Monday, August 19, 2013
By Donna Porterfield

When they incarcerate your child, they incarcerate the whole family. To talk to a loved one in prison, you might as well take out a bank loan. The prison charges us $4.00 to hook up each call, and 89 cents a minute.” - Thousand Kites play

On August 9th, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 2-1 to reform the prison phone industry. This new ruling ensures that families of inmates, including an estimated 2.7 million children, will have an easier time staying connected to their incarcerated loved ones. For decades, research has shown that staying connected reduces recidivism and increases community safety. The recent ruling has been a long time coming.

In 2006, when writing the Thousand Kites play, I conducted story circles with families of inmates incarcerated in Virginia’s prison system. One after another, mothers, wives, sons, daughters, fathers, grandmothers, and grandfathers told tearful stories about the financial hardship and emotional stress caused by outrageously priced prison phone calls.

The Thousand Kites play was part of the seven-year collaboration between Appalshop’s multi-media project Holler to the Hood and Roadside Theater. The purpose was to provide the means for the public to begin understanding the realities of the one in every 33 American adults who are in some form of correctional control. It is noteworthy that the United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, yet 25% of its prisoners. By 1997, construction of a new prison was begun somewhere in the U.S. every 30 days, with many sited in economically distressed rural communities like those in Appalachia.

Using theater to publicly tell the stories of prisoners and corrections officers and their families in Appalachia, the Holler to the Hood -- Roadside collaboration developed partnerships with other regional and national grassroots organizations working on criminal justice reform campaigns, including Prison Phone Justice.

The success of the 10 year Prison Phone Justice campaign demonstrated by the recent FCC ruling is a people’s victory, attributable to the concerted efforts of families of the incarcerated, formerly incarcerated men and women, and citizens of all political persuasions concerned with public safety.

Additional Resources:

Radio Documentary about a Thousand Kites

Prison Poetry Workshop - A national project that has set out to explore the power of prison poetry.

Hip Hop from the Hill Top - The show broadcasts messages from the friends and family members of those incarcerated in our region’s prison system.

Nation Inside - A story-driven platform that connects and supports people in the movement against mass incarceration

Working Narratives - "Good Movements Follow Great Stories"

Appalshop Cateogry: 

Cite This

Donna Porterfield. “Prison Phone Justice Victory.” December 8, 2015.

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