PayTel, Pray Tell?

The following is submitted by someone frustrated by not being able to connect with an inmate. The lack of knowledge about how these dehumanizing systems work is pretty common: Where can I park to visit with my loved one? What documentation do I need? When will my child/husband/brother get to visit with a lawyer?

S. describes two recent missed calls, and, bizarrely, a missed opportunity by PayTel to cash in. The surrealist poet and labor scholar Franklin Rosemont wrote about the radical potential of the “wrong number” to open an entrance to a world free of alienation. Here, a correct number provides yet another example of misery for all.

I recently received calls on two occasions from an inmate at the jail. When I answered it said it was “a collect call from Durham County Detention Center” and then the recorded voice of the inmate stated the person’s name. I don’t really know what happened next, except that the call dropped. No operator was on the other end asking me if I wanted to accept the charges for the collect call (I was prepared to); nor was the inmate on the line. The call ended. Just like that. Not surprisingly, I could not call back. When I called the number that the call came from, it was PayTel, and everything was prerecorded voice menu-type stuff. If I had a PayTel account, I was directed one way, if I wanted to establish an account, another. When I chose that path, I was told I would be connected with a customer service representative. I waited. And waited. Five minutes later, I hung up. Both times I was called, I did the same thing. I have not yet spoken to anyone at PayTel. I would establish an account if necessary–even though the rates are insane and why should I have to establish either an account by paying a certain amount, or an open-ended one, both risky things. But when I’m getting a call from an inmate there is nothing that would indicate that I need a PayTel account to accept the collect call. It seems I should be able to forward the charges to my cell phone bill, but I still don’t know.

The incredibly frustrating thing is that at the moment the call comes in I feel happy, I feel hopeful, and then that is all dashed when there is no connection made. This probably happens to a lot of other people on the outside when they get a call from a friend or loved one inside. But my disappointment probably cannot compare to that felt by the inmate making a call, hoping to hear a friendly, familiar voice, only to hear nothing. So much of this system feels like it’s about breaking up families, breaking up friends, and breaking down people’s humanity. PayTel is all too happy to help the state out doing this, and prey on people. But I don’t even get what’s going on with these collect calls. It just doesn’t make sense.


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