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Archive for the ‘Prison Issues’ Category

The High Price of Prison Phone Calls

For inmates like Filiberto Fuentes, phone calls are a lifeline to his children and family. But those calls have come at a high price: sometimes costing over 20 times that of a cellphone call. In the 1980s, telecom companies like GTL and Securus started pushing in to what they saw as a captive market—prisons and jails. They charged high prices, sometimes up to $14 a minute. On October 22, the FCC regulated the costs of inmate phone calls. Will the FCC ruling signal the end to these high prices?

The featured image shows inmates at the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, California. (Photo courtesy of the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department.)

Locked Up with Diabetes

When people go to prison they lose a lot of choices. They can’t decide when to get up or when to go to bed, when to eat or even what to eat. For incarcerated people with diabetes, having limited food choices raises serious health concerns.

To accompany this story, photographer Sean Havey took pictures of a diabetes education class at San Quentin Prison.

Sitting Vigil Behind Bars

The California Medical Facility in Vacaville, south of Sacramento, is known as the final stop for some of the sickest and oldest prison inmates. They arrive with breathing tubes and IVs to wait for their bodies to fail.

Prison officials believe inmates deserve to die with dignity despite their crimes. In the mid 90s, they created the state’s only prison hospice program. About two dozen healthy inmates are trained as caregivers and hold vigil so the patients won’t die alone.

Featured image via Nancy DeVille

A Father on Death Row

Rodolfo Medrano is 36 years old. He is on death row in Livingston, Texas. As a young man, Medrano was casually involved with a gang that, in 2003, killed six people. The prosecutor on his case acknowledged that Medrano did not pull the trigger, nor was he even there. Yet he nonetheless got the death penalty through Texas’ “law of parties.” Having been behind bars for a number of years, Medrano spoke to reporter Joy Diaz behind a glass cell about the challenges of maintaining a relationship with his 13-year-old son Dominique, with whom he can only speak to for five minutes each month.

Photo of Rodolfo Medrano via Joy Diaz

#1543 – Locked Up

What is it like to live life behind bars? Latino USA hears from prisoners trying to manage their health, stay in touch with family and care for those who are dying. We also explore a controversial new use for ankle monitors.

Our show begins with Luis “Suave” Gonzalez, an inmate at a maximum security prison in Pennsylvania who was recently featured on Latino USA. Suave was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in the 80’s when he was just a teenager. Since his incarceration nearly 30 years ago, he has turned his life around and started a number of progressive organizations within prison—even funding a college scholarship for kids on the outside. But in contrast to his now extraordinary life, Suave describes a typical mundane Sunday morning in his cell block, when hundreds of men are watching shows like Meet the Press and Face the Nation to discuss the week’s political issues.

Featured Image: Robyn Beck / Getty Images

Supporters Applaud FCC #PhoneJustice Decision

Earlier today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a rate cut for prison phone calls. These types of calls to inmates were running as high as $14 per minute, according to reports, but after today’s decision those rates will now “cap debit and prepaid calls in state and federal prisons at 11 cents a minute.” Newsweek adds, “For jails with more than 1,000 inmates, calls will be a 14 cents a minute; jails with 350-999 inmates will have a rate of  6 cents a minute and jails with less than 349 inmates will have a rate of 22 cents a minute.” Reaction to the decision spread through social media, as #PhoneJustice supporters —including presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, other politicians and Hollywood celebrities— tweeted their support of the decision (see the following Storify). Latino USA‘s newest show, premiering tomorrow October 23, will dedicate part of its hour to this story.

An Open Letter to the 6,000 Prisoners Coming Home

For those 6,000 who will soon be released, I want to share with you my story of being released from prison when I received executive clemency after serving 12 years. I hope it will give you some insight on what to expect.

Being released from prison was not what I expected. The freedom was swift and furious. I felt as though I had been slapped on my face with it. There was no preparation, and because of this, it brought on an array of emotional highs and lows. During that time I had struggled with the most mundane tasks, like using a cell phone or flushing an automatic toilet. Its cumulative effects were psychologically devastating. The way of life I once knew was now gone, along with my friends and support base. I then discovered I was alone in a new world that had drastically changed without me.

The days leading up to my release from Sing Sing prison were full of anticipation and my mind was riddled with doubt. To be honest, I was really scared. My main concern was the same as that of everyone who had done a long stretch in prison as they approached their release date. I questioned myself and asked if I would be able to survive life on the outside. The question haunted me.

I was re-entering the real world with only the clothing on my back and a few dollars in my pocket. But little did I know that I also brought along with me all the coping mechanisms I used to survive imprisonment. A simple walk in the neighborhood, or a train ride, was elevated to a state of panic because of the fear I might violate parole and return to prison.

This reality came to me one day when I was riding a crowded train and a passenger bumped me from behind. I automatically went into a defensive mode. I gripped the overhead handrail tightly, as my heart beat elevated and my adrenaline started to pump into my veins. I knew back in prison a simple bump could lead to a brutal confrontation. As I calmed myself down I then observed several other passengers being bumped twice as hard as I was. They did not react at all, making me realize that bumping passengers was a way of life in a New York City subway train.

I soon found out that reestablishing and developing relationships became awkward and painful. I searched for a solution to my problems and realized that I did not leave behind those 12 years of hard time. I had lived a decade of life in an environment where survival mechanisms and behaviors were hardwired into my daily existence. This changed me profoundly and I discovered how difficult it was to forget prison life. Being hardwired for survival inside was a good thing, but in the free world it was another matter, especially when these mechanisms would surface suddenly and without warning.

The tools that were once life-saving had now become a tremendous burden to me as I tried to get my life back together. Because of this it created roadblocks at every level of my existence. Carrying the stigma of being an ex-offender is debilitating. From being denied employment and housing, to not knowing how to establish healthy relationships, life becomes exceedingly difficult. And maintaining my freedom, I soon found, was no easy task while wrestling with the haunting memories of my past imprisonment.

Going back to prison was the last thing I wanted. But I realized that I could go back inside, at any time, at the whim of my parole officer. I witnessed this the first week I reported to my parole officer. The conditions of my parole dictated that I had to report to parole twice a week —with periodic drug testing— and find employment. My parole officer was friendly for the most part, but she had a case load she couldn’t handle. Because of this she took no bulls–t. She was a tough cop who made it clear she had the power to put me back in prison if I ever stepped out of line.

While waiting in her office I sat and watched her as she was questioned a young black parolee that had messed up. She asked him a routine question that she asked all parolees: “Have you had any police contact?” Police contact was any negative interaction with law enforcement. He replied, “Yes,” and the mild-mannered parole officer suddenly went ballistic. She knew already that the guy was a suspect in a robbery and ordered him to stand. She grabbed the parolee by the collar and forcefully pushed him until he reached the wall. “Nose on the f—ing wall and spread ‘em,” she said. The parolee did not resist. She handcuffed him and yelled, “You’re going back in.” I was scared s–tless at that point and wet my pants out of fear, just thinking about returning to prison. I had learned that freedom was not what I expected.

So for all those that will be coming home, you should remember that freedom is precious, and in order to maintain it, you have to work hard to keep it. It’s something I discovered during the 17 years I have been free.

Audio Letters for Loved Ones in Prison

Later this month, Latino USA revisits the topic of prison life for an upcoming show, and we are asking for your help. Do you know someone who is incarcerated? Do you write to that person? If so, send us a voice memo of an audio letter than you would write to your loved one, and email it to us at

You can also dial into this Google Voice number, (707) 625-0363, and leave a voicemail as well.

#1531 – Life Sentence

In this Latino USA episode: life before, during and after prison. We meet a group of lifers trying to slow down the school-to-prison pipeline. We hear the story of Suave (SWAH-vey), who has gone from illiteracy and a life sentence, to finding meaning behind organizing behind bars. We learn about the trouble former inmates have re-entering society, and what they can do to succeed. Also, how one inmate has turned skills learned in prison into his business. And, how freedom can surprise you.

Photo by Michal Czerwonka

The World of the Juvenile Lifer

Luis G., also known as Suave (SWAH-vey), was only 17 when he was charged with first degree murder. He was sentenced to life without parole and has been incarcerated for 27 years. In prison he was reckless, angry and frequently cited as a problem by authorities–a charge that landed him in solitary confinement and ultimately forced him to transfer prisons. All of that changed when he met Maria Hinojosa, who unknowingly inspired him to get a proper education, start reading and focus his life on helping others.

The U.S. has only 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s incarcerated (ACLU). Of those who are incarcerated, between 60,000 and 70,000 are juveniles. Suave, as part of a small group of dedicated men all serving life sentences in Graterford state prison in Pennsylvania, is now committed to fighting those numbers. He and his friends have set up initiatives like a fully inmate-funded college scholarship called Education Over Incarceration and a fatherhood workshop called FACT (Fathers and Children Together) that aims to reconnect incarcerated fathers with their children.

Maria Hinojosa and producer Michael Simon Johnson visited Suave at Graterford to find out how he turned his life around, and how he and his fellow lifers have found meaning in the work they do every day.

Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Life on the Other Side

Prison life is hard enough, but getting out and readjusting to civilian life presents its own set of challenges. There to help the formerly incarcerated who need housing, employment and plain old positivity is Exodus, a transitional community center located in East Harlem, New York City. In this audio postcard, we visit Exodus to find out what re-entry back into society sounds like.

Photo by Antonia Cereijido

The Challenges of Returning From Prison

Rossana Rosado is the Chair of New York State’s Council on Community Re-Entry and Reintegration. A former journalist and editor-in-chief of El Diario La Prensa, Rosado has been covering the issue of re-entry for years. She talks to Maria Hinojosa about the challenges and issues pertaining not only to former inmates but also the communities that grapple with how to integrate them.

Photo by Antonia Cereijido




Rossana Rosado has been a dominant force in New York media for 27 years. Using her journalism degree from Pace University, she started as a City Hall reporter at El Diario. She left the newspaper to join WPIX, Inc. as a Producer of Public Affairs programming. She later became the station’s Public Service Director, responsible for the creation and placement of hundreds of public service announcements on the air. Ms. Rosado won an Emmy in 1992 for the production of a series of public service announcements featuring organizations which helped children.


From Prisoner to Entrepreneur

In college, Bronx native Ralphy Dominguez was a straight-A student, a natural leathersmith and a drug kingpin. His knack for business led to a $2 million cocaine ring that covered most of the Northeast, and ultimately ended in a three-year stint at a federal prison. While serving time, Ralphy honed his skills and set his sights on starting a fine leather business, Pen & Pistol. We hear from Ralphy in his own words as he recounts his story and the difficulties and rewards of going straight.

Photo by Sarah Barrett

Going to Rikers Island

On Rikers Island, the largest jail in the world, a new program aims at lowering juvenile recidivism by training young inmates to question their own life choices. Maria Hinojosa takes us into East River Academy, a high school–in jail–to explore how the program works.


michael-johnson-headshot-150x150Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Michael Simon Johnson spend most of his childhood making music and groaning when his parents put on NPR in the car. So naturally he graduated from Emerson College with a degree in Sound Design, moved to New York and made his way into public radio. As an engineer, he has worked for Afropop Worldwide, WNYC’s Radio Rookies, and Jazz at Lincoln Center. He commits much of his time to working on radio and multimedia projects but can often be found playing the bass, rock climbing, and traveling.

Once You’re Out

Juan Echevarria made the most of his time on the inside. While serving fifteen years, he took classes and  started an HIV education program. He now helps men and women who are being released from prison transition back into the world. Juan shares a few thoughts on challenges former inmates face as they reenter society.

Photo courtesy of Flicker.

 Juan Echevarria served fifteen years in prison where he took classes and  started an HIV education program. He now helps men and women who are being released from prison transition back into the world.


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