Cellblocks to Mountaintops

Cellblocks to Mountaintops

A podcast and video series that examines how America addresses violence, defines justice and seeks accountability through the journey of one man. Years after committing a horrific crime, Sterling Cunio fully faces the ripple effects of the harm he caused. Through the power of artistic expression and human connections and inspired by restorative justice principles, he forges a remarkable personal transformation while serving decades in prison. This story is a poignant reminder that hope, healing, and redemption are never beyond reach, even in the darkest of places. To see our companion video series and find out more about the show, go to our website at CellblockstoMountaintops.com

Episodes

February 22, 2024 2 mins

​​"Cellblocks to Mountaintops"  examines how America addresses violence, defines justice, and seeks accountability through the journey of one man. Years after committing a horrific crime, Sterling Cunio continues to face the ripple effects of the harm he caused. Through the power of artistic expression and human connections and inspired by restorative justice principles, he forges a remarkable personal transformation while...

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​​"Cellblocks to Mountaintops"  examines how America addresses violence, defines justice, and seeks accountability through the journey of one man. Years after committing a horrific crime, Sterling Cunio continues to face the ripple effects of the harm he caused. Through the power of artistic expression and human connections and inspired by restorative justice principles, he forges a remarkable personal transformation while...

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February 29, 2024 18 mins

After serving more than 25 years in prison, Sterling Cunio goes before the most important audience of his life: the Oregon Board of Parole. His supporters and attorneys argue that Sterling has rehabilitated, and deserves a second chance for a life beyond prison walls. But even if that’s true, does that mean he should be set free? Locking him up for the rest of his life won’t bring his victims back, but will it send a messa...

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March 5, 2024 4 mins

This episode is a video. If your podcast player does not support videos, please go to our website to watch: www.cellblockstomountaintops.com

Sterling Cunio faces the Oregon Board of Parole at a prison term hearing to decide his fate. Held during the peak of the pandemic, Sterling, his attorneys, and supporters must present his case over video. Sterling has committed the past twelve years of his life to changing himself an...

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March 7, 2024 31 mins

Sterling Cunio used to play football and ride bikes around the neighborhood with his friends.  He won The Most Mannerly Kid award.  But several tragic circumstances changed the trajectory of his life, pushing him into foster care, and later the juvenile justice system. What happened? How did he come to commit such a horrific crime?

Watch Sterling’s lawyers explain the complexities of his case in our 3-minute video: A Lega...

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March 12, 2024 3 mins

This episode is a video. If your podcast player does not support videos, please go to our website to watch: www.cellblockstomountaintops.com

See attorneys Aliza Kaplan and Ryan O’Connor delve into juvenile sentencing complexities, centering on Sterling’s case and his bid for freedom. They discuss the infamous “super predator scare” of the 1990s and advancements in understanding adolescent brain development as it relates t...

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March 14, 2024 26 mins

In 1994, Sterling walked into prison a scrawny, 17-year-old biracial kid. His mettle was immediately tested by a much older white supremacist cellmate. That first night would set the tone for the years to come. But eventually,  he would discover new ideas and new ways of being -  in unexpected places.

Sterling adjusts to living in prison and meets a friend for life - get to know him in our mini-documentary,  Anthony’s Sto...

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March 19, 2024 6 mins

This episode is a video. If your podcast player does not support videos, please go to our website to watch: www.cellblockstomountaintops.com

Join us as Anthony shares his life story with both “inside” and “outside” classmates from Professor Melissa Buis’ “Reforming Criminal Justice” class held inside Oregon State Penitentiary.  He details step by step what led to his incarceration at age 15.  Anthony emotionally reflects ...

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March 21, 2024 34 mins

Relationships with people in the outside world are essential for maintaining hope, working towards rehabilitation, and reducing recidivism. Letters, emails, and in-person visits from friends and family bring a shred of humanity to an otherwise inhumane environment. In Sterling's case, he found a pen pal that would become very dear to his heart. And in writing, he began to express himself in a way that people would finally ...

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March 23, 2024 4 mins

This episode is a video. If your podcast player does not support videos, please go to our website to watch: www.cellblockstomountaintops.com

With acute self-awareness, Sterling recounts several of the key turning points in his life that enabled him to transform. Thanks to an unexpected letter and a surprising connection to a novel he randomly read, Sterling’s perspective on himself and his crime turns upside down.  Witnes...

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March 26, 2024 11 mins

This episode is a video. If your podcast player does not support videos, please go to our website to watch: www.cellblockstomountaintops.com

Watch excerpts of Sterling’s performance from “The Bucket,” an ensemble play about solitary confinement which won first prize from the PEN America prison writing contest. Directed by our podcast host Phil Stockton and co-written and co-starring Sterling Cunio,  these dramatic pieces ...

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March 28, 2024 31 mins

Sterling’s intense educational pursuits led him to a class on restorative justice, where  he developed a vision for completely changing the toxic prison culture where he’d likely spend the rest of his life. What started as a path toward forgiving himself grew into a tool for brokering peace and mediating clashes between gangs inside. We hear from Danielle Sered, a foremost expert on alternatives to incarceration.

For an i...

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March 30, 2024 3 mins

This episode is a video. If your podcast player does not support videos, please go to our website to watch: www.cellblockstomountaintops.com

Sterling leads a candid discussion with fellow restorative justice facilitators on what it means to live your amends.  The men discuss taking responsibility, personal growth, and the struggle for self-esteem while incarcerated.

In Episode 5, Restorative Justice, hear how Sterling and hi...

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April 2, 2024 6 mins

This episode is a video. If your podcast player does not support videos, please go to our website to watch: www.cellblockstomountaintops.com

Join undergraduate students from Willamette University and men from Oregon State Penitentiary in the classroom. Professor Melissa Buis and Sterling Cunio co-teach “Reforming Criminal Justice,” a class about mass incarceration. Classmates discuss cycles of violence, trauma, and the ef...

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April 3, 2024 7 mins

This episode is a video. If your podcast player does not support videos, please go to our website to watch: www.cellblockstomountaintops.com

Watch an intimate “inside class” discussion on shame and personal accountability, inspired by Danielle Sered’s book, “Until We Reckon: Violence, Mass Incarceration and a Road to Repair.” The men comment on how the current criminal justice system does not promote accountability and in...

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April 4, 2024 18 mins

Should juveniles who commit murder ever be given a second chance, or do they deserve to be locked up for life?  In 2012 that question made its way to the Supreme Court in a landmark case argued by renowned attorney and activist Bryan Stevenson. While not a slam dunk, their ruling gave Sterling hope for an eventual release. 


Watch Sterling share some good news with his friends in the video Fresh Hope. In The Rehearsal...

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April 6, 2024 3 mins

This episode is a video. If your podcast player does not support videos, please go to our website to watch: www.cellblockstomountaintops.com

Sterling shares a potentially life-altering announcement with his peers.  The news evokes emotional reactions as Sterling expresses both  hope and apprehension to the news as well as his concern for the effect it may have on his victim’s families.

Hear about the complex evolution of...

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April 9, 2024 3 mins

This episode is a video. If your podcast player does not support videos, please go to our website to watch: www.cellblockstomountaintops.com

Hear from Sterling’s legal team about the intricacies of his case while they prepare for his prison term hearing. The team focuses on how best to present Sterling’s story of rehabilitation to the parole board.

In Episode 6, Standards of Decency, hear renowned activist Bryan Stevenso...

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April 11, 2024 30 mins

Everything stopped in 2020 with the global Covid-19 pandemic, but in Oregon, another catastrophe was underway… unprecedented wildfires. Prisons across the state were forced to evacuate, adding even more strain to an outdated infrastructure. The twists and turns of Sterling’s legal battles finally come to a head.

Watch Sterling’s attorneys and loved ones react to the results of the hearing in The Decision.  See Anthony’s l...

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April 13, 2024 3 mins

This episode is a video. If your podcast player does not support videos, please go to our website to watch: www.cellblockstomountaintops.com


Sterling finally receives his answer from the Oregon Board of Parole. His attorneys discuss the impact of this ruling and how Sterling’s juvenile  status at the time of the crime leads to shocking repercussions. 

Hear how and why the parole board ruled as they did and other big...

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