Securus JP6s tablet with blue screen and app icons
Photo courtesy of Securus Technologies

In September 2021, the director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections issued every inmate confined in his agency a Securus tablet. In the past 27 years, nothing has more positively impacted my life.

A perfect example was this past holiday season. My best friend is married with two kids. During the past 10 years, his family has made it a point to include “Uncle David” in birthdays, anniversaries and family vacations by sending me hard copies of pictures capturing those milestones.  

Although my friend’s intent was to include me in the making of his family’s memories, it had the unintended consequence of making me feel like a horrible friend. That’s because I kept forgetting the names of his kids. For the longest time, I could not figure out why this was an issue for me.

Well, thanks to my Securus tablet, I solved the problem. This past holiday season, my friend sent me tons of 30 second videos of his family on Christmas day. With tears in my eyes, I watched the kids rip open presents with genuine excitement. I got to participate in a suspenseful treasure hunt that ended with motorized scooters in the garage. 

The videos made them real to me. It was the best Christmas of my incarcerated life!

Because of my Securus tablet, I will never forget the names of my best friend’s kids ever again. I now know their voices. I now know their distinct personalities. I now know that the younger one is more adventurous than the other. And I now know that the older one is already smarter than me.

Watching the videos of my best friend’s life reminded of something Winston Churchill said to the House of Commons in 1910:

We must not forget that when every material improvement has been effected in prisons, when the temperature has been rightly adjusted, when the proper food to maintain health and strength has been given, when the doctors, chaplains, and prison visitors have come and gone, the convict stands deprived of everything that a free man calls life. We must not forget that all these improvements, which are sometimes salves to our consciences, do not change that position.

“We must not forget that when every material improvement has been effected in prisons, when the temperature has been rightly adjusted, when the proper food to maintain health and strength has been given, when the doctors, chaplains, and prison visitors have come and gone, the convict stands deprived of everything that a free man calls life. We must not forget that all these improvements, which are sometimes salves to our consciences, do not change that position.”

Make no mistake, this new era of connectivity comes at a cost. Every keystroke that I make, every book that I read, every game of chess that I play is recorded and subject to surveillance and investigation. I just hope they don’t forget to record my humanity.

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

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David Ray Fleenor

David Ray Fleenor is a writer incarcerated in Oklahoma.