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Conversations Behind Bars

Updated: Apr 25

By Meisei Gonzalez

Today, communication is often as easy as a click or a call away. But the obstacles to reaching someone behind bars are overwhelming. Recently, as part of an upcoming Stay Salty: Lakefacing Stories episode on the intersections of the prison industrial complex and the Great Salt Lake, I undertook the challenge of navigating this convoluted process to connect with "Tea," a 22-year-old born and raised Utahn serving a 10-year sentence at the Utah State Prison. 

What unfolded was more than just a simple conversation; it was a firsthand experience through the complexities of the prison system, intertwined with deep reflections on environmental issues impacting the lives of many. As I dived into this process, I found myself confronting numerous barriers that deter communication with inmates, from the inability to make direct calls to relying on uncertain communication channels within the prison's constraints.

To connect with Tea for a podcast episode, he needed to initiate the call which was subject to his availability. Factors like cell counts, class schedules, and long lines complicated an attempt to schedule a time that worked for both of us. Once the stars aligned and Tea was able to call, I had to drop what I was doing, swiftly shift gears, grab the mic, and begin recording.

However, the phone calls are far from seamless. Service often wavers; from shaky services to calls dropping abruptly, there were many disruptions in communication. Moreover, inmates are restricted to speaking in 10-minute intervals, after which they must wait at least 30 minutes before attempting to call again — assuming they have the opportunity to do so. Consequently, what should have been a brief conversation required two days of back-and-forth coordination.

Yet, amidst these challenges, the opportunity to speak with Tea provided insight into the lived experiences of our community members who are incarcerated on Great Salt Lake’s wetlands. Tea's perspective shed light on how the drying of the Great Salt Lake directly affects individuals within the prison system. His concerns expanded beyond the confines of his cell, offering a reminder of the interconnectedness between environmental degradation and human lives, especially behind bars. Stay tuned for more on this story when we release the episode in April!

Laptop and podcast equipment on a table

Meisei Gonzalez (He/him) is an environmental justice advocate and co-host of Stay Salty: Lakefacing Stories. He currently oversees communications for the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah). He is dedicated to making a lasting impact in the fight for environmental equity.

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