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The mental health of those imprisoned has steadily deteriorated due to isolating COVID-19 restrictions, making connection with loved ones critical now more than ever.

In March 2021, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) signed a six-year contract with Global Tel Link (GTL) to significantly reduce the cost of telephone calls for incarcerated people and make communication with loved ones more accessible. The CDCR instituted a price reduction of 5.1 cents per minute for calls within California and 18.5 cents per minute for telephone calls outside of California. It now offers 60 free phone minutes at least once a month, the CDCR said in a press release.

However, despite these new provisions, it has still been difficult to keep in touch with loved ones here at the West Facility of California’s Men Colony (CMC-West).

Oftentimes, the corrections officers (COs) disable the phones for nearly three days a week. Other days, they will not offer phone time, reportedly due to weather conditions, mainly “The Fog.” How can inmates benefit from these free minutes if the officers intentionally shut off all the phones for hours at a time? The free minutes are useless if inmates are prevented from using the phones. This is a recurring problem.

In all fairness, we appreciate free phone calls in general. It provides inmates a chance to connect with family who can’t afford a collect call, which is a call paid for by the receiver. However, in the spirit of truth and justice, the officers within CMC-West need to stop turning off phones as an exercise of their power.

This is my call to prison officers everywhere to prioritize the well-being and dignity of inmates. At a time when we need the connection to our loved ones for our mental health, phone calls are our lifeline.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Abdur Rahman Malik is a writer incarcerated in California.