By Christopher Zoukis

The Federal Bureau of Prisons provides inmates with a number of avenues of entertainment.  These avenues include personal FM radios, community televisions, personal MP3 players, and institutional movies.  These forms of entertainment are offered in an effort to reduce inmate idleness and the ills that come along with it.

Radios

Personal FM/AM radios have been a mainstay of prison culture for decades.  Available for purchase through institutional commissaries at a price of around $40, most inmates purchase one.  These radios are of the Walkman-variety, operate on two or three batteries, and are required to listen to the televisions in the inmate housing units.

TVs

Inmates incarcerated within the Federal Bureau of Prisons are not permitted to purchase personal televisions, instead they are allowed to utilize communal TVs in inmate housing units and, at some federal prisons, in recreation departments.  Most of these televisions are usually mounted high up on support beams so that they cannot easily be tampered with, and programming can either be determined by majority vote or by the prison’s administration.  The external speakers are removed from these TVs, and FM modulators are connected to them.  Thus, inmates must purchase personal radios and tune these radios into specific FM frequencies in order to hear programming.  There are usually several such communal televisions in each housing unit, and each one is set to a specific type of programming (e.g., movies, news, sports, Spanish stations, etc.).

Read More

By Christopher Zoukis

As I write this, I sit at a TRULINCS computer in a federal prison’s housing unit.  A set of in-ear JVC earbuds pump out Bush’s “Reasons” hit.  This is accomplished through the SanDisk MP3 player that the headphones are connected to.  This was not the case when I arrived in the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 2008, and it has greatly improved my quality of life.

Over the past 6 years, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has made leaps and bounds in terms of the technology made available to the inmate population.  Back in 2006 — and in the early 1990s, for that matter — federal inmates were allowed to purchase Sony AM/FM Walkman radios.  These days this radio costs $39.95 from any federal prison’s commissary.  For as long as many prisoners can remember, these radios have been their primary contact with the outside world.  Today they are required to hear the televisions in inmate housing units, which have their speakers removed and are mounted high upon the walls in the housing units.

The technological revolution has also expanded to the Inmate Telephone System, where inmates can now place both collect and debit calls to their friends, family members, and others outside of prison.  Of course, most federal prison telephones now require the inmate to type in a nine-digit security code and state their name.  The name-recognition feature is to ensure that the prisoner attempting to call a particular authorized phone number is actually that prisoner.

While the Federal Bureau of Prisons has most certainly been analyzing these new technologies for quite some time, they have only recently become commonplace in federal prisons across the nation.  In 2012, FCI Petersburg — the medium-security federal prison in Petersburg, Virginia where I am incarcerated — installed Trust Fund Limited Inmate Communication Systems (TRULINCS) computers in every housing unit.  This coincided with the removal of all in-unit washers and dryers.  The trade was a good one.

Read More

By Christopher Zoukis

The other week I prepared to shop in the FCI Petersburg’s institutional commissary.  New commissary forms had just been printed, this one with “Feburary” printed on it.  I was looking to see if there was anything new available for sale.  After all, some items change each quarter, when they issue the new commissary forms.  Well, I wasn’t to be disappointed.

As I scrolled down the commissary list, I came across an entry called a “MP3 Envelope.”  Seeing this I assumed that they were finally selling a soft, clear, rubberized carrying case for the $69 SanDisk MP3 player which they’ve been selling for some time.  This clear case — with a neck strap, no less — is sold at other prisons for around $1, or even given away with the MP3 player purchases.

Later in the day, while at the commissary window retrieving my purchases, a small yellow envelope was passed through the slot.  The inside of this envelope contained bubble wrap.  On the outside, there was a label for the Advanced Technologies Group — the contractor who installs the software on the MP3 players sold by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  I was sadly disappointed, but didn’t hand back the envelope because I wanted to share this with my friends so that we could all remark at the principle behind selling this padded, labeled, envelope; an envelope designed for use upon product failure, an apparently expected outcome.

Read More

In an innovative move by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), federal inmates are now allowed to purchase MP3 players from their institution’s commissary and individual MP3 files through their housing unit’s Trust Fund Limited Inmate Communication System (TRULINCS) computers.  This system is offered via a federal contract with Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) and has…

Read More

By Christopher Zoukis

In an innovative move by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), federal inmates are now allowed to purchase MP3 players from their institution’s commissary and individual MP3 files through their housing unit’s Trust Fund Limited Inmate Communication System (TRULINCS) computers.  This system is offered via a federal contract with Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) and has now been implemented system-wide in federal prisons.  Private contract prisons which house federal prisoners (e.g., Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group) are not included in this service’s coverage population. 

Inmates may purchase from their institution’s commissary a SanDisk 8GB Clip+ for the price of $69.20.  These MP3 players, which have been modified to not allow for voice recording or the use of the micro SD slot, hold around 1,800 songs, contain a rechargeable battery, a FM radio, a built-on plastic clip, and come equipped with earbud style headphones.  They are very small, only 2″ high x 1 1/4″ wide (Because of the compactness of the device, inmates tend to make holding cases which can be hung around their necks to ensure the safety of the device).

After purchase, inmates are allowed to activate the MP3 player on the TRULINCS computer system via their personal TRULINCS account.  Once activated, each MP3 player owner will be allowed to browse music selections for a maximum of 60 minutes per day (in 15-minute time intervals), listen to up to 30 music samples a day (in 30-second samples), save songs to their wish list for future purchase, and purchase songs.  Through this system inmates can also delete previously purchased songs and, therefore, delete them from their MP3 players.

Read More