Could Video Chatting Lead to Drug-Free Prisons?

By Seth Ferranti 06/05/13

Prison officials say "virtual visitation" could curb the flow of drugs inside. But at what cost to prisoners?

A prisoner says he "needs human touch"
Photo via

People visiting their loved ones in prison is a major source for drugs getting inside. But now video chatting services, like Skype, have become an increasingly popular way for prisoners to communicate with the outside world. Some correctional officers believe prisons could ultimately eliminate the need for person-to-person visitor interactions—and curb the flow of drugs inside—by implementing "virtual visitation" on a wider scale. "Virtual visitation is a new concept that is spreading across the country," a correctional officer tells The Fix. "Inmates and their families would register for the web-based video visitation program and pay per minute like they do on the telephone and email services. It could eventually replace in person visitation." Prisoners aren't so keen on the idea, as they feel it is taking away one more of the "little freedoms" that they enjoy in the rigid prison environment. "It sounds lame to me," one prisoner tells The Fix. "I want to hold my wife's hand and have my daughter sit on my lap when I see them. Being in prison I need the human interaction and touch of my loved ones to strengthen my family ties." He says communicating through a computer is comparable to "talking on the phone or being behind the glass" and should not be used in lower or middle-security prisons. Still, the prisoner does agree that virtual visitation could prevent drugs from getting smuggled in. "Less drugs would definitely be coming in," he says, "But staff just needs to do their job and stop being lazy."

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.