Prison phone calls under scrutiny

516e029dd5271.preview-300I’ve written about this issue before, but this NY Times piece made me think it is worthy of additional coverage. I can’t agree more that prison phone systems are a huge burden to prisoners and their families. I understand there is a cost involved in operating these systems, monitoring the calls and paying for equipment. But it just seems the cost to the prisoner and family is exorbitant. With VOIP technology and other innovations, making calls is cheaper than ever. And monitoring these calls should be getting simpler and more efficient as well as technology improves.

In my thinking, and without full knowledge, a fair price would be around five cents per minute with no connection fees. This would seem to be reasonable for the inmates and provide a profit for the providers. In the Federal system, if you don’t have a local number it will cost you 26 cents per minute. With 300 minutes, this comes to $78 per month. When the average pay for an inmate is about $20 month, you can see how much of a burden this can be. in county jails it is even more burdensome, costing as much as $1.50/minute plus a $2.00 connection fee.

So for now, if you are preparing to enter prison, I strongly suggest getting a local number via a cell phone provider if this is possible as it will save you thousands of dollars over the course of your sentence. And this is legal, at least in the Federal system. You just can’t legally use a Vonage-type service to set up a local call. Until the laws are changes, this is the best we can do to reduce the burden on our families.

Stats show prison education cuts recidivism

safb_classroomI ran across this article discussing issues around college education for inmates. There are some great stats that show it is a wise investment for states and non-profits, if their goal is to keep inmates from returning. I know from my experience, choosing to participate in these programs provided a way to not only use my time productively, but to also help me prepare for life after prison. I encourage anyone entering prison to be intentional about selecting the activities in which they participate and to do something to help them prepare for their release, because it will happen. Here are some of the more remarkable stats from the story:

The study found inmates who participated in correctional education, including remedial, vocational and post-secondary education, were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years, a 13 percentage point reduction in the risk of re-offending. 

That means for every dollar spent on correctional education, a state corrections department would save five dollars it would have spent on re-incarceration costs, according to the report.

Feeling free, inside and out

man-raising-handsI can’t explain the feeling I felt so often in prison, that I was more free behind that razor wire than I ever was on the outside. I had been a slave of some addiction from the time I was 9 years old. You name it, I’ve been dependent upon it. Drugs, pornography, food, sex, alcohol, work, fame, money, I tried everything I could think of to fill what Blaise Pascal called the “God-shaped hole in my heart.” But nothing worked, at least not for long.

But one day while I was at FCI Petersburg walking the track on the yard I realized that for the first time in my life I did not have an active addiction controlling my life. That finally, I was truly free. Chuck Colson said, “Prison is nothing compared to the bondage of sin.” I couldn’t agree more. That day as I looked out through the fence, I could honestly say that I felt a sense of peace and freedom I never felt on the outside. Thankfully, that feeling has persisted since I’ve been released.

Where did this peace come from? For me it came from surrendering my life and will to Jesus Christ. To admitting that Christ died for me and that through His blood I am saved from the bondage of all kinds of sin. That I no longer need to try to fill that God-shaped hole.

If you have not taken this step, I hope you will. If you have. Welcome to the family!!

Prison Entrepreneurship Documentary – The Last Mile

last mileI ran across this documentary short on a technology incubator program in San Quentin called the Last Mile. It is heartening to see people willing to take a chance and step outside of their comfort zone to provide opportunities for inmates, even those who have done a great deal of harm. The fact is, 90 percent of prisoners will get out one day. Do we want them to learn to be better people or better criminals while they are in prison? I would hope we can agree that we are better off when we provide opportunities for these individuals to learn, to think, to gain insight into the fact that there are options to a life of crime.

Through the Paul Project we are working to help individuals and their families prepare for the prison experience, to encourage them to make the decision early to use the time they must serve to improve their chances of success once they are released. And ultimately, to share God’s amazing grace and his ability to transform lives. We would be honored if you would support us in these efforts. Please help us by donating here – Thank you and God bless.

What a blessing!

man-raising-handsOne of our clients is in jail awaiting a transfer to prison to begin serving a 13-year sentence. His mother reached out to us a couple of months ago asking for help in understanding what to expect and how to help her son prepare for the next 13 years. My heart breaks whenever I hear about these stories, but I’m so grateful we have an opportunity to be of assistance. We corresponded with the mother and her son, providing information, encouragement and suggestions about how to prepare for incarceration. I also shared the Good News of Christ with them. I just heard from the mother that the son has connected with some Christian men in jail, he is safe and that he has accepted Christ as his Lord and savior. Praise God!! This is definitely an answered prayer.

This by no means guarantees he will be safe or have an easy time in prison. But it does mean he now has eternal security and has access to the strength and wisdom provided by the Holy Spirit to help him navigate the uncharted waters of the next 13 years. Please keep them in your prayers. And please reach out to us if you or a loved one is facing prison. We are here to help you, pray for and with you and to provide you with encouragement and hope.

Prison can make you sick

images (1)The only thing worse than being in prison, is being sick in prison. Thankfully, I only experienced a few colds and allergies during my five years. But I knew of many folks who caught the flu and other major ailments during their stay. This article about a flu outbreak at a Federal prison in Lorretto, Pa. reminded me of that. Illness in prison spreads like wildfire. It can get so bad that the prison goes on lock down, prohibits visits and takes other extreme measures.

My advice for those preparing for prison is to get as healthy as possible before going in. Lose weight if you need to, exercise, start eating right and build up your body to help you fight off the numerous bacteria, viruses and other creatures floating around your cell. Also, when you get there, stock up on a few of the over-the-counter medicines available through the commissary. You should be able to get allergy medicine, cough medicine, antacids, anti-diarrheal and other medications to help you get through your sickness. Going to medical is an option, but it most cases they will just tell you get medicine from the commissary.


Something Fishy – Whole Foods Gets Fish, Inmates Get Training

downloadI ran across this piece (article) about Whole Foods buying tilapia from a prison fish farm. The article slams the practice because the farm uses inmate labor who receive $1.50 and hour and have very few “rights”. First, $1.50 an hour in prison is pretty good. During my five years in Federal prison the MOST I received was around 25 cents an hour. There were guys making up to $1.50 an hour working in Unicor or the commissary, but that is the exception.

Second, I think the author of the article is being short-sighted as the inmates are receiving valuable training in a skill they may actually be able to use once they are released. I saw this every day with guys working in the print shop, landscaping and other skill jobs in prison. They may not be getting rich, but they were earning some money for the commissary or to send home and they were also learning a trade to help them succeed on the outside.

So I applaud Whole Foods for supporting the training of these inmates and I encourage the author to step back and consider the full picture before judging. Most inmates enter prison with very little education and few honest skills. Anything that helps them gain valuable training offers them a better chance and a reduced risk of recidivism.