Phone Calls

There are 6 telephones at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp which are available for a current inmate population of 187. Usually at least one of these is not working. Sometimes none of them work. The longest time they were all out of service since I arrived 10 months ago was 5 days, but a 3 day outage is not uncommon.

To complete the initial set up of my account, I first had to say my name into the voice recognition software. Once done, my phone account was activated and I could transfer funds into my phone account from my general commissary account.

I quickly learned that phone calls here are expensive, limited, unreliable, and monitored, but otherwise great. No call may last more than 15 minutes, at which time the phone shuts off. That 15 minute call costs $3.15.

When making a call, the voice recognition software never recognizes me. Typically I have to try 6-8 times before it believes I am me. When/if I'm finally recognized, the person I'm calling gets and "Unidentified" caller ID notification. Once answered, there is an automated message saying, "This is prepaid call from Charlie Jones, an inmate at a federal prison. You will not be charged for this call. This call is recorded and subject to monitoring. To decline this call simply hang up. To accept this call, press 5 now. To permanently block this call, press 9 now." So far, nobody has pressed 9, but I still have time.

Every 5 minutes during the call, a message interrupts the conversation saying, "This is a call from an inmate at a federal prison". I can't help but wonder if anyone making or receiving such a call has ever needed that not so subtle reminder. The call sometimes fails. When this happens, I can't call anyone for 45 minutes.

I don't use the phone often, but many inmates do. It's not uncommon to overhear very personal conversations with spouses, ex-spouses, lovers, ex-lovers, or children. A few inmates have the unfortunate combination of a loud voice and many rocky relationships. It's awkwardly entertaining, and sometimes I want to offer advice.

But who am I to offer guidance to anyone? I'm the guy who makes "prepaid calls from Charlie Jones, an inmate at a federal prison".