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The blue screen of a JPay JP6 tablet shows a variety of apps available for download.
Jpay's JP6S tablet (Photo courtesy of JPay)

When I arrived at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran in the summer of 2019, I was thrilled to learn about the electronic tablet program.

I was fortunate to have a cellmate who owned a tablet and was generous enough to teach me how to operate it. He let me borrow it and offered advice on which tablet to buy based on my preferences.

At that time, there were only two models of JPay electronic tablets available for purchase: the JP5S with a 7-inch touch screen and the JP5S Mini with a 4.3-inch touch screen. My cellmate suggested that I should buy the model with the bigger screen, since I liked playing video games.

In the fall of 2019, after two-and-a-half months, I was able to purchase one. It was my first tablet. 

With the JP5S tablet, you can access email and build playlists. There’s a radio, a notes app and a calendar. You can read books and the news, and you can play games. In some states, you can access Lantern, JPay’s education program. 

I enjoyed playing the games that we could buy and download onto our tablets. Chess and Army vs. Zombie were my go-to ones. I paid $6.99 for each. 

But my favorite feature was the OfficeSuite word processing application. It’s like having a mini computer at my fingertips. For me, it’s a vital tool that allows me to work on my book, draft legal documents and do other kinds of writing. 

I also liked listening to music on my tablet; it’s much more convenient than owning a stack of CDs. But JPay’s media library isn’t very extensive. It contains a relatively wide hip-hop music selection, but even its offerings are wanting. I remember looking for the song “’03 Bonnie & Clyde” by Jay Z featuring Beyoncé, but couldn’t find it. Additionally, the media search interface can be confusing. Once, I thought I was buying Beyoncé’s song “Crazy in Love,” but it ended up actually being a cover of the same song performed by a different artist. This happened several times.

In November 2021, I ordered an upgrade, going with the JP6S tablet with a 7-inch screen. Because of a staffing shortage, I waited three months to get my new tablet, but I think it was worth the wait. 

The battery lasts up to 10 hours and the screen is wider and has more pixels. Images look high-quality and crisp. This new model also has the same OfficeSuite application.

In March 2021, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced a new program in which GTL tablets will be distributed to all California inmates for free to “give incarcerated people the ability to communicate with family, access rehabilitative information and learn new technology.” CDCR has recently begun installing several new kiosks for the new GTL tablets in buildings at our facility.

Some of the anticipated enhanced communication and media capabilities include video and electronic messages through the new GTL kiosks, movie streaming and games. I think this would be a great source of entertainment for a lot of incarcerated people in California.

Overall, I feel it’s only right for the prison system in the United States to adopt this kind of tablet program to keep incarcerated people connected to their family and loved ones. Connection is a positive tool for rehabilitation and mental health, and will be good for the community as a whole.

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.

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