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Remember when you were a child and adults told you that you had better do right because “someone” is always watching? They meant God, but these days there is also a human made omnipotence watching your every move. Your internet service provider (ISP) is an all seeing eye in the clouds. That reality is not so new. What is new is that ISPs can legally sell your entire web browsing history to anyone who wants it. They don’t have to ask you first and they don’t have to let you know they did it.
During the month of April, at least 100 of those incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center, about an hour outside of Chicago, Illinois, participated in a boycott of the overpriced phone calls, commissary goods and vending machines. “Mass incarceration is a luxury business,” stated Patrick Pursley, one of the men who joined in the boycott. The boycott comes at a time of growing demonstrations led by those inside U.S. prisons.
On Oct. 22, 2015, at an open meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed proposed rules that substantively reform what advocates call a broken prison and jail telephone industry. The package of reforms ushered in by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn was heralded by advocate organizations that comprise the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, along with myriad criminal justice reform and civil rights groups.
This week tens of thousands of people in the United States flooded the streets to demand racial justice. It is one of many issues that have been building for years, reaching the tipping point and seeming to explode in a national awakening. We also saw that in the last two weeks with national protests for living wages. Four years ago we listed 15 crisis issues that the country needed to face; poverty wages and the injustice in criminal enforcement, including racially abusive police practices, were two of them.
The internet, founded by the U.S. government, was made accessible to the masses in the mid ‘90s. It has revolutionized how people access information and how quickly they can get information on almost anything from sources internationally. Now there is a battle going on between grassroots people across the country, small media organizations and media activists against a major attack on that speedy access by giant telecom and media conglomerates.
Tracy Rosenberg is the executive director of Media Alliance, an action and resource organization in Oakland advocating just, accountable and diverse media. She has been a listener representative on the KPFA Local Station Board since 2007 and a member of the Pacifica National Board of Directors since 2010. We asked her to comment on the situation from her perch as an insider. Here’s what we talked about.
SHU prisoners in California are not allowed to call home. Lack of family phone calls is one of the reasons California’s SHU cells are characterized as solitary confinement – the harsh deprivation of family and social ties. CDCR has created the conditions that drive prisoners to desperation. It is horrifying to witness CDCR’s response to the current hunger strike: Crank up the cruelty and let them die.
The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice applauds the FCC’s action to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which marks a turning point in the 10-year effort to make the price of interstate calls from prison affordable. Costing up to 24 times a normal call, prison phone rates unfairly punish inmates’ families, who are forced to cover these calls.
As pointed out in the Black Waxx Multimedia, Inc., film "Disappearing Voices: The Decline of Black Radio," it is not simply the artists or the jocks who are disappearing. Nor is it simply their absence that renders Black radio impotent. It is the fact that the voice of the community they represent has no forum.