer in The Observer. This terrific World Service documentary takes its title from the name of a hacking outfit, and recounts North Korea’s infiltration of Sony Pictures’ computer systems in 2014. Pyongyang had been irked by The Interview, a comic film caper about the (fictional) assassination of Kim Jong Un. Its retaliation included the hacking and leaking of Hollywood secrets, including salary details and embarrassingly bitchy emails about stars. More disturbingly, North Korea also threatened to launch terrorist attacks on US cinemas showing the film.
The story of “Seth Rogen accidentally crashing his latest comedy vehicle into a high-stakes geopolitical stand-off” is perfect podcasting fodder, said James Marriott in The Times. It’s not going to “change the world, but you’ll have a lot of fun listening to it while you’re on a walk or cooking dinner. Which is exactly what podcasts are for.”
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