My Personal Story in Search of #PhoneJustice

It is 9:10 a.m. on Monday, February 6, 2017, and I am sitting in the courtroom without my cellphones. Like many who find themselves disconnected from their mobile device(s) for any length of time, I feel extremely uncomfortable and detached from the rest of the world. But whatever my discomfort, it pales in comparison to the day-to-day economic and personal torture felt by millions who remain on the wrong side of the economic justice divide and struggle to stay in touch with incarcerated loved ones.

Innocent or guilty, too often poor and disenfranchised, millions of mostly black and brown families suffer mightily. They suffer because we who are sworn to serve them have turned our backs on the nation’s most vulnerable communities.

We are quick to judge and do not think twice as we ignore the plight of the families, friends and representatives of those imprisoned, but awaiting their day in court, and the millions of others who have been sentenced and are serving time: rightly, wrongly or unfairly. But the most callous indictment of us all, is how little we appear to care about the 2.7 million children, the ailing grandmothers and the other often-destitute family members who pay a heavy price just for picking up the phone and keeping in touch.

But my biggest discomfort of the day, as I wait for the court to come to order, is my struggle with my feelings about my (former) state colleagues, who are steadfast in defending their positions against the FCC when it comes to inmate calling primarily on jurisdictional grounds. For years, I have not only asked, but begged them not to sit idly by as the people they were sworn to defend suffer mightily from a clearly dysfunctional inmate calling services marketplace. Most of them have elected to do nothing, but are quick to stand boldly and shout loudly about just how far they think we have overstepped our regulatory bounds.

“Do your job,” I scream silently this morning. “If you’d bothered to act, we would not even be here today!” And at the risk of further straining some long-standing relationships, I will retire for the evening still asking: “why won’t you just act?!”

The minute hand on the analog clock is about to approach the 9:30 a.m. hour and as I sit in a sea of blue, gray and black suits, I notice something remarkable and striking: The people poised to defend their positions this morning as well as those in the courtroom (with the exception of one judge, two employees and me) do not look remotely similar to the majority of the millions whose lives hang in the balance today.

Calm down, I say to myself. Calm down, Mignon, and pray that just this one time, the angels of justice will smile brightly on us this morning.

“Oyez, oyez, oyez,” I hear the court clerk announce. And so, the hearing begins.


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