DISCONNECTED: Ma Bell’s Ill Communication- Unloved Inmates Can’t Call Home


By Jeannette Tossounian

January 31, 2019

So we just had another #BellLetsTalk day. I usually ignore when corporations try to sell ideology especially if the message is something like ‘You’re all insane and we need to fix you,’ however, this year some prison activists decided to use the Let’s Talk Day campaigns to publicize their own agenda of lowering payphone fees in jails across Canada.

Having been incarcerated myself for a couple of years in Ontario, I am very familiar with the jail pay phone system. I totally understand and support the notion that there are desperate people in jail who need to talk to their families or they go completely crazy and the only way to do that is by using the few payphones on range. Inmates have no choice but to call collect and only to a landline, so poor people and people who only have friends with cell phones find themselves disconnected. Therefore, the cry out there is: that preventing people from talking to their loved ones is detrimental to the mental health of inmates.

However, there is a bigger problem here than the costs of calling home.

Take a look at the phone system in jail. Ranges very slightly, but generally there is a bay of a few payphones on range that could only be accessed at certain times of day. There is often a line up at the phones first thing in the morning, mainly by those inmates still in pre-sentence trial mode calling their lawyers for important updates on their case or trying to find someone to bail them out. Most lawyers have a toll free number and the cost of calling a lawyer is never a concern on the inmates end anyway, especially on Legal Aid. It’s rare to get a hold of a lawyer the first try as they are tied up in court and meetings all day, so inmates have to try several times a day. This whole process of trying to get a hold of lawyers ties up the phones all day.

The inmates who enjoy talking to their families usually do so in the evening if the ranges are not locked down and access to phones are available. I’ve been on several ranges in a few different jails and it’s always the same thing, the same handful of inmates fighting over the few phones so they could spent all allowable time talking to their loved ones. Meanwhile, the masses of inmates don’t even bother lining up for the phones because they have no one to call.

The reality is, the jails are full of those who are unloved and unloved people have no one to call.

It’s hard to determine what is worse when sitting in modern day government sanctioned torture chamber for the poor, having your families pay an exorbitant bill to talk to you or having no family to talk to at all.

Well, at least that small lucky portion of inmates who are loved, have their families fighting for lower fees so they could afford to feel the love over long distance phone calls.

Jeannette Tossounian is the author of the jail journals ‘The Human Kennel’ written in her cell detailing the incarceration experience. 


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