Sylvia Ryerson, a PhD student in American Studies and Public Humanities affiliate, has received the Appalachian Studies Association’s 2022 Jack Spadaro Documentary Award for Calls From Home, which Ryerson directed. An intimate portrait of rural prison expansion, Calls From Home documents WMMT-FM’s longstanding radio show that sends familial messages of love over public airwaves to reach people incarcerated in Central Appalachia. For many, the show is a lifeline to the world outside, as exorbitant prison phone rates and constant prisons lockdowns make communication costly and often inaccessible, and the lack of public transportation to the region makes visitation impossible for many.
The judges commented that Calls From Home is “An exceptionally strong portrait of a grassroots approach to address the issue of mass incarceration in Appalachia. From the innovative animation which enables us to imagine that which cannot be filmed inside the prisons to the inclusive structure of storytelling that makes this more than one family’s story, this film does important work.”