Middle of Nowhere, written and directed by Sundance Award winner Ava DuVernay, chronicles a woman’s separation from her incarcerated husband and shows how difficult it is for family members and other loved ones on the outside to stay connected to those in prison. The Participant Media-AFFRM presentation, opening in selected theaters this Friday, has sparked a Social Action campaign to urge the FCC to end the predatory prison phone rates that are currently being charged to the families and friends of those who are incarcerated.
According to a 2011 Prison Legal News report, our country’s prison phone system is a lucrative business, grossing an estimated $362 million per year. Currently, a typical interstate collect call from a prison has a $3.95 connection fee, regardless of the length of the call, and 15 minute phone call can cost up to $18, and a weekly one hour phone call $250 per month. Since prisoners are only permitted to make collect calls, family members and loved ones outside of prison are the ones who pay these extremely high rates. Participant’s Social Action campaign site, TakePart.com/MiddleofNowhere, features an online petition co-sponsored by the Center of Media Justice, to FCC Chairman Genachowski urging passage of the Wright Petition CC Docket No. 96-128 to regulate the cost of phone calls from prisons and establish benchmark rates no higher than $0.25 per minute for collect calls. Chad Boettcher, Participant’s Executive Vice President of Social Action & Advocacy, said, “With over 2 million incarcerated individuals in U.S. federal and state prisons and more than 4 out of 10 prisoners returning to custody within three years of release, we believe Middle of Nowhere provides a powerful launching point to raise awareness and to urge approval of the Wright Petition. Research indicates that maintaining the bonds of a family and support network is a very effective way to reduce recidivism among inmates.” Malkia Cyril, Executive Director at the Center for Media Justice said, “When calls from prison are 24 times the rate of other calls, our families are forced to choose between staying connected to their loved ones, or paying for necessities like food or medicine. The high cost of calls from prison is a punishment no family deserves.”
Ms. Duvernay said, “On behalf of the filmmakers and cast, we're honored that Middle of Nowhere is being used as to shed light on the challenges loved ones of the incarcerated face in staying connected to their family members. We are proud to stand with Participant, the Center for Media Justice, the Media Action Grassroots Network and national civil rights organizations in a campaign toexpose the issue, educate the unaware and push the FCC to remedy predatory phone rates that contribute to the deterioration of at-risk families and communities.” On September 24th, Mrs. Martha Wright, who first filed the petition in 2003, after her grandson, Ulandis Forte, was sent to prison, attended a screening of Middle of Nowhere in Washington, DC with members of the FCC, who then heard testimony from Mrs. Wright, along with previously incarcerated individuals, criminal justice advocates, impacted family members and film industry professionals urging passage of the Wright Petition. In a statement following the screening, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said, “It is my hope that soon the chairman will propose a rule making for a vote by the full commission that will lead to lower interstate long-distance rates for incarcerated individuals and their families.”
In addition to signing the petition, visitors to www.takepart.com/middleofnowhere can view an infographic explaining why prison phone rates are so high and why lowering prison phone rates is an effective and cost-efficient way of reducing recidivism, and watch the first part of a 3-part video series profiling the real-life struggles of family members trying to stay connected with loved ones in prison. Later this month, there will be a downloadable community guide that focuses on families of the incarcerated and includes personal stories, discussion questions, and step by step instructions on how to organize around urging an end to predatory phone rates.
Participant Media (www.participantmedia.com) is an entertainment company that focuses on documentary and non-documentaryfeature films, television, publishing and digital content about the real issues that shape our lives. For each of its projects, Participant creates social action and advocacy programs to transform the impact of the media experience into individual and community action.
Participant’s online Social Action Network is TakePart (www.takepart.com). Founded by Jeff Skoll in 2004, Jim Berk serves as CEO. Participant's films include The Kite Runner, Charlie Wilson's War, An Inconvenient Truth, Good Night, and Good Luck, The Visitor, Food, Inc., The Cove, The Crazies, Countdown to Zero, Waiting for "Superman,” Fair Game, PAGE ONE: Inside The New York Times, The Help, Contagion, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Lincoln and Promised Land.