Amidst the massive amount of E-Boy influencers, questionable acting POVs, or the millions of renegade dance challenges that fill TikTok’s repertoire, an unexpected genre of users have recently become viral within the app’s platform: prison inmates.
As of recent, various videos under the hashtag #PrisonLife have become popular within TikTok’s. Such posts vary from Kevin Smith, a then innate from Florida’s South Bay Correctional Facility, showing how he created his makeshift water heater while living behind bars, to more anonymous users grooving to various dance challenges.
As a group that is often ostracized within society and the public media, getting a glimpse into this distinct world via TikTok has attracted the curious eye of many outsiders. In effect, such sight has provided a more humanizing spotlight to these incarcerated individuals.
Thanks in great part to TikTok’s algorithm, some Prison TikTok accounts have even amassed thousands of followers from those who have stumbled upon TikTok’s recommendation list.
Aside from fun dances or challenges, through TikTok, some users have even been able to voice their outrage and concerns in regards to their treatment and conditions, especially during the transgression of the current pandemic.
This access to the outside world has become possible through the inmates’ use of contraband cell phones, often brought in by guards or smuggled over fences.
In terms of the legality of contraband cell phones, in 2010, the use or possession of mobile devices by federal inmates has been criminalized. According to federal law, being caught with a cell phone can be punished by retaliation from guards, lengthening an inmate’s prison sentence, or denying parole. The consensus argues that harsh punishments are necessary as contraband cellphones can result in violence inside prisons, as well as enable crimes to be facilitated while inmates are still on the inside.
However, advocates for criminal justice argue otherwise. While acknowledging the possible liabilities of contraband cell mobiles, advocates argue a majority of owners instead use these devices for harmless purposes such as education, searching information online, and preserving long-distance relationships with family and other loved ones.
Adnan Khan is one of these defenders. As the executive director of Re:store Justice, a criminal justice reform organization Khan founded while in prison, he explains how many imprisoned cell phone owners utilized such contraband devices to connect more immediately with their families.
Whereas more approved means to contact families are offered within prisons, such as by calling through telephone landlines or writing letters, such means are often inadequate or purposefully made difficult. Within prisons, phone calls are usually limited to a maximum of 15 minutes a day, letters are screened and even waitlisted for months, and email services can often charge families up to expensive amounts.
Samantha Goodman, with nearly 50,000 followers aboard TikTok, adds to the picture. A self-proclaimed #PrisonWife, Goodman stresses the importance of preserving prison-family relationships and to humanize inmates; “they’re not just warm bodies with numbers,” she stated in a recent Wired interview.
Goodman continues: “I’m not out here screaming that my husband is innocent and needs to be freed; I’m simply asking that he keeps his basic human rights and dignity intact.” Her husband, Samuel Goodman, had been previously charged in New York with 10 years of prison for assault and battery.
As for Khan, In a recent podcast interview by Vox, he clarifies, “a cell phone is not a danger to society, [but rather] a huge contributor to healing and public safety.” He adds, “when you really go into it…the wonders [of having access to a cellphone] has [impacted] me in healing and making me a whole person…”
Rather than promoting illegal cell phone ownership, advocates like Khan believe it is possible for prisons to incorporate cell phones within their premises in a way where both inmates and prison officials can feel safe and comfortable.
As for now, many of us can finally get to witness a new spotlight on these individuals through TikTok.
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