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Sunday, 28 October 2012

On the road again

Well in a day or so anyway. Today I'm doing the last minute laundry and checking of flight details etc before I head out over the the Atlantic (hopefully avoiding Hurricane Sandy!) and down to Texas to see my husband.

I found myself wondering earlier, just how many other people do this. I say people, although I guess the vast majority are female, though surely there are at least one or two guys who write to American female inmates and make the journey to see them occasionally. I doubt there is any way to officially count the numbers entering the USA to visit penpals and husbands/boyfriends/fiances each year, simply because most would not give that as their reason for entering the USA. I answer the border guards' questions as and when they are asked, I don't generally volunteer any unrequested information. I stay with an English friend while I'm over there who has been there for 30+ years, and once a border guard did ask me why I would want to go to the small town my friend lives in. I told him that is where she lives, and I could tell he thought I was crazy just for that. I can imagine his opinion if I'd told him that 2 days later we'd be driving up to Palestine to visit my husband in prison. That's why I, and many people I know who do this, don't mention visiting prisons when we travel. It's really not worth the hostility and condescension you receive.

But still I wonder how many people from Europe, Canada and even Australia make this journey each year - and some, multiple times a year. This will be my 10th or 11th visit, I'm not really counting. Each time I'm there, I spend around $500, which isn't much really as I don't treat it like a holiday. Might not sound like much going into the American economy just by myself, but what if there are thousands of people doing the same thing - and spending considerably more than I do - each year.

It is interesting to note the difference in attitudes at the moment between President Obama and Mitt Romney when it comes to all things foreign. Mr Romney says that to be effective overseas, America must be strong at home. That's a very insular view, as if we over here care much in general about how America is at home. We just want to be sure that America isn't dragging the world into yet another war it can't win and has no business financing or facilitating. Mr Romney didn't make a good impression when he recently visited Europe and the Middle East. Someone should remind him that you don't make friends by insulting people or insinuating that you're better than they are.

By contrast, Europe seemed to enjoy President Obama's visit a couple of years ago, particularly his Irish "relatives" the O'Bamas. That was pure genius. It doesn't matter what his political leanings are, or his social policy or even his foreign policy, what Obama has that Romney doesn't is an understanding of people. He doesn't talk down them, he doesn't take a paternal stance and speak as though he knows what's best for us if we would only listen in some Victorianesque tone voice and painted smile. But he can be decisive, and he leads quietly. Maybe Americans would rather have a noisy blusterous individual who stumbles over malapropisms and unimportant things like the truth, and leaves a trail of destruction in their wake. If they do, I'll be leaving America with Mr Romney in charge. And if that happens, it might just get even harder for me to return, because I'm sure I'm not the kind of person he wants hanging out on his turf, even if I am spending my money there for a while.  

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Song of the moment

The Gaslight Anthem "Handwritten"

Just has the most appropriate word right now. Enjoy!

Monday, 1 October 2012

"Improvements" to the Offender Telephone System in TDCJ

Hot off the press from The Echo (the inmate newspaper inside TDCJ), here are some details of the "improvements" to the system:

"Offender Telephone System Implements Changes
Changes are happening to the Offender Telephone System (OTS). Some were effective on August 8, and other will be phased in as enhancements are made to the automated system to support changes.

Offenders are now allowed an unlimited number of minutes each month. Also, the maximum duration of each call has increased from 15 minutes to 20 minutes.

Another immediate change now allowed offenders to hear a list of family and friends (F&F) who are registered to receive their telephone calls. A voice prompt provides offenders with instructions for listening to their list of registered F&F.

Offenders are also able to purchase an unlimited amount of phone time on a monthly basis from their Trust Fund Account. F&F will be allowed to fund their Securus Correctional Billings Service (SCBS) accounts or pay their bill, up to $250, through the web or the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, and up to $500, through the call centre (800-844-6591) in one transaction.

Phased in changes will include an offender-approved calling list, separate from the offender visitor list. Once implemented, an offender will no longer have to add a F&F to his/her visitor list if they only want to have telephone contact. An offender will have up to 20 approved registered F&F, excluding attorney(s), on his/her approved calling list.

Until the approved calling list changes are fully functional, offenders must continue to add F&F to their visitor lists in order to have telephone contact. As important note regarding these changes is they impact only the offender telephone list; all current policies and procedures regarding the offender's visitor list will remain in place.

Another phased-in change will allow offenders to call approved registered postpaid/contract (no prepaid) cell phones. F&F can only register their postpaid cell phones by calling the Enrollment Centre (866=806-7804) and speaking to a representative. During the registration process, the representative with F&F in the call and with their permission, will contact the F&F's phone company to verify the owner of the phone and that the cell phone is postpaid/contract.

Any previously registered landline telephone number that is switched to a cell phone by F&F will be inactivated and will require a re-registration of the telephone number as a cell phone. Once the landline is switched to a prepaid cell phone, the number cannot be re-registered and will be permanently inactivated as long as it remains prepaid.

If a F&F has previously registered a landline, they can keep receiving calls on that landline as well as any approved registered postpaid cell phone. It is important to note that each approved, registered phone number counts as one of the 20 allowed numbers an offender is allowed to contact.

Announcements regarding the OTS changes will be available to offenders through the offender phones and printed materials and to F&F through websites and printed materials.

Here is a recap of the changes:
* Offenders will have an unlimited number of minutes each month.
* Offenders will have 20 minute maximum duration calls, up from 15 minutes.
* Offenders can listen to their list of approved and registered F&F when making calls.
* Offenders can purchase an unlimited amount of phone time st the commissary.
* Offenders will experience an increase in the transaction amount of F&F SCBS accounts.

To be phased in:
* Offender telephone list will be separate from the offender visitor list.
* Offenders may have up to 20 registered F&F on an approved calling list.
* Offenders can call approved, registered, postpaid/contract cell phones.

Important telephone numbers and websites for F&F are:
F&F Registration: 866-806-7804

F&F Billing

Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Ombudsman Coordinator:


Still no mention of extending the system - as many other states and the Federal prison system does - to include overseas phone calls. Given the information above, the only reason I can see for this lies firmly with the phone company itself. Securus has no way of enforcing someone overseas to take up a phone contract with them in order to use the service. A way round this could be for Securus to provide remote phone numbers for overseas F&F - as many other phone companies do. These are acceptable for jails all across the US including those in Texas. Those numbers could be available only on a pre-paid basis (as most others currently are) with a debit or credit card with the same address as the phone account would be registered to, so the company gets the cash up-front and overseas F&F are able to receive calls on an approved number.

We live in an era of instant remote payment transactions with the tap of a cell phone. There is no logical reason why Securus is still resisting this revenue opportunity.