Pelipost’s beginnings: The birth and growth of a loving link
One in 12 U.S. kids experiences life with an incarcerated parent. Kids living apart from their incarcerated parent have been shown to live in more socioeconomically disadvantaged areas and more often with single mothers. They’re more likely to live below the poverty line and rely on government assistance. On top of all this, they tend to move around more, adding to the stress of growing up apart from their incarcerated parent(s).
To make things worse, communicating with a mom or dad “inside” can be extremely difficult for loved ones.
Pelipost set out to change that. However, they needed help managing the financial ups and downs this mission would bring.
Pelipost began five years ago when Joe Calderon, whose mom was serving time, realized how difficult it was to stay in touch. Becky Calderon was incarcerated, and Joe was driving eight hours each way to see her. And their phone calls were limited to 20 minutes every other week.
Becky’s health declined, and Joe fought intense discouragement.
“During our brief phone calls, my mom would always say, ‘Son, send me pictures of your car!’ I would always respond, ‘I will, mom.’ However, between my new job, caring for my grandparents, and life demands, I’d keep forgetting to run to the store to print and mail them out.”
Sadly, the Calderon family’s experience is not unique
Criminal justice journalists at the nonprofit Marshall Project report that over 63% of incarcerated people are in prisons more than 100 miles away from home and loved ones. Meanwhile, visits from family and friends have a measurable effect on inmates. According to researchers from the University of Central Florida and California State University,
Inmates who receive visits have 26% lower recidivism (repeat offenses) than non-visited inmates.
Phone calls are complicated, too. Inmates must phone out, which means families have to rearrange plans to ensure they’re near the phone at the right time. Sometimes, incarcerated loved ones don’t get the time slot they’d planned for, extending the wait another week and confusing loved ones. And when they are successful, calls are expensive. A 15-minute phone call costs $24.95 from many prisons.
Source: Prison Policy Initiative’s 2019 State of Phone Justice Report
Who pays for this? Friends and families of inmates. The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights worked with Forward Together and Research Action Design to research and report the familial costs of incarceration. They discovered that the vast majority of incarcerated people don’t earn money (and those who do have an average income of $.86 per day). Consequently, the financial burden of this communication almost always falls on families.
As a result, the same report found that two out of three families of incarcerated loved ones struggle to meet their own basic needs, like food and housing.
Paying for phone calls and visits alone caused 34% of families of incarcerated loved ones to go into debt.
Meanwhile, online Q&A forums and Facebook groups continually spring up as loved ones get creative and swap tips.
“At times I can’t afford stamps, and my loved one feels forgotten about, but life is expensive out here,” Jestine Pudlo, of Crystal River, Fla told the New York Times. “I can’t afford to put money on the phone, either, so I have to decline calls, and it hurts my heart to do that.”
Pelipost answers the call
In 2015, Joe and his mother launched Pelipost, a mobile app that includes a printing and shipping service to allow loved ones on the “outside” to print and send images to incarcerated loved ones from their smartphones at the tap of a button. The service removes all the friction Joe felt when trying to send his mom photos while she was inside.
With Pelipost, users open the app, snap or upload a picture, add a sticker or supportive text, and with one final tap, send the photo — in postcard form — to their incarcerated loved one. There’s no store, no stamps, no shipping. Just “smile, snap, and send.” Joe’s team does the rest. Each postcard sent costs as little as $.45, and postage is free.
A favorite type of card to receive is when inmates are with their families at prison-sanctioned gatherings or visits.
Incarcerated parents love seeing their kids’ achievements, and Pelipost makes it easier to share these moments.
“So many people inside write to us from prison telling us how thankful they are to get pictures of their loved ones. It's such a rewarding thing to be part of,” says Joe. “And it's not just that we came up with this business out of thin air; we have that personal connection with my mom being inside and going through that pain of having to send her photos. That's our personal connection. This is a personal mission.”
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