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Corporate exploitation and prison phone calls
By James Clingman
NNPA Columnist
Updated Oct 31, 2007 - 1:26:00 PM

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Why are phone calls from jails so expensive?

Like other greedy, unethical, money-grubbing, corporate thieves, the phone companies that charge those outrageous rates for jail phone calls are among the list of profiteers that are steadily taking advantage of this country?s prison industrial complex by exploiting prisoners and their families.
Ever thought about that? Many of us have heard that recording telling us the call is coming from a jail, the cost of which is $1.50 or more for the first minute or so, and that we should say “Yes” to accept the charges. Why do local calls from jails cost so much?

I thought all calls were pretty much the same. Long distance calls from prisons are expensive enough, and we know the phone carriers are ripping us off for them, but local calls? Why the exorbitant charge? That’s a rhetorical question, Brothers and Sisters—I know you know the answer.

Like other greedy, unethical, money-grubbing, corporate thieves, the phone companies that charge those outrageous rates for jail phone calls are among the list of profiteers that are steadily taking advantage of this country’s prison industrial complex by exploiting prisoners and their families.

Why do some local calls cost more than other local calls? The answer: Because the phone companies say they do.

I don’t know, but I would imagine that one of the rationales used to justify the high cost is the number of men and women who would be on the phones if the costs were normal. But, couldn’t that be solved by prison officials regulating the number of calls and the time spent on the phone by each prisoner?

This is probably a trivial point to many of you, but my reason for writing about it is to illuminate the fact that Black folks are, in many cases, allowing ourselves to be used as wealth creators for others, even to the ridiculous extent of doing stupid stuff that will land us in jail or prison. Then when we get to jail, we want to call our friends and families, at usury phone rates, to help get us out or just to “stay in touch.”

Of course, that does not excuse the greed of the phone companies, and the only thing we can do about it is what Nancy Reagan said, “Just say no” to accepting the charges; but you know that’s not going to happen. We are going to continue to go to jail, and we are going to continue to accept the charges for the millions of phone calls that go out from jails and prisons everyday. Thus, a trivial thing like a phone call becomes a billion dollar advantage.

A close look at the jails will reveal that Blacks occupy the cells at a disproportionate rate.

Black people are not building jails, supplying the needs of the jails, doing the maintenance in the jails, or selling hair grease, toilet paper, T-shirts, jumpsuits, flip-flops, books, or anything else to the jails.

A multi-billion dollar industry located in our hometowns, in many cases funded by our tax dollars, and we have no economic interest in that industry. All we do is fill the cells.

Phone companies that charge $1.50 for a local call are ripping us off, but filling their coffers with the easiest money they have ever made.

No increase in their cost of goods sold, no added cost for personnel, and no additional expense for advertising and marketing; they are just sitting there raking it in, hearing cha-ching every minute of the day. Who’s the sucker in that scenario? We have given new meaning to the term, “phone home.”

It’s all about economics. The prison-jail system, both supply and demand, has grown exponentially, because of the high profit from prison-building and prisoner warehousing. We already account for the profit margins of many consumer product companies—that we do not own, spending our $800 billion willy-nilly on whatever someone else makes.

Now we are providing a huge profit margin for the prison industrial complex as we do our daily Bataan Death March into court rooms to stand in front of corrupt prosecutors and judges and be accused by “testi-lying” cops, in many cases. And the first thing we want to do when they escort us to that cell is make a phone call that cost the person on the other end an arm and a leg.

That’s stupid, as I have said before, especially if you intentionally do a crime or neglect to pay your child support or fail to show up for a court appearance for an outstanding warrant or traffic ticket. That’s stupid! It is also evil and just plain wrong if you are doing the more serious crimes like robbing, raping, assaulting, or killing. At the end of it all there will be someone, who looks nothing like you, who will profit from your stupidity and your evil deeds, while you sit in a cell and waste your life away.

When you get out of jail you look for a job, mostly from someone who does not look like you, and get frustrated because you can’t get hired. Then after so many turn-downs you decide to do something else stupid and go right back into the same system. Can’t you see the pattern here?

It is sad that Black people, especially, would subject ourselves to such a no-win situation, but we do it everyday. Even sadder is the fact that our illogical actions have a negative and exacerbating effect on our friends and families. We end up paying on both ends of the system folks.

This article started with a simple phone call, but you can see the implications of our behavior when it comes to crime and punishment—and, I might add, wealth. In a system, things work together, in conjunction with one another; everything fits together, Brothers and Sisters.

As for the money-making prison system, let’s stay out of the cells and get into sales—legal sales. In the meantime, maybe we should look into using carrier pigeons to talk to one another.


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