by Kristi Black Solwazi, Deputy Director, Center for Media Justice
For many years, from the age of 13 years old until he died at 42, my first cousin spent most of his life in and out of jail. He was 17 years my senior, but we were close. He was my good buddy. I remember his last stint, when he went inside for eight years, my mom let me talk to him on the phone, and I remember one time we talked for hours. I felt closer to him when we could talk on the phone. I felt he would be all right. As long as we had the time to laugh and talk together, about the old times, or what happened today, everything would be all right.
My mom never told me I couldn’t talk too long on the phone, but I remember that the calls became more infrequent, and when my mother would ‘accept the charges’, she would rush him through the call and promise hurriedly that she was sending him a package next week and that she loved him. Maybe at some point she had to tell him not to call as often, or that we couldn’t afford the calls anymore, but all I knew as a child was it hurt not to talk.
For most of the two million families of the incarcerated in the U.S., accepting the charges means telling their incarcerated loved one that someone values and needs them. But it also means that they pay a heavy price, easily $100 or more per month or more to demonstrate their love.
There are no special reasons why prison calls cost more. There’s no fancy equipment needed, no translation services, or special relay system. It’s the same technology we use to call friends and family locally and nationally. The prison industry and the phone companies are coldly and garishly collecting enormous profits off of the most basic of human needs: connection, at a time when it is most needed.
The calls with my cousin weren’t just for him; they were for all of us as a family. They were a balm for my mother’s hurt and his mother’s. For as long as they lasted, three minutes or thirty, they were a message of love and hope sent and received by both sides, connecting our hearts and lifting our spirits.
I believe prison phone calls are a vital part of healing our wounds and redeeming us by giving loved ones precious time to be together, to understand the value of relationships and importance of love. Having more than one family member in prison over the years has taught me important life lessons, the most significant being our times together with our loved ones are limited by space and time, and are truly priceless. The experience and the memories of love can’t be valued in dollars or profits, or at least shouldn’t be.
Please send a postcard to the FCC today and join me in reminding them that they have the power to address the high cost of prison phone calls and ensure that everyone can speak to their loved ones be it on Mother’s Day or any other day.