Brenda Birungi, Radio Show, UK, free flow, NPR, national prison radio, poetry, rap

How Lady Unchained Uses Her Radio Show To Give Voice And Community To Inmates In The UK

How the UK's "Free Flow" radio allows inmates countrywide to connect through creative expression.

Meet Lady Unchained, the host behind the United Kingdom’s “Free Flow” radio show, which allows inmates nationwide to practice and show off their rapping and poetry skills.

The award-winning poet, author, and broadcaster helmed the show for London’s National Prison Radio (NPR), a station only available to His Majesty’s inmates, The Guardian reports. Each week, “Free Flow” entertains thousands of listeners who tune in to hear Lady Unchained play a series of hip-hop instrumentals to which they get the chance to write music and spoken word pieces.

For the last six years, listeners have been able to dial in and freestyle into an answering machine that Lady Unchained replays later and offers her feedback. In addition to the music and talent showcase, Lady Unchained, a former inmate herself, shares advice and tips on how to build a crime-free future through creative expression and positive living.

“It’s a community of listeners who are going through personal journeys,” Lady Unchained says. “Sometimes people aren’t even rapping. They’re just calling in to say: ‘Big up the guy who called in last because I felt what he was saying.’ That for me is everything.”

The show puts the UK’s nearly 90,000 inmates in connection with each other through music and exemplifies how technology and music advancements are paving lanes for sustainable, therapeutic, and rehabilitative activities for the prison community. The callers, mostly male inmates, share their rhymes about their personal experiences including drug addiction, parental relationships, and childhood traumas, along with promises of bettering themselves and encouraging others going through similarly challenging situations.

Lady Unchained is planning to release a live spoken word album of the 20-minute master track the show generated from inmates calling in during the UK’s Black History Month in October to share their verses to Tupac Shakur’s “Changes.” The groundbreaking results of “Free Flow” have garnered the show silver in the best commercial partnership category at last year’s Audio and Radio Industry awards, bronze for best music entertainment show in 2021, and 11 nominations at this year’s awards.

“I get messages all the time saying: ‘I’m out – thanks for playing my voice.’ We recognize that there is a massive community of people returning to society who had the show as their lifeline,” Lady Unchained says.

“My dream is that the people who are coming out are able to build a new narrative for what ex-offenders look like and sound like. It’s the importance of showing a different style of rapping, of telling your story without adding that glorification of what you’ve done on the roads, which could lead to you being connected to an offense because you’ve rapped about it in your bars. It’s about trying to change the narrative. Saying: ‘You don’t have to continue doing road when you get out. Now you’ve got a new community in Free Flow: come spit some bars and be creative.’”

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