Maria Luisa Borrego has had several days that would be any mother’s worst nightmare.
There was that day in March 2007 when her 14-year-old son, Steven Menendez, was arrested in connection with the fatal South Los Angeles drive-by shooting of 16-year-old Danny Saavedra.
There was one day in July 2009 when a jury convicted her son and a friend, Jose Garcia, 16 years old at the time Danny Saavedra was shot, of murder.
MORE: ‘Middle of Nowhere’ Director: ‘If I Could, I Would Abolish Prisons.’
The most difficult day in Maria Luisa Borrego’s life, so far, came in January 2010, the day her son was sentenced to 50 years to life.
Since her son was sent to prison, Borrego and her mother have changed residences to be close enough to maintain contact. Still, Maria is able to visit Steven only once a month.
Maria writes letters to Steven once a week. She would love to phone daily.
“If I could hear from him every day,” she says in the video above, “it would be a dream come true. I’m just a mom. I need to know how my son is and how he’s doing. To have communication with my son is like having hope. I need him as much as he needs me.”
So what’s stopping Maria Luisa Borrego from dialing up and having a chat?
The answer is greed.
Charges for phone calls going into or collect calls coming out of U.S. prisons are priced at a rate that can mildly be termed punitive. Simply put, Maria, like many thousands of mothers, cannot afford to maintain verbal contact with her incarcerated child.
Maria Luisa Borrego’s situation is shared by millions of Americans who have family members or loved ones ensnarled in the prison system. Her circumstances parallel the trials and travails of the heroine in the new feature film, Middle of Nowhere.
Charges for phone calls going into or collect calls coming out of U.S. prisons are priced at a rate that can mildly be termed punitive.
“The plight of families who have loved ones incarcerated is not even talked about,” says Middle of Nowhere director Ava DuVernay. “Millions of people are affected by it in ways that you don’t even think about. It costs $1.90 to call Singapore from North Carolina for 15 minutes. The same call within North Carolina, if one of your calls is going into a prison, is almost $18. It’s almost $300 to make a call to your loved one for 15 minutes once a week. $300 is a lot of money for folks that live in at-risk communities.
“When you really think about the fabric of a community, the trickle down effect that one person going to prison has on a family, on all elements of that family life, the fabric, the thread starts to be pulled out. That affects the whole community, and eventually will come to your doorstep in some way or another.”
Maria Luisa Borrego’s son Steven Menendez was prosecuted as an adult for a crime that occurred when he was 14 years old. He and his 16-year-old codefendant both claimed they had been passengers in the car. The boys identified 26-year-old Noel Velasco as the man who fired the shots that killed Danny Saavedra. Velasco, a Street Villains gang member, was never charged in the case and was shot to death in an August 2007 drive-by.
Regardless of the justice or injustice of Steven Menendez’s sentence, an ongoing crime is being committed every time he picks up the phone. It is true that Danny Saavedra will never live again. It is also true that the injustice being maintained against Steven Menendez’s mother can be reversed.
Call for the end of predatory prison phone rates with the Wright to Call Home campaign, here.
Middle of Nowhere was acquired by AaFFRM (African American Film Festival Releasing Movement) and TakePart’s parent company, Participant Media, and is due in theaters nationwide October 12, 2012.
Is it fair to punish a family for crimes one member is convicted of? Weigh it out in COMMENTS.
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Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice. Email Allan | @Allan_MacDonell