The Fight for Affordable Prison Calls

Every week, without fail, while Ulandis Forte was incarcerated he would speak with his grandmother, Martha Wright. As the years wore on, he realized that other inmates did not make or receive as many calls as him. In fact, Forte observed that inmates over time tended to communicate less with the outside world. While this could be for a number of reasons, it wasn’t until his grandmother, a middle-class retiree, told him how much of a financial burden the calls truly were, yet she refused to limit contact with her grandson. Instead, she reached out to the DC Prisoners’ Project and began seeking legal action, spearheading a group that brought about a class action suit against inmate phone companies and the Corrections Corporation of America, according to The Verge. In 2001, the lawsuit stagnated once a judge decided the petitioners would need to seek change with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). However, this did not stop Wright and fellow supporters. They called upon the FCC to limit rates to $0.20 a minute for cross-state debit calls and $0.25 for collect calls. It wasn’t until Mignon Clyburn was appointed as interim chairwoman of the FCC in 2009 that the tides began to turn. She saw the struggle as another provocation against the poor and sought to change it. That same year, the commission passed new laws limiting collect calls to $0.25. Of the FCC’s decision, Clyburn said, “This all began with one Washington, DC grandmother, Mrs. Martha Wright, who spoke truth to power in 2003, and reminded us that one voice can still spur a movement and drive meaningful change”. Upon being released after almost 20 years, Forte credits his seamless reintegration to the contact he was able to maintain with family during his incarceration.