Making a Difference Inside and Outside the Walls

By Jennifer L. Warren

POUGHKEEPSIE– Ernest Henry always ends his radio show with the same quote.
“To have once been a criminal is no disgrace; to remain a criminal is the disgrace.”

These potent words, said by Malcolm X, symbolize the mission of Henry’s three hour radio broadcast out of Vassar College. Located on 91.3 FM, WVKR, the 3-6pm show, titled “Voices Beyond the Wall,” is heard every other Sunday in eight correctional facilities in the Hudson Valley as well as by their families, friends and countless others, including a world-wide audience via the Internet. It focuses on the challenging, real world transition many inmates will soon make, a reentry that Henry hopes he can inspire with tales of success from others who have gone down a similar road. In addition to providing pivotal political and societal information in the first hour, the show contains a core interview in the second hour, and concludes the final hour with a reading of letters from men and women in prison as well as questions posed from family members.

Its far-reaching, positive impact as well as longevity were recently recognized earlier this month.

On June 20th, Didi Barrett, a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly, representing Assembly District 106, acknowledged Henry at the State Assembly for his 10 years of diligent and meaningful radio host work. Proud to accept the prestigious honor, Henry is quick to cite another individual who has been by his side in all his business ventures, his wife and radio co-host, Kathy, as equally deserving of the distinction as well as success of all that he does.

City of Poughkeepsie’s Ernest Henry, along with his wife Kathy, have been successfully running two businesses since 1999, serving the needs of inmates and their families. For the past 10 years, the ambitious and altruistic duo has also been co-hosting the popular radio show, “Voices Beyond the Wall,” inspiring those incarcerated with priceless information as well as success stories delivered by former inmates.

“My wife assists me on the show as the co-host and makes sure all of the information we deliver is correct,” said Henry. “She supports me in everything I do.”

And Henry does quite a bit. Rising at 5am every day, the relentlessly dedicated City of Poughkeepsie resident, can almost always be spotted working or thinking about doing something to improve one of the several businesses he oversees with Kathy. First, there is the 18 year old Friends Beyond the Walls Inc (FBTW), connecting currently incarcerated people with those on the outside for support. Then there is Jaden Moore of New York, providing gift needs to inmates.

“Back when we started these businesses 20 years ago, we found out there were no companies catering to the needs of incarcerated people,” recalled Henry. “We are now in all 50 states, both on the state and federal levels.”

And with so much joy coming to the couple as a result of working with this special population, a desire to give back to them in some manner blossomed. Enter the recently formed Hudson Valley Reentry Network, a 501 (c) (3) Non-Profit. What started as a home business space for the Henry duo eventually accelerated to a 1000 square foot location, and has now skyrocketed to a 5000 square foot City of Poughkeepsie office as well as wherehouse. With that maturation, the work has become non-stop, but the need is too important to slow down.

“These men are going to come back to our communities, and we want them to know we want them to do good,” stressed Henry. “I always tell people on the show they have a choice to become a better person and have a better life; a lot of people have the idea, once a criminal, always a criminal, but it does not have to be that way, as there is always the power of choice and making the right one.”

Henry, along with his wife and business partner Kathy, have seen the first-hand effects of how their radio show has changed lives for the better, allowing those who listen in to see there is hope. Oftentimes, the guests who are interviewed are former inmates who have made that successful merge back into society. Their stories provide limitless hope and inspiration for those astutely listening in to “Voices Beyond the Wall.”

“The most rewarding part of doing the show is getting letters from some of the guys who are incarcerated, saying they are going to change their lives due to hearing it,” reflected Henry. “There is no better feeling than that.”

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