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A man plays a video game on his GTL tablet.
Photo courtesy of GTL

New technology has landed in our outdated prison lives. 

People serving their sentences at the Kern Valley State Prison have received tablets after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation finalized its new contract with the prison telecommunications company GTL last year. These Android tablets with 7-inch screens have provided us a glimpse into the smartphone era. 

With our tablets and their pre-programmed apps, my fellow prisoners and I can finally reconnect with the free world in a way that reflects modern times. 

One app lets us make phone calls from our cells instead of using the old payphone in the dayroom. We can use this app between the hours of 9 and 11 a.m., 12:30 and 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. 

Our tablets also come with a texting app that shuts off less frequently, restricted only between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. Snail mail, as U.S. mail is often referred to inside my prison, will likely take a back seat as we begin texting words, pictures and 30-second video clips for 5 cents each in real time. 

Our new tablets not only facilitate instantaneous communication, but quell boredom — a major issue in prison. They offer access to subscriptions for movies ($1.99 a month), music ($5.49 a month) and news (75 cents for 30 days), as well as educational materials, facility information, radio and podcasts (all for free).  

Those among us who were previously computer illiterate have quickly learned how to text, open apps and navigate our devices.

I asked my fellow prisoners some questions about our lifestyle upgrade and here’s what I learned:

  1. No one ever thought we would have tablets in prison. It still seems unreal. 
  2. Our tablets came without user manuals, but the technology was easy to adopt.
  3. The prices for the paid apps are not overwhelming and seem fair to us all. 
  4. Since the tablets were first distributed, more people have come back into prisoners’ lives because it’s easier and more convenient for both incarcerated people and their families to keep in touch with one another. 
  5. We all agree that no one in prison should be denied access to modern technology in an age where technology is ubiquitous in the free world. 

Tablets are only currently available in some California prisons, but CDCR is in the process of rolling them out across all state prisons. I know waiting patiently is hard to do inside prison, but the wait will be worth it. 

It’s possible that the quality of prison life hasn’t seen such a drastic improvement since color televisions replaced black-and-white models. The introduction of tablets has similarly transformed our drab and gray world to a technicolor one.

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.

Damian Miguel Cantu is a writer incarcerated in California. Damian was raised in Southern California, grew up on the streets of La Puente and Highland Park, and is trying to rehabilitate.