LAND O'LAKES — There is no chair, so Zachary Wiggins stands in front of the computer in his size 9-through-10, standard-issue orange slippers while he types. On his ninth day in the Land O'Lakes jail, this is why everything got better.
The three black boxes mounted to the wall of every pod in the jail are one more portal to the outside for the inmates here. The computers run one program: smartjailmail.com. That and a digital copy of the inmate handbook. This isn't the first time email has ever been provided to prisoners, but it's a first for Pasco's inmates.
When he first heard about the program, Wiggins assumed it was another way for the system to bilk him of his money. But in about a day, he fancies himself an expert with the program. In a slow Southern voice, he explained how he uses the program.
"It's almost an instant connection," he said in a pod Friday. "I look at it as jailhouse Facebook."
Wiggins, 23, was arrested last week because deputies found him driving with a suspended license. He is set to serve at least 30 days.
The email service is set up so that he can log in with his inmate ID number. To start a conversation, he has to send an invite to whomever he wants to contact and that person has to approve. The person outside the jail pays for the ones on their end. Wiggins' emails come out of his commissary account.
So far, he has sent invites to his girlfriend, his aunt, his cousin and his boss. He's only heard back from his girlfriend.
At 50 cents an email, their communications cost three cents more than stamped postage. But they're more cost effective by the word. Inmates are only allowed to send and receive postcards through the mail. Photos are $1 each, and inmates can't send photos, only receive them. The email site allows them to transmit about eight pages at a time. Plus, they're instant.
The kiosks were set up at no cost to the Sheriff's Office or taxpayers, sheriff's official's said. Instead, they're like a vending machine.
"They've been using them like crazy," said Sgt. Ella Peabody, a court service deputy at the jail.
The inmates don't crowd around the computers, she said, but there's a steady stream of them at the kiosks all day, just like at the phones on another wall in the pod. They tell her they like the instant gratification. Wiggins is one of them.
"I think," he said, "it's about the best thing they've come up with in this jail so far."
Contact Alex Orlando at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.