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“I Just Called to Say I Love You!”
It’s been almost 10 years since I’ve lived away from home in Los Angeles. With so many miles between my mother and I, communication has become a critical component of maintaining our relationship. I’ll admit that calling my mother on a regular basis is not something I’m particularly good at; I constantly have to be reminded by my partner to call my mom.
My mother on the other hand has always been resistant to technology, having only recently adopted a cell phone. Last time I visited my mother though, I taught her how to text and Skype. It means this year I have the luxury of being able to call, text, or Skype my mom for Mother’s Day.
For 2.7 million children in the United States though, a phone call is their only means of communication with a parent in prison. A phone call with that parent can provide stability, comfort and a sense of normalcy. For the parent on the other end of the line, that same phone call can offer accountability, and strong motivation to work towards improving the lives of themselves and their family upon release from prison. That phone call comes at a heavy price as telephone companies and prisons have found a way to turn a necessity to stay connected with loved ones into a $362 million a year business. A 15-minute call will cost you around $10-$17 in most prisons in the United States. For families of prisoners, most of which are low-income and people of color, these phone calls are a necessity but are priced by phone companies as though they’re a luxury.
When a friend of mine from Minneapolis was picked up by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement outside of Toledo, Ohio, my local community organized fundraisers for two reasons: legal defense and phone calls. The phone rates easily added up to $300/monthly for a one hour call a week. That’s an experience that is far too common, with families across the country having to make extreme sacrifices to stay connected with loved ones in prison.
The Federal Communications Commission has the power to change this nationwide. For close to eight year a filing known as the “Wright Petition” has been sitting at the FCC. The filing urges the FCC to address the high cost of phone calls by setting standards that ensure families are charged reasonable rates.
That’s why my organization, the Center for Media Justice, along with our partners are promoting a Mother’s Day of Action, asking people in our communities to speak out against expensive prison phone calls. We’re collecting stories through an online postcard where they’ll be submitted into the public record at the FCC.
Join me in reminding the FCC that they have the power to address the high cost of prison phone calls and ensure that everyone can speak to their moms on Mother’s Day.
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In this edition of VisionTalk, Saru Jayaraman talks about how Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United) are building a powerful movement to improve the working conditions and wages of the nation’s 10 million restaurant workers.