Hey guys and gals
So. My penpal and I decided we wanted to take our relationship a step further and start talking on the phone. He's in prison in California and I'm located in Germany and figuring out how to do this took me a while but it's finally working (and very well too I'd like to add) so I thought I'd share how we did it! It's so so so amazing to finally be able to talk in real time.
So here's how we did it.
First thing you'll need is a local phone number, the closer to where the prison is located the better. Most prisons don't enable overseas phone calls. There's several apps out there promising to create a "free" U.S. phone number, but most of them aren't very reliable from what I've heard, plus they're never actually free. There is for example an App called "Text Me" which I haven't tried but a friend of mine is using it more or less successfully. I'm using Skype and it works just fine, the connection is really good. Skype lets you create a U.S. phone number and you can select the area code that you need. Renting that number costs me 6,61€ a month (that's like 7,80 USD). It gets cheaper when you rent it for a longer period of time.
So the next thing you need to do is set up a GTL account. GTL stands for Global Tel Link, that's the phone company you're gonna be dealing with. At first I tried contacting them, looking for advice since I didn't know how to proceed as an overseas customer, but they never got back to me. So what I did was, I acted as if I were a US customer and just set up a regular account. Which wasn't a problem since I have a local phone number.
You'll have to add all kinds of information, for example the exact location, name and number of your inmate. Plus you'll need a credit card. Once being asked to enter your credit card info, you'll have to enter a LOCAL billing address zip code. That's the part where it gets fishy cause as an overseas customer you don't usually have one. I just typed in the local zip code from the area where my local phone number is from. As long as they get your money you'll be fine I guess
You'll have to put money on your GTL account or your inmate won't be able to call you. We pay like 1.23$ per 15 minutes phone call. I think that's very reasonable. Plus GTL offers free phone calls every now and then during this pandemic, so if your penpal is lucky he can sign up for free phone calls.
And that's it! Now all you have to do is send your new phone number to your penpal and: enjoy and don't get freaked out by the recorded messages they play every time. Ugh!!
There might be other ways to put money on the GTL account, I haven't really looked into that cause for me credit card works just fine.
I hope this helps! As I said it took me a while to figure this out so I thought others might find this helpful as well. Finally being able to talk to your loved one real time is the best feeling in the world! My Baby calls me every other day now and we love it. It's a bit weird in the beginning since you'll never know when exactly they're gonna call, or IF they'll be able to call at all, and of course you can never call back. And there will always be people around when they call depending on where the phones are located. But it is definitely worth the effort!
Take care everybody and stay safe