by Kevin W. Bliss
Members of Princeton Theological Seminarians for Peace and Justice (SPJ) sent a letter on March 14, 2023, calling for resignation of seminary Board of Trustees Chairman Michael Fisch. After learning Fisch’s hedge fund, American Securities, owns prison telecom giant ViaPath, the group complained that the way the firm profits off exploiting prisoners – many people of color – runs counter to the teachings of Jesus Christ, which their group should be exemplifying.
Dozens of seminary alumni signed the letter, including Rev. J. Amos Caley, leader of New Jersey’s Reformed Church of Highland Park; Pastor Erich Kussman of St. Bartholomew Lutheran Church in Trenton; as well as SPJ moderator and seminarian Angel Nalbega. They demanded seminary President Jonathan Walton ensure more transparency and greater accountability for Board members, finding it especially concerning that what Fisch and other members do appears contrary to SPJ’s mission.
“We are appalled,” read the letter, “that the board of trustees is chaired by someone who makes profit from conditions we have been taught to work against and have been trained at the Seminary to mitigate in our roles as pastors, chaplains, and social workers.”
ViaPath is a privately held company known until January 2022 as Global Tel*Link. [See: PLN, June 2022, p.38.] It contracts with jails and prisons to provide communication services, charging upwards of $1 per minute for prisoners to stay connected with their families and friends. Other Board members have been found aligned with military weapons technology and fossil fuel industries, as well as other prison profiteering ventures.
New Jersey Assemblyman Herb Conway (D-Delran) introduced a bill in February 2023 that would make all prison phone calls and video calls in the state free of charge. State law currently caps charges at 11 cents per minute for domestic calls. Phone calls for nearly 100,000 California prisoners are free, and other states are considering similar free fare laws. [See: PLN, Apr. 2023, p.43.] Under Pres. Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D), the Federal Communications Commission has also expanded regulation of prison phone rates to include both in-state and interstate calls.. [See: PLN, July 2023, p.50.]
Walton replied to the letter by stating he was in agreement with the group that there was a need for greater transparency and ethical responsibility. But he did not detail how the Seminary would currently achieve that goal.
Source: New Jersey Advance Publications
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