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One Jewish Mother’s Account of the Prison Industrial Complex

chainlink-690503_1920The call, when it came, was more of a puzzle than an alarm. I had wandered downstairs on a lazy Sunday morning in July to find a message on the machine: an automated operator from the Legacy service announcing that there was a collect call from—and here the voice switched to that of my then-21-year old son—and I could press one to accept or two to deny. I’d been asleep when the call came in so accepting was a moot point. Besides, why was my son calling collect? He’d gone out the night before with both cash and his American Express credit cards.

I checked his room; he wasn’t in it, but I was still not alarmed. He’d probably decided to stay in the city. But as eleven inched toward noon, I began to feel some concern. I phoned him—no answer—and then started going down a list of friends. During this time, I received two more collect calls, both courtesy of the Legacy phone service; this time, I anxiously pressed one to accept, but as soon as I did the line went dead. When I first Googled and then called Legacy, a customer service rep said, “Ma’am, that call is coming from a jail; you have to have set up a credit card account with us in order to accept.” My first thought was, Jewish boys don’t get put in jail. Then the panic exploded, a fireball in my chest.