The following article first appeared in the Nation. Click here to subscribe.
“Global Tel* Link. You have a collect call from: ‘Tim.’ An inmate in Shelby County Correctional Facility…. If you wish to accept and pay for this call, dial zero now.”
I don’t know how many times I heard the same robotic voice speak these words since last fall. I was researching the story of Timothy McKinney, a Memphis man facing his third death-penalty trial for the killing of an off-duty police officer in 1997. Tim would call from Shelby County Jail, to answer my questions and to do what anyone facing trial would want to do: air concerns about his case, vent. Sometimes he would call multiple times a week. Because the phone calls were limited to fifteen minutes at a time, a couple of times he hung up and called right back, so we could keep talking.
The calls were expensive, more than a dollar per minute, depending on the time of day. In order to accept one, I had to set up a prepaid account with Global Tel* Link, or GTL, “The Next Generation of Correctional Technology.” If Tim called and my account was out of money, the automated voice would prompt me to replenish it via credit card, while he waited on the other line. “By accepting an inmate call, you acknowledge and agree that your conversation may be monitored and recorded,” the company advises.