Prisonology speaks with Liz, a former inmate, who talks about her experience in prison and the ways she communicated with friends and family on the outside.
Maintaining communication with friends, family and colleagues is essential to an inmates mental health as well as comfort to those you speak to on the outside. Fortunately, the BOP has a number of ways for inmates to keep those lines of communication open through email, phone, mail and visitation. While each of these come with their own set of rules, there are plenty of opportunities to reach out from prison. This section tells you how you can do that and what the rules are for each.
Communication and visitation is viewed as a ‘privilege’, not a ‘right,’ in prison. One of the most common means of punishment, for even minor violations, is to take away privileges such as phone, email and visitation.
Be mindful that communications by email, phone and regular mail are monitored by staff. In fact, monitoring software exists to listen/look for key words that could initiate an investigation.
You are talking and emailing amongst other inmates, so realize that there are wandering eyes and open ears in the area.
Communications via email or on the phone system (recorded) are NOT attorney-client privileged communications and can be monitored by staff.
Have someone send you books to read directly from a book distributor like Amazon. Books, hardcover and paperback, are routinely received by inmates from 3rd party (publisher warehouse) services.
Keep track of your phone usage. You get 300 minutes per month but it goes quickly. Be mindful of upcoming dates, like birthdays, holidays or special events, to make sure you have minutes available.
Local calls cost significantly less than long distance calls. Many inmates try to get a phone number for their direct family that is local to the prison, usually through services like Google Voice or getting a cell phone number to that local area. This can save significant money on phone costs.
During visitation, make sure the visiting family knows the rules, particularly as it relates to the dress code. Grandmothers and small children have been turned away because they were wearing sleeveless shirts, which are prohibited.
Encourage family members and friends to visit you in prison. While the surroundings and the situation is not the best, visiting is a great way to stay in touch with those on the outside.
Stay in contact with people who can help you when you get out. Things like finding work or just starting life over and endeavors where you will need help.
Keep your composure in both writing emails and speaking on the phones. Getting upset can cause issues that could result in loss of privileges if you lose your cool.
Add Info@Prisonology.com to your email contact list and we will gladly accept so that we can answer any questions you may have during your prison term.
K.W. (Inmate) Communication & Visitation
"Email is accessible in prison but NOT the Internet. Also, NO pictures ... just text through a company called Corrlinks. You are allowed 30 email contacts at a time. All you need is a person’s email address and the rest is pretty easy. The person retrieving the emails from the inmate have go through Corrlinks.com to receive or type emails, so they cannot be directed to a mail software. As far as the "SET UP" of the computers, all prisons are different. Where I'm at there are 6 computers right in the dorm and we have access to them from 6am to 11:30pm. There is sometimes a line for the emails but it’s pretty quick considering it cost 5 cents/minute to type or preview emails. You can also print and then pick up your copy at our two printers. One in the library and one in the recreation area. Email use also gives us a time limit of one hour per session as well as a 30 minute wait in between LOG OFF uses. So once you log off you must wait another half hour to gain access again. E-mails take about an hour and 15 minutes each way to be delivered because every email is screened by the BOP and it takes so much time. So if you send an email and are waiting for a response expect about 3 hours total round trip. To be honest, OVERALL I am VERY VERY pleased with this system. They have done an amazing job at this and I think it's one of the best privileges the BOP has to offer. There are only two complaints I have as far as emails are concerned. 1-The Price..I think they should offer you a better deal if you want to buy more minutes, but it doesn't give you this option. 5 cents might not seem like a lot but to give you an idea, I have never spent any less then $250.00 a month on emails, and this is a common complaint. Second- I think they should allow you to put more than just 30 emails on your account at once, but that's just me."
G.B (Inmate) Communication & Visitation
"Trulinks [also called Corrlinks] is the prison email system. It's a very basic and has many problems, but it works. When I first got to prison, I carried my list of contacts (that I brought here) with me all the time. I needed to input them into the system and the Trulinks system only lets you input contacts for 15 minutes a session. You can email for 60 minutes a session. You must wait 15 minutes between logins. There are only a limited number of emails/phone numbers that you can have on Trulinks at one time, but you can change them anytime. I think it is $0.25 each. You need to have your phone numbers input into Trulinks before you can call that phone number. You can store 100 contacts (names/addresses) and print labels to mail letters (up to 5 labels a day).
We have about 20 terminals for approximately 950 guys. You can usually get on the system with no more than a 5 minute wait. Most of the time there is no wait. The longer waits are right after a meal or right after the movie ends. I've never waited more than 10 minutes. If I see a long line, I just walk away and come back an hour later. It takes approximately 90 minutes for an email to reach its destination (both directions). Sometimes more. This is because the BOP screens the emails and it takes them that long to clear through the system.
It costs 5 cents a minute to use the system. It doesn't matter whether you are reading emails or typing, your time ticks away. It's free to add contacts. When I first got here I emailed frequently and probably spent about $60/month. Now I spend about $20-$30/month. If someone sends me a long email I print it (15 cents/page) and respond later. Many times if I am sending a long email, I will write it out on paper and then go to Trulinks and type it. The system even has spell check. Emails are saved for 6 months and then disappear. People you email with have emails disappear in 30 days unless they have the iphone App (costs about $6/year) and those emails last 60 days. The iPhone App makes logging in much easier for your friends and family. I have to log in with my ID number and an additional 9 digit number and a fingerprint ID. There is no Internet. I had family and friends ask me to access the Internet for the first year I was here. No matter how many times I told them there was no Internet, it didn't sink in. Much of what you describe to your friends and family about prison life will not sink in and you will tell them the same thing over and over. Life here is just different."
J.L. (Inmate) Communication & Visitation
"Email in prison is outstanding. We have four (4) email terminals in our housing Unit (100 men). There may be a 5-10 minute wait time to use the terminals but it is not bad. The emails shuts down at 11:30pm and opens at 6:00am. I use it all the time to communicate with my brother, my wife and kids. Usually, I use the email for just short communications especially because it is $0.05/ minute. It takes me a long time to type, so it can get expensive and I am on a very tight budget. However, some of the men, especially the white-collar guys, use it all the time and type a lot faster than me. I usually sit for 15 minutes at each session. I spend about $20.00/month on email, however I know guys that easily double or triple that amount.
For new guys, they can get set up to use email within the first two days of arrival. It is easy to get set up on the computers and make an email list. You can add or delete to the list at any time, which is good because many people can email a lot more than the 30 people they are allowed on the list. One idea would be to let family and friends know that you may drop them from email from time to time so that you can email other people ... then you can put them back on the list easily. They will get an email saying they've been dropped, so just let them know it's temporary. When I want them back on the list, they'll get a new request indicating that I've added them back.
One other thing, the email terminals are out in the open and other inmates are always standing around or waiting in line to use them. There is no privacy, so it is possible for other people to see what you are writing. It doesn’t happen much but people are curious. Also, if you’re in the RDAP program here [at a prison camp], our email is closely monitored by staff as part of our programming."
G.B. (Inmate) Communication & Visitation
"I woke up about 6:00AM. My bunkmate was making some noise. Wasn't exactly sure what he was doing, but it kept me up. I figured I would get out of bed anyway. My Mom was going to be here about 8:15AM.
Breakfast was over about 7:30AM. Since we can't really hear the loudspeaker in our dorm we were going to wait for the 1st announcement on the loudspeaker (it would be a message, but we couldn't make it out). We heard something about 8:15AM then went downstairs to wait near the Chapel (very close to the visiting center), so we can hear our names being called. Within two minutes I heard my name called and went right into the visiting room. My Mom was one of the first people in the center and I was excited to see her. We found a seat inside near the window. We checked out the picnic tables outside, but it was too hot to sit out there.
It was a great visit with my Mom. I can't believe it's already 3:00PM. The time went by really fast. It was hard to see her go, but I'm sure tomorrow (Sunday will be much harder). By the time it got to be about 9:30AM the room was getting pretty filled, but there was still some empty space. I introduced her to my bunkie and his girlfriend and we were on our own most of the time. The day really zoomed by and we had a lot to talk about. For lunch, my Mom got the honey mustard chicken sandwich and she said it was pretty good. I tried the cheeseburger and didn't like it at all. They had White Castle cheeseburgers in the vending machine. I guess I should have gotten those instead. I went for something safe now. I got a turkey and cheese sandwich which was very good. We shared bugles and I got the "Hostess like" cup cakes and a Diet Dr. Pepper.
This whole experience still doesn't seem real. Inside the visiting area, it didn't feel like a prison (just as it doesn't on the inside). This was my first visit and it's hard to think that I have so many years left. My Mom left just before 3:00PM and she will be back tomorrow. There were a lot of games in the visiting area. We didn't play any of them, but maybe we will on Sunday. I know it was a big trip for my Mom to get here with the planes, rental car and traveling and I really appreciate it.
I'm going to go back to the dorm to get ready for the 4:00PM count and then go to dinner. I have services again at 6:00PM. Dinner was baked chicken breast patty. It was a very small portion. It tasted very good though. They also served beans and pasta salad. The pasta salad was a little overcooked, but was passable. I was still hungry and went back to the dorm and at a Kit Kat, Oatmeal Cream Pie, 2 Nutty Bars and some cashews. I think I overdid it a little. I'm pretty stuffed right now. After services, I'm going to head over to the tennis courts and then work out.
... It's Sunday morning and I just finished breakfast. Same bran flakes, but today was a 2 oz banana muffin that I didn't open. It really is a waste to come for this breakfast. Nothing hot and nothing good. I peeled the orange and it had too strong a flavor for me to eat. I might have a muffin that I saw in the vending machine when my Mom comes. It's almost 8:00AM and I have to make my way back to the dorm to drop my watch off. I'm not allowed to take anything into the visiting area except my ID. I'm already dressed in my green uniform now. Everyone knows that I have visiting today because no one would be dressed in their uniform on a Sunday morning or really anytime on the weekend. A couple of people already asked me "do I have visiting".
My Mom left about 1:45PM and it was hard leaving. We saw some people standing by the exit door and we left each other a little abruptly because we figured the bus was about to leave (the one that takes her to her car). It was probably better that way as it didn't give me much time to be sad that she was going. My bunkmate asked me if I cried and I said a little. He said even the toughest guys cry."