Discussion Guide: This Is Ear Hustle

1. What was your belief about the purpose of prison before reading this story? How has This Is Ear Hustle changed your perception of prison?
2. Earlonne says, “People see things differently in this world. Some see no value in discarded things or people. Nigel looks more closely, sees the what if.” Why do you think Earlonne and Nigel so easily connected in the Media Lab? What do they see in each other?
3. Nigel had an interesting path that led her to San Quentin. What odd clues or seeds have appeared in your life that have or could have shaped your career, hobbies, or projects?
4. Earlonne does not shy away from his responsibility as he tells his story. But it becomes evident that the system did not do him any favors. Are there any events or interactions that stand out in which, had someone in authority responded differently, Earlonne’s life before incarceration might have been nudged into a different direction?
5. Earlonne writes, “There’s a saying that’s been important, and rung true, in my life: If you know better, you’ll do better. This was something that I had heard in my community, though I’m not sure who originally said it. Point was, I didn’t know better.” Why do you think Earlonne’s interaction with a total stranger—a stranger he held up at gunpoint—made him wake up in a way he hadn’t before?
6. Earlonne addresses an important but little discussed topic when it comes to incarceration: mental health. Why do you think he breaks the taboo and requests to see a psychiatrist? What were the benefits for him? How do you think a mental health counselor could be beneficial for prisoners?
7. The book discusses “convict etiquette.” What “rules” about prison life surprise you most? Are there similar dynamics that exist in the outside world?
8. Whose prison experience stands out to you? Why is that?
9. After reading This Is Ear Hustle, can you think of topics from the book that you want to explore further? If so, which ones?
10. Why do you think a podcast—and now book—like Ear Hustle is important? What do you think people can learn from these stories?
11. Are there any commonalities that you find between yourself and anyone in the book? Are there any shared experiences or thought patterns that you could identify with?
12. Nigel believes that focusing your efforts on small changes in places you can touch is what makes a difference. But others believe that engaging in larger global change is what makes the true difference. What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of each approach? And how do you see social involvement playing out in your life?