When the Opposite of Freedom Rings

I have never been a huge fan of talking on the telephone.  I would much rather communicate by text or email. I guess it’s because the written word is more controllable. It’s difficult for me to explain my telephone anxiety.  It doesn’t help that I have always been plagued by ear infections and allergies. I worry that I will miss-hear something during a phone call.

Unfortunately Daniel isn’t textable. I can’t email him, either. We write letters.

I don’t always have the time to write a real letter.  When I do, I may not remember to share my knowledge that “Tapatio is delicious on soy chicken tacos,” which is something I might tell a friend in a quick text.

So I decided to give phone calls with Daniel a chance. Also, I was curious to see how the whole jail phone call thing worked, and I wanted to be able to ask Daniel questions and not wait weeks for the answers.

First, you have to set up a pre-paid calling account. Inmates have to call collect. I don’t mind, but I do know that many inmates never talk to friends or family on the phone because of the expense.  The charges — which can be as much as twenty five cents per minute plus two or three dollars in services fees just for making the call or adding money to your account — can really add up.

Daniel can only call someone during his day room time.  Day room schedules change daily, so there’s so set time when he’s out of his cell. One day it might be nine PM and another, it might be seven AM.  If the deputies are following the predictable schedule, Daniel usually has a general idea when he’ll be out the next day.

Inmates sometimes trade day room times for various reasons. Often this has to do with the schedules of the people they want to call.  Daniel is fully aware that I am not answering a jail call when I’m picking up the school carpool.

In spite of the scheduling difficulties, we usually have a chance to talk on the phone four or five times a week.  The calls normally last about forty five minutes, the time limit on calls at the OC Jail. That’s actually pretty generous, since most California prisons have a fifteen minute limit.

I’m usually sitting in my back yard when I’m talking to Daniel on the phone. That’s where I have the best cell reception. It’s quiet and peaceful and the complete opposite of what I can hear on the other end of the line.

Ghetto Texting

There is no forgetting that I’m talking to someone in jail. From the moment I answer the phone, I am reminded.  A recorded female voice tells me that this is a collect call from an “inmate at the Orange County Central Jail Complex,” and I can refuse the call by hanging up or by pressing the number one. I’m not sure why anyone would bother pressing one.  I press zero to accept.

Then the recorded voice is back, reminding me that this isn’t a regular phone call because it’s “subject to monitoring and recording.” Right before we can start talking, the voice thanks us for using Global Tellink (as though there had been a choice).

When we first started talking on the phone, there was a slightly different system in place, with which the inmates could record a greeting at the beginning of each call. I should have heard that recorded message saying I was receiving a call from “Daniel Wozniak.”

However, many inmates used this system as sort of a way to “ghetto text,” as they called it.

Let’s say an inmate was calling his mom and didn’t want her to incur the expense of the collect call. In that situation, the recording might say that she is receiving a call from “I love you mom and I hope you’re okay.” Then Mom could get to hear her son’s voice and then hang up.  No charge.

Sometimes if Daniel had attempted to call a couple of times and I didn’t answer, he would assume that I couldn’t talk right then. So he’d call back one more time and “leave a message” telling me that he will probably have dayroom at a specific time the next day, and he’d try back then.

I’m not sure if the OC deputies figured this out, or if Global Tellink realized it might be losing some money, but one day the system changed. Without warning, the recorded greeting became a permanent greeting. Whatever the inmate happened to record on the first new system phone call became his greeting for every phone call from then on.

I’ve heard that some were sweet greetings to family and love ones. Some greetings are along the lines of, “hey bitch, pick up the damn phone.”

Daniel’s permanent greeting is to me, from the day he recorded. “Hey there, Blue Hair.”

And that’s what greets his lawyer or anyone else he calls from now on. It makes me laugh every time.

During A Jail Phone Call

While Daniel and I are shooting the breeze about books we’ve read, movies we like, TV shows we watch, there are constant interruptions.

The most common is the “lock down.” Because he’s in the Protective Custody unit, inmates must be locked in their cells whenever another inmate is being moved. It’s kind of funny, because Daniel is friends with all the other PC inmates, so there’s no real danger of conflict.  I get it though. Rules are rules.

There’s also lots of background noise.  Deputies on speakers. Static from the TV that is right over the telephones. Yelling inmates. It might be a crazy J-Cat who is scream-swearing just to piss people off. But normally, it’s just excitement over a football game. There are even a couple of guys who yell down to him to say hello me.

I actually don’t mind talking on the phone to Daniel. Our conversations flow easily.  We discuss politics and philosophy and religion. We also talk about regular “how was your day” kind of stuff. If he went to court that day, then I want all the details before I read them in the paper. I ask questions. I ask lots of questions. He tells me honestly when he just can’t answer them.  And that happens all the time. But I have to try,  right?

We laugh a lot. We tell each other stories of our childhoods. His was much more stable and normal than mine. I can’t help wondering how his life went the direction it did. Why do I live in a nice house and he lives in the Big House?

At forty four minutes, the recorded voice interrupts to tell us that there is one minute left before the call will automatically be disconnected.

The last minute is always weird because you know that you’re about to be cut off. But you talk until it happens and try to time  your goodbye accordingly. I’m bad at it. I’m usually in the middle of a sentence and it always feels like a half written P.S. at the end of a letter.

I think I’ll miss our forty five minute phone calls.  I really do not know if Daniel is completely guilty or not. However, I will be very surprised if this trial goes his way.  I suspect that soon he’ll be in prison… possibly on death row, and that means we’ll only be able to talk for 15 minutes.