Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

An incarcerated man uses his GTL tablet.
Photo courtesy of GTL

At first glance, I thought the GTL tablet was bulky, like a brick.

It took 48 hours for us to be able to transfer our funds from our trust accounts to our Global Tel Link (GTL) accounts, allowing us to pay for movies. Then it took at least six days before the tablets finished downloading all the free games.

What was supposed to be a technological breakthrough for myself — receiving an electronic tablet in prison — came with some glitches and hiccups.

Since last year, California has been rolling out new electronic tablets in prison. As of March 2023, the tablets have reached 17 of 33 prisons. Fifteen more correctional facilities are slated to receive the devices this summer.

In theory, tablets should make our lives easier and fuller. For instance, there are pre-set services on the tablet designed for education, including offline access to learning modules from Khan Academy, a nonprofit organization that teaches short lessons through videos. The tablets are also supposed to make it easier for us to make requests such as ordering from the commissary, submitting grievances or making sick calls.

You’d think the tablets have been a smashing success inside prison, but there have also been frustrations. I interviewed 10 people in a dayroom at my prison, California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility, and asked them about their favorite and least favorite features of the tablets.

Their answers have been compiled and summarized below.

Pros

  • Most people said they liked the tablet because it has phone call and text message capability.
  • They were thrilled that they received earbuds with a microphone for phone calls and video visits.

Cons

  • The phone app on the GTL tablet at our prison is only turned on from 9 to 11:45 a.m.; 1 to 2 p.m.; 2:30 to 3:45 p.m.; and 6 to 9 p.m. The people interviewed said they want the phone app to be turned on nonstop from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., so people are able to reach their loved ones or friends in other states and countries, or to talk with loved ones early in the morning before work.
  • They would like the tablets to have more free access to education, law, library and religious services. Some guys wonder why there aren't any GED, college or self-help courses on their tablet, where they could earn certificates for their education and other rehabilitative programs.
  • Many people don't like the fact that they have to log in and log out with their eight-digit personal identification number and four-digit passcode all over again, including each time they jump from one app to another. Logging into any app is time consuming.
  • Another source of frustration is GTL's Wi-Fi system going off for three to four hours at a time, even though one GTL worker assured me that the Wi-Fi would always be on.

Everyone agrees the tablets should have better movie listings. The movie listings that are on our tablets right now are old movies, such as “The Italian Job,” “Mean Girls” and “Failure to Launch.” The movie app should be updated each month with new titles and with whole new seasons for TV shows.

Similar to all of the fellas, I think that the GTL tablet is cool and unique in some ways. I believe that the device is a great therapeutic tool for everyone to enjoy while they're in a confined environment.

It is true, however, that the tablet has seemed to stress people out more than satisfy them.

My favorite thing about the tablet is that I can have 75 free minutes to call my family every two weeks; I usually hit that mark calling various family members. And I also enjoy the free text messaging. (Editor's note: This story was submitted in 2022, before California made prison calls free).

But I don't like that phone calls are sometimes cut off in the middle. The microphone often sounds distorted. The text messaging app is very slow when I'm typing messages; it takes a long time for the letters to pop up. And it's very difficult to send messages out.

There is plenty of room for improvement, especially when it comes to speeding up the device and making it more efficient. The tablet should be enjoyable, not stressful.

As some folks told me, “It's a blessing and a curse.”

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.

Tue Kha is a writer incarcerated in California. He is working on a novel titled "Kormic."