6.20.2018

A Different Kind of Crime Podcast


In my early twenties, I was very big into crime shows; SVU, Criminal Minds, etc. By the time I hit my mid-twenties, I had developed an unhealthy paranoia about strangers, wherein everyone I passed on the street was a suspect. Guy in a suit? Secret psychopath. Teen in a band t-shirt? Stalker. Elderly woman? Bakes children into pies. Baby in a stroller? Future arsonist.


Obviously, this is not a healthy way to live. As a woman in the world, I already have enough real threats to my safety to worry about without bombarding my brain with extraordinary fictional scenarios. It was around this time that I implemented a strict no-crime diet, and I stayed away from creepy crime entertainment for years.

This was all thrown into disarray when I started to get into podcasts a few years ago. True crime is a massively popular podcast genre, so I dipped my toe in and tried some of the female-driven heavy-hitters - My Favorite Murder, Wine & Crime, Martinis and Murder. It turns out, the murder-comedy genre is not for me (although, the NYT discusses its transgressive appeal here), so I shifted in a different direction and tried some of the single-case seasons like Serial and S-Town. The stories were engaging and I was hooked, but I still couldn't shake the feeling that they were either exploitative (S-Town) or potentially traumatizing for the family of the decreased (season 1 of Serial).

Finally, I found a niche of podcasts that are about crime without being focused on the gory details of an incident. Instead, they tell the stories of people whose lives have intersected with crime, sometimes in unexpected ways. Often, the podcasts highlight social and systemic injustices and, where possible, engage various stakeholders (e.g., victims, families, perpetrators, the accused, prison staff, etc.) in the storytelling process.

Criminal - Host Phoebe Judge tells "stories of people who've done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle." Most episodes are self-contained stories, although there is occasionally a two-parter. The topics are wide-ranging, from faking one's death to body decomposition labs. There are also some historical deep dives, like the fascinating tale of Carry A. Nation. You can start anywhere, and I would recommend one of my favourite episodes: He's Neutral

Ear Hustle - This podcast is about life inside San Quentin State Prison and is produced in the prison's media lab by two inmates (Earlonne Woods, co-host, and Antwan Williams, sound designer) and a volunteer artist, Nigel Poor. The team is clear that they are not investigative journalists and, while the men's crimes are occasionally mentioned, they are typically not the focus of the episodes. Instead, they raise issues such as mass incarceration, morality, sexuality, race, and the justice system through stories about cellmates, food, parenting, and pets. You can start anywhere, but I'd recommend the beginning.

Caught - According to this podcast, approximately one million American kids are caught up in the criminal justice system every year. This nine episode podcast introduces you to some of these kids, sharing their stories while highlighting the challenges of the youth criminal justice system's current punishment model. It's really interesting to hear this story from multiple sides: parents, corrections workers, and the kids themselves.

Missing and Murdered - Host Connie Walker is a journalist with CBC radio. Each season of the podcast (there are two thus far) focuses on the disappearance and death of an Indigenous woman or girl. Walker works closely with families and, as a Cree woman who grew up in the Okanese First Nation, is a knowledgeable and insightful host. The stories are deeply sad, but they are also revelatory - if you've never understood how the consequences of the Sixties Scoop have reverberated through generations, this podcast will shed some light. Start at the beginning of either season 1 or 2.

P.S. An honourable mention to The Trouble with Shannon Cason. The podcast is in its early days, but I've enjoyed the episodes thus far!