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FCI Englewood prison
Federal Correctional Institution, Englewood, Colorado, where the author is housed (Photo by Chris Piner)

If you own a computer or electronic tablet — rejoice. This might sound wild, but not everyone in the U.S. is allowed to have computers.

That had been the case for most people in prison until recently. But the times they are a-changin’, albeit slowly. Prisons throughout the nation have begun offering electronic tablets to incarcerated people. This year, my federal prison in Colorado received Keefe Group SCORE 7C tablets, an already old technology by outside standards but brand spanking new to federal inmates. 

While the tablet doesn’t allow me to surf the Internet, it has provided me with the most freedom I’ve felt since my incarceration.

My tablet, which I received in January 2023, features 1 gigabyte of RAM, 32 gigabytes of flash memory storage and runs on a Google Android operating system. There are some free games such as sudoku and “Caverns of Fire,” a game where you tilt the tablet to maneuver. It also has more than a dozen puzzle games and a bowling game that looks passable. And, of course, no tablet would be complete without a Microsoft Windows-style solitaire game. This is great news for an old gamer like me. More games can be purchased for roughly $1.20 to $3.55. 

For those who’d like to learn something, there are supposed to be life-improvement classes via the Khan Academy and a slew of e-books via Project Gutenberg. But those offerings haven’t arrived yet. 

These tablets also support video visits via an unremarkable low-megapixel camera; but the cameras are deactivated at this time so we have no video visits for now.

I believe the Federal Bureau of Prisons — which runs my facility — is trying to migrate us to the newer devices and off old MP3 players. I’ve had my MP3 player for more than five years. 

Activating the music on the tablet deactivates the MP3 player, so you have to be careful unless you want to carry a fragile 7-inch tablet with you when you walk on the track in the recreational area. 

At first, we thought our prison was only getting 300 tablets, even though we have a population of nearly 1,000 inmates. That potential shortage caused a scare. In the end, we wound up getting enough of them so that everyone who wanted to could buy one.

My tablet cost $123.50, not far off the expected price. I bought it with leftover COVID-19 stimulus funds. There are undoubtedly better tablets on the outside, but the prison commissary is the only store in town.

On my tablet, I have a calculator and “Andor’s Trail,” a role-playing game, which would be free on the street but cost $1.20 in my prison. The version available to us is a development copy to boot, not the full game. In all, I’ve purchased more than 25 games. 

There is also an impressive collection of movies to rent. Prices range from $3.55 to $4.70 per rental. I’ve watched “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” “Jupiter Ascending” and “10 Cloverfield Lane.” It’s nice to have an on-demand movie theater.

Overall, the tablet is a wonderful, long-awaited product. It is so engrossing that it is hard to put down. This time-waster makes days fly by — a real plus for the incarcerated. 

On the downside, you may sometimes miss chow time or show up late to call-outs, which let us know if there’s somewhere we have to report that day. 

Still, I’ve been happier and less stressed since getting my tablet. Take that, Bureau of Prisons! It has become easier to disconnect from foolishness and pain. Tablets are an addiction I highly recommend.

When I think back over my nearly 10 years of a 15-year sentence, I recall all the times I’ve said, “What prison needs is more video games.” 

Now that dream has become a reality for the thousands of us trapped behind prison walls. I hope we never go back to the way it was before these electronic babysitters entered our lives.

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.

Daniel K. Talburt is a former journalist and has written two science fiction novels, “Destination Unknown” and “Dead In Space.” He is incarcerated in Colorado.