Hoping for More Access to Telephones and Visiting Time

By · Sunday, October 7th, 2007

As a long-term prisoner, maintaining close family and community ties is extremely important to me. The more love and support I receive, the more able I am to grow and prepare myself to emerge successfully from this quarter century that I expect to serve in federal prison.

Over the past 20 years, I have served time in more than 19 separate institutions, with long stretches in USP Atlanta, FCI McKean, FCI Fairton, FCI Fort Dix, FPC Florence, FPC Lompoc, and the prison camp at Taft, where I am currently confined. Tens of thousands of men with whom I’ve served time have no ties to society. Such alienation from strong support networks, I am sure, contributes to the high recidivism rates.

Since more than 95 percent of all prisoners eventually return to their communities, it would seem that taxpayers would support programs that encourage inmates to keep close ties with law-abiding citizens. Yet for some esoteric reason, prison administrators erect barriers that block those in prison from connecting with society.

Prisoners have three potential methods of keeping ties or building ties with those outside of prison. Those include the telephone, visits, and written correspondence. Yet prison administrators limit inmate access to all three.

Telephone calls for prisoners are not only much more costly than in society, in federal prison we are blocked from using the telephone for more than an average of 10 minutes per day. Because of that limitation, I need to reserve all of my 300 monthly phone minutes to speak with my wife, who is my primary source of support. Yet the 300-minute restriction means that I cannot use the telephone to call my mother, my sisters, or any friends with whom I would like to talk. Prison administrators make no distinction with regard to security level; they prohibit all federal prisoners from using the telephone for more than an average of 10 minutes per day.
Visits are another possibility to maintain ties to society. Yet prison administrators restrict those as well. Here, at the minimum-security camp in Taft, we are allotted 20 potential visiting points each month. Yet visits are only available on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, or Federal Holidays. If we visit on a Friday, we are charged 4 points; if we visit on a Saturday or a federal holiday, we are charged 8 points; if we visit on a Sunday, we are charged 6 points. This means that unless visitors can visit on Fridays, we are limited to three visits per month. It is a struggle to keep close family ties with such limitations.

Keeping ties through correspondence is another option, yet even that is difficult. I write every day, and I strive to keep those in my network of support current through regular postings I make to MichaelSantos.net and this blog. The world, however, has changed. Snail mail isn’t nearly as popular or convenient as e-mail. Although some federal prisons like FCI Terminal Island, FPC Victorville, and FCI Coleman offer e-mail services, none of the prisons where I have been confined has made e-mail accessible to federal prisoners.

The irony is that prison administrators pay lip service to the importance of maintaining close family ties. The Management Training Corporation is the private management company that currently presides over operations at Taft Camp, and this group has a reputation for preparing offenders for reentry. Since this management group took over operations at Taft, several slogans have appeared announcing MTC’s commitment to preparing offenders for law-abiding lives upon release.
I am hopeful that those who make decisions at MTC will recognize the link between strong support groups and preparations for success. If they do, perhaps we will see more opportunities to cultivate ties to society.

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