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Transcript from January 2, 2001
Brenda Mills-Daniels & Joe Richman: Prison Diaries

npr_host: Welcome to tonight's NPR Online chat. We had planned to chat online live with John Mills, the subject of part one of the Radio Diaries series, Prison Diaries. Unfortunately, the North Caroline Department of Corrections decided against allowing Mr. Mills to participate in an online chat. However, they will allow John Mills to answer questions you may post this evening.

We will speak with Mr. Mills on your behalf, and post the answers in a transcript available at Tonight, our guests will be John Mills' mother, Brenda Mills-Daniels. Our second guest will be Joe Richman, producer of the series Prison Diaries. Joe Richaman and associate producer Wendy Dorr run Radio Diaries, a not-for-profit production company. It's based in New York city, and it's dedicated to helping people document their own lives. you can find out more about Radio Diaries at Please send in your questions for Brenda Mills-Daniels, or her son, John Mills now find out more about Prison Diaries, the online project, and what's coming up on the series at Let's welcome Brenda Mills-Daniels

Please welcome Brenda ... send in your questions now to talk with her about her son, John Mills who is the subject of part one of NPR's Prison Diaries, airing every Tuesday in January on All Things Considered.

Welcome, Brenda ..

npr_brenda_daniels: Thank you.

npr_host: Brenda, what was John like as a child?

npr_brenda_daniels: He was a bushy-head, bright-eyed, beautiful baby. He was a sweet boy. He was very active. When he was 10, he was sort of mischievious, like your typical 10 year old. But he was sweet and loveable. When he turned 14, he would do little things at school and I would have to go to the school. He wouldn't pay attention, wouldn't listen, things like that. He was in the 11th grade when he quit school. He lived at home and then left and then went and stayed with my eldest son.

roller_skate_skinny asks: mrs. mills - how difficult is it for you knowing your son is in prison?

npr_brenda_daniels: It worries me. Especially knowing what things go on inside a prison. There is a certain security there. At least I know he's out on the streets, getting into more trouble.

slimbooter asks: When did you first find out your son was robbing people?
npr_brenda_daniels: Not until he was about 16 or 17. My daughter told me. At first I couldn't believe it because at the same time he was telling me that he didn't do these things.

npr_host: send in your questions now

npr_brenda_daniels: And like most mothers, they believe their children.

npr_host: for Brenda Mills Daniels

roller_skate_skinny asks: how long is he serving in prison?

npr_brenda_daniels: 8 - 10 years.

npr_host: How has he changed since being in prison?

npr_brenda_daniels: He has positive thinking. He has gotten his GED since he's been in prison. Next week, he'll start trade school in automotive training. He says he wants to prove to me that he has changed and when he gets out, he will have something he can turn to. He says he knows he can do better than what he was doing on the streets. He says he has no time for that now. No. I think the biggest impact was when he turned into an adult -- now he's in an adult prison and what it's like. He didn't see that in the youth camp, but he's seeing it now.

npr_host: how often do you visit? how do you feel when you see him?

npr_brenda_daniels: I visit him every other Sunday. When I go to visit him, I wish he could go home with me. But I know that's not possible. I tell him that I love him, and will always love him.

npr_host: Do you feel he recieved a fair sentence?

npr_brenda_daniels: No. Because some murder cases don't get as much time as John did. In a few months, they're out.

npr_host: send in your questions now. we're chatting live with Brenda Daniels, mother of John Mills, the subject of part one of Prison Diaries. Listen to All Things Considered.

What words of encouragement do you give him?

npr_brenda_daniels: Trust in God, be strong, and remember that I love him. And I tell him I'll support him as long as he's doing the right thing.

npr_host: What about your other children? How are they?

npr_brenda_daniels: They're fine. My oldest daughter will graduate from college this year. She's majoring in Early Childhood Development. She works and is taking care of her children. My oldest son, he sings in a group which ranked number 6 in a Gospel quartet. And he's going to school to be a barber. My other daughter is married and stays home with her husband and kids and is doing well. My youngest daughter graduated last year from Cosmotology school and does well.

npr_host: what is their reaction to John's situation?

npr_brenda_daniels: At first they were angry They were also hurt. But they don't discuss it that much anymore.

npr_host: has it made them more vigilant about their ownl ives?

npr_brenda_daniels: I can't say.

npr_host: how has John's imprisonment changed you? as a person, and as a mother?

npr_brenda_daniels: As a mother, it hasn't. I'm still his mother and I'm going to be there for him and whatever help I can give him while he's in there, I'll do my best.

npr_host: we had to re-boot for a second but now we're back with Brenda Daniels please standby ...we're experiencing technical difficulties. Brenda, you were talking about how John's incarceration changed you as a person...

npr_brenda_daniels: He had ambitions to go on and continue his education... so I've gone back to school, too.

npr_host: Unfortunately we've run out of time for Brenda Daniels. Thanks very much Brenda for joining us

npr_brenda_daniels: You're welcome.

npr_host: Let's standby for a second ... and welcome our second guest Joe Richman, producer of Radio Diaries series, Prison Diaries. Send in your questions to Joe ... Let's welcome Joe Richman, Hi Joe ...thanks for joining us.

npr_joe_richman: Hi. Thank you.

zooey_franny asks: who's idea was it do this piece?

npr_joe_richman: It was my idea. We've been doing the diary series seen Teenage Diaries started. It was the same idea. Giving tape recorders to people so they could document their own lives.

purplehaze_48430 asks: ok Joe, how are inmates in prison really treated?

npr_joe_richman: It depends on the different prisons and the inmates. We were working in two facilities. In North Carolina it was part of the adult prison system. In Rhode Island, it was a juvenile facility and the two were night and day. In Rhode Island, it's sort of somewhere between a prison and a tough school and the classes or counseling programs or going to the gym.

npr_host: send in your questions to Joe Richman, producer of the Radio Diaries series, Prison Diaries, Airing on Tuesdays in January, on NPR's All Things Considered

npr_joe_richman: the inmates just have a lot less to do and they end of sitting around for most of the day.

angelgal57 asks: PEOPLE here all ask why JOHN MILLS is not allowed to speak online..........
npr_joe_richman: Basically, it was something between ... the prison system thought it was inappropriate to have an inmate communicating directly with people on the outside. I think what really happened was people did know what an Internet chat was and they were worried what signal it might send to the public. Some things about those shows may be realistic, but I think the overall impression is not. In general, the feeling you get most in prison isn't danger What we were trying to do in this series is not to show all the loud and scary things about prison, but some of the quiet sounds of prison and the intimate moments.

swt_male24 asks: what are some of the abuses that occur in a prison ??

npr_joe_richman: There are a lot of abuses that I as an occasional visitor will probably never know about. I think the most common abuse though is that the prison system tends to be so dehumanizing

maxzmomz asks: do you think that the prisons in the south are worse than the prisons in the north

npr_joe_richman: and I think this can be true for both inmates and correctional officers.

coolbabesangel1 asks: how bad are inmates treated in prison....i mean even if you know that you are a changed person, do they still treat you bad???

npr_joe_richman: It's just very hard them to see eachother as people.

lilguy414 asks: Do you think that John's statements regarding the fact that he doesn't feel that he has chnaged nor had he been rehabilitated will affect his chance for parole??

npr_joe_richman: I think one of the things about prison

nicole_b02871 asks: how can we hear the tapes

npr_joe_richman: is that the crime you did to get in there

lilguy414 asks: joe, i enjoyed the first installment of the diary series. how did you pick the people to participate?

npr_joe_richman: matters very little. What matters most is how you act

mikehonda98 asks: do any of the prison dramas like OZ depict how life is in prison realistcally

swt_male24 asks: what is the difference between an adult prison and far as inmate abuses?

npr_joe_richman: inside. So, if you act up and get in fights, you go to the

candlelady4186 asks: what is the suicide rate in federal prisons

npr_joe_richman: privileges. Some of the privileges can be a better job, a cell to yourself whether than living in one of the dorm units. A slight more respect from one of the officers. Our first trip to both of the prisons we interviewed 25 - 40 different inmates we tried to get a sense of their story, of their personality, and their willingness to talk bluntly and honestly about their everyday lives.

acid_burnz_uk asks: have you found it interesting...or learnt anything that you hadn't been expecting?

npr_joe_richman: Most of the things I've learned have been little things that the inmates aren't allowed to watch Jerry Springer, that's the one show they can't watch. It's a little bizarre. I would say the thing that surprised me most were the officers and the people who work in prisons. I think as many stereotypes we have of inmates, there are even more for correctional officers. To hear the warden look around and talk about how all these young, black men in prison and how sad that was for

npr_host: we're chatting with Joe Richman, producer of Prison Diaries, airing every Tuesday on NPR's All Things Considered.

npr_joe_richman: him personally and these men should be out in the community for his daughter to date and to be talking to the officer

npr_host: It's a series taped by prisoners and corrections offricials about what it's like in prison

npr_joe_richman: who seems to be the meanest of all and watch him take a few moments to give some advice to one of the inmates. The thing I learned was you can't typecast anyone. They all have their moments of surprise and they're all more complicated than you think.

ledfoot999 asks: do you think anyone will be dissuaded from a life of crime?

npr_joe_richman: That would of course be a good thing. But I'd say the biggest thing we can hope for is that the series helps us all have a little bit better understanding of what everyday life in prison is like from the point of view of both the inmates and the officers.

I_Scream_for asks: why did you choose those places out of all the places?

npr_joe_richman: The simple answer is, those were the two places that let us in. We had many prisons across the country that would let us do extensive interviews, but most were not willing to let inmates carry around tape recorders inside prisons for security reasons and for reasons that information inside prisons is a powerful thing. It might look like a prison spying on other inmates or guards. Prisons understandably cautious when it comes to dealing with the inmates. The series was mostly funded through a media fellowship with the Open Society Institute on Crime, Communities and Culture. We're a non-profit production company so all our projects are funded through grants.

ledfoot999 asks: Joe what do you think you will gain by these prison diaries

npr_joe_richman: It's already been an enlightening and humbling experience for me. Just getting to know a few inmates and officers inside prison, people I wouldn't otherwise think of as faceless. On some level getting close to them over the course of the year has been a privilege and an education. The story next week is diaries of correctional officers on Tuesday Jan. 9. It's the story of 7 correctional officers, 4 had tape recorders. The following week on Jan 16 is the diary from two different perspectives -- a juvenile judge in Rhode Island and one of the juvenile inmates that he has sentenced. What's interesting about this story is that Matthew, the juvenile inmate was released by the judge while he had his tape recorder. During the time he had his tape recorder, but two weeks later he was arrested again and had to go once more before the judge. So this story tells both of their stories from two different sides of the bench. The fourth story is Cristel. She was sentenced to six years at the juvenile facility in Rhode Island, but she did so well, and really rehabilitated herself so much so that the judge released her three years early. Her story follows her incarceration as well as her release and going home She's probably the best diary I've ever worked with.

npr_host: Thanks Joe for participating with us tonight inthe NPR Online chat about your series, Prison Diaries.

npr_joe_richman: Thank you all for listening.

npr_host: You can find out more about Prison diaries at or check out the online documentary at for more information ahout Joe Richman's Radio Diaries, go to Hear more ahout Prison Diaries every Tuesday. in January., on NPR's All Things Considered. goodnight and thanks for chating with us.