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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Thursday February 22nd 2024

Something I Said- Dec. ’23

Victimizing Incarcerated Women

By DWIGHT HOBBES

a photo of the author
Dwight Hobbes

On a whim, I signed up at a pen pal service for women in prison. And caught wind of something that stinks to high hell. These gals have done the crime and, accordingly are doing the time. Fine. That’s one thing. It’s altogether another, now that they’re hemmed up, for prisons to exploit them for what little money (it’s chump change) they earn inside and, into the bargain, arbitrarily abuse and abridge whatever liberties these women have left. For obvious reasons – one being to protect individuals from retaliation, the other being to protect the paper from liability – I’m not naming names or particular prisons. But complaints have reached me and you can look it up that every word here is researched.
For instance, at the pen pal site for a person locked up in California, it is listed what she can and cannot receive: stamps – (no), gifts – (yes, stationery, etc., but must be shipped from the store), clothing – (no), books – (yes, must be shipped from publisher or bookstore), cigarettes – (no). In this economic day and age, who realistically can go to the expense of buying someone a book and then, instead of footing the freight for publisher or retail outlet – if that establishment is willing – to turn around and pay UPS or the post office to see to it gets where it’s going. For that matter, suppose you’ve got books laying around the house that you’ve already read and want to send someone inside. Forget about it. Stamps aren’t luxuries, but a vital resource to facilitate communication with the outside world. Added to which, I have an email from someone relating that at a prison here in Minnesota, the administration “charges exorbitant prices for toiletries and feminine necessities.” Which truly is low. To prohibit receipt of vital, hygienic basics and then force inmates to purchase said items at a marked up rate.
A nationally widespread racket is the extortion of access to phone calls. As the contact tells me, only three telephone companies are allowed to serve prisons and they charge the inmates sky-high rates. So, for friends and families to get collect calls (in most instances, FCC regulations won’t allow them to dial direct) costs a great deal more than it should, way more than it would, from regular folk. Well, what is so precious about these telephone companies that they get to charge an outlandish increase over the going rate – which already ain’t cheap? Why the hell can’t institutions use some regular phone company and have incarcerated customers not get ripped off anymore than the rest of us? Much as everyone knows how much women love to run their mouths on the telephone, that is, you’ll pardon the pun, positively criminal.
There’s no reason to foul over anyone this way. To take the punishment they’re serving for past misdeeds and turn it into a trick bag lasting for as long as their sentences have them locked up. It may not be unusual, but it damn sure is cruel.

Dwight Hobbes is a long-time Twin Cities journalist and essayist.

Reprinted from Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, with minor updates.

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