Video Visits by Robert Rosso
When Inmate Michael Miller learned that prison officials at the women’s Federal Corrections Institution (FCI) in Waseca, Minnesota were installing a Skype-like video-visitation system, he assumed it would only be a matter of time before all institutions within the Federal Bureau of Prisons would follow suit.
“I went up to the Trust Find Supervisor and asked what the deal was, and she told me that they started a pilot program in the federal women’s prisons first because statistically women inmates get less visits than men,” Miller told Gorilla Convict. “And think about it. It’s usually our women who are out there holding it down for us, coming to see us and stuff like that. And when they get locked up, we either get locked up with them or we’re already in here.”
Mike, serving 10 years on drugs charges, is currently housed at an FCI in Indiana, the same prison which I reside. Married to Angela Jobe-Johnston, an inmate at FCI Waseca, at the request of Gorilla Convict he wrote to his wife and asked her to comment on the video-visitation program in general.
“It’s like this,” writes Angela, who is also serving time on drug charges “It’s wonderful for everyone. Some families are not able travel due to health issues, distance, money etc,” and so long as they have a computer with webcam , they can stay in contact with their incarcerated loved ones from the comforts of their homes.
To sign up for a video visit, the outside party must first be preapproved on the inmates contact list, a process that requires setting up an account with Corrlinks.com. As Angela explained, once that process is complete, it’s then the inmate’s responsibility to schedule the video-visitation in advance. This comes by way of an email request.
“If your party doesn’t respond to your request within 72 hours you need to reschedule,” Angela writes. “And, you can get half of your refund returned if your party doesn’t connect, and a full refund is you cancel within a time frame of 24 hours” before the visit is to take place. The cost of said video visits in $6.00 for 25 minutes, and it’s deducted from the inmates TRULINCS (Trust Fund Limited Inmate Computer System) account.
But as with anything that’s new, there are some problems.
“Mainly, the biggest issue is disconnecting the firewall of the computer so that you can connect,” writes Angela. Otherwise, she says that things are “run really smoothly.”
On the outside, one of the recipients of Angela’s video visits is Jeane Arnette, her mother-in-law. In an email that she sent to her son Mike about about video-visits with Angela, she also writes about the connection.
“The reception varies. Anything that affects your internet connection will distort pictures but that’s just a given for the internet,” Jeane writes. Her advice: “You have to be sure you have a good internet connection” before you proceed.
Bruce Davis is an inmate housed in my cell block. A 25-year-old probation violator serving 14-months, he is familiar with video-visitation’s and bad connections.
“When I was in jail in Elk Hart, Indiana (2009-2010), that’s all we had was video-visits and they sucked,” he tells Gorilla Convict. “Our visitors had to drive down to the jail to come see us, then they would sit in a room and look at us through a monitor, and sometimes you could hear the visitor but not see them, or it would happen the other way around. And the guards were real pieces of shit about it – complain to them about a bad connection or whatever, and they’d terminate your visit altogether.”
At different jail in White Cloud, Michigan, Bruce encountered a much different experience with video-visits.
“In that jail, they had Skype-style visits so your people could stay at home and use their own computers, and dudes would go to the designated visitation area with blankets, cover the screens and get busy,” he said. “They’d have their bitches get asshole naked and have them play with their pussies will they jacked off. Dudes loved that jail because of it.”
Like so many things now surrounding the wonders of technology, some inmates worry that the BOP – notorious for deceiving inmates and their families- may pull a fast one on us. Because visitation is considered a “privilege” and not a “right,” there is great concern that the ultimate goal of video-visitation is to terminate in-person or “contact visits” altogether
One inmate who wants to be called Lo’ believes just that. Over the past several months he has read articles about video-visitation is replacing contact visits in country jails throughout the country, and says he ” sees the writing on the wall.”
“I’ve been hit with a drug introduction charge since I’ve been in the feds, and I’ve got some dirty urines since I’ve been in over the years,” he tells Gorilla Convict. “What I’m thinking’ is, they gonna start by takin’ away our visitation privileges as a sanction for getting a dirty UA, then make that stick forever. They will say that people who use drugs is a ‘security threat,’ and that’ll be that.”
Lo also claims that a large amount of contraband that come into prisons don’t come in via the visitation room, they come in by corrupt prison guards.
“How a cell phone come in prison when they strip search us?” He says. “How so many drugs come in prisons? How? I tell you how: COPS. So I don’t want know people falling for that bullshit about how they gotta stop contact visits to stop contraband ’cause its so bad in here. If you want to stop contraband coming into prison, dig: replace cops with robots.”
In fact, county officials across the country do claim that video visitation is good for security. However, when a former inmate named Jorge Renaud, working in concert with with Grassroots Leadership, a leading network of advocates in the fight against prison profiteering, got a hold of prison records from Travis County Jail in Texas, they showed that “incidents of inmate-on-inmate violence, disciplinary infractions and possession of contraband all rose after Travis County did away with in-person visitation.” (The Case For Visitation).
“I’m all for video visits,” says inmate Joshua Yancey, ” and I can’t wait until we get them in all of the fed prisons, but if they try to replace contact visits with video visits I think all hell will brake lose. Inmates would feel like we have nothing to lose.”
According to Angela Jobe-Johnson, the people who believe that contact visits will be replaced with video visits are over-reacting.
“They are not playing to take away or do away with regular visitation,” she wrote in the email to her husband Mike.” I think the plan is to expand in all federal prisons with time. AMEN!”
Says her husband: “I haven’t seen Angela in nearly 5 years and she gets out this year. I can’t wait for us to be able to visit each other on videos. They can’t bring it on fast enough.”
In general, prisoners all want the same but simply don’t trust the BOP to do the right thing: Install video-visitation throughout the BOP but keep contact visits as well.