Q&A With Joe Calderon on the Pelipost Scholarship

Overcoming Adversity Scholarship

Pelipost is a family-run business that was founded for the purpose of helping families affected by incarceration. As Pelipost’s business has grown, so has the team’s passion for making a positive impact on people with incarcerated loved ones. To give back to this community, the team decided to create the Pelipost Overcoming Adversity Scholarship, which will be debuting in January 2022. We sat down with Joe Calderon, son of a formerly incarcerated mother and co-founder of Pelipost, for a Q&A on the Pelipost scholarship.   

Joe Calderon, CEO of Pelipost

What is the Pelipost Overcoming Adversity Scholarship?

The Pelipost Overcoming Adversity Scholarship was created to empower and reward 5 students seeking a college education while experiencing the hardships of having a parent or guardian behind bars. The National Institute of Corrections estimates roughly 2.7 million children have an incarcerated parent or guardian, revealing that there are more children impacted by incarceration than adults currently in the prison system.

“To apply for our scholarship, the student must be pursuing an undergraduate degree, have a parent who is incarcerated, and submit an essay,” Joe says. “The winners will be picked based on which essays are compelling, connected to the cause, and where our company can make the greatest impact for the greatest need.”

Joe Calderon’s Story

The Calderon family created the Pelipost Overcoming Adversity Scholarship because they understand what it is like to go through college with an incarcerated parent, and want to give back to students in similar situations. Joe Calderon was in his freshman year of college when his mother, Becky, was sentenced to three years in prison. 

“It’s a personal experience for me. I know the struggles firsthand of being a first time student, having a job, and going through having a parent on the inside,” Joe says. “I know other kids out there are going through the same experiences, so it just felt right to do our part and help them overcome these challenges.”

When Joe was in college around ten years ago, he worked both a part time job and internship — all while taking classes — to make ends meet. He pointed out that college expenses have exponentially increased since then as well, making it even more difficult for these students to pay tuition. 

If Joe had a scholarship like this during his educational career, it “would’ve relieved financial headaches,” he says. “I would have worried less about money and focused more on my education.” 

Furthering Education While Facing Adversity

When a parent is incarcerated, it can force a young person to grow up fast. Adding this aspect to a student’s life can add a lot more stress, responsibility, and challenges to overcome. 

“On top of your schoolwork and job, you have to stay connected with your incarcerated loved one, write to them, send photos, add money to their books, send quarterly packages, and try and visit,” Joe says. “When my mom was incarcerated, her facility was 8 hours away. Making the time to visit took up almost a whole weekend.” 

All of these added responsibilities and hurdles to jump over can have an impact on these children furthering their education. However, on the other hand, the strength they gain from facing adversity can help them to adjust to the realities of the real world. Joe Calderon believes that these experiences give you a sense of responsibility and can mature you in a way others may not relate to — whether you want them to or not. 

“These experiences show you the challenges that you are able to overcome,” Joe says. “That’s what life is. It throws you curveballs that you’re not ready for, but builds your character when you overcome them.”

Words of Encouragement

Although faced with challenges, Joe Calderon went on to graduate with his college degree and managed to start his own business. He encourages students overcoming adversity to keep going. 

“You always have to remember that when you’re in a crisis it’s only a temporary state,” he says. “You have to keep looking towards the future and working hard.”

He goes on to say that even if it feels like, “why is this happening to me?”, you should keep persevering because there is a bigger plan to your life. 

“If my mom had never gone on the inside, we would have never started this business that impacts thousands of people everyday,” Joe says. “You have to keep pushing because the hard times are only temporary.”

To apply for the Pelipost Overcoming Adversity Scholarship, visit https://bold.org/scholarships/pelipost-overcoming-adversity-scholarship/. For more information on Pelipost and to get started sending photos, visit https://www.pelipost.com. 

Willie Brown: PeliPALS Story

When it comes to the Pelipost app, I always seem to ask myself — where have you been all this time I’ve been incarcerated? I’ve had to go through several other companies only to be let down, my money being wasted or even gone missing. It kind of seems like the failings of a past relationship. The only thing you can say is that they both had one thing in common — it was them and not me who was the real problem throughout the whole ordeal.

I’ve been single since July 2016, from the time I left the county jail only to be admitted to the Illinois Department of Corrections. I’m just Willie Brown, Inmate Number Y14625 behind these prison walls. But to all my family, friends, and fans, I’m still loved. I want them to remember me for being the hip-hop artist/rapper Mr. Brown Swagger as they watch my live performances and music videos. My legacy still lives on my YouTube page.

No, I haven’t given up hope. Just know I’m still fighting for my freedom to give this 65 year sentence that was thrust upon me. I’ve just stumbled across some newly discovered evidence — but that’s a whole other story for another time.

My daily routine is working out, eating right, getting a good night’s sleep, and when it’s time for mail call, to see if I’ve received photos. I’ve gotten some of the entire family as they continue to showcase living life, and to see all of the little ones growing. It brings me so much joy, and is what I truly look forward to from my family. If they continue to share these with me, it will always keep my spirits up high.

The moral of the story as to why I opened a Pelipost prepaid account was to bridge the gap between my family and me. I wanted photos of my family and friends, but the issue was always that they had no time or sometimes money to get the photos printed or pay for the postage. With the Pelipost app, there would never be a hassle or excuse as to why I didn’t receive my photos. When I’m paying for the service, all they have to do is send the photos to my Pelipost account by downloading and using the app — Pelipost takes care of the rest of the details.

Thank you, Pelipost, for sharing my story.

Sincerely and forever,

Willie Brown

Sergio Garcia: PeliPALS story

It’s hard to understand what life is like for the incarcerated. That’s why we want to bring the stories of our PeliPALS to light and share their experiences with incarceration. Today, we bring you the story of Sergio Garcia, one of our PeliPALS in Illinois.

If you’d like your incarcerated loved one’s story featured, have them mail it to Pelipost.

My name is Sergio Garcia. I’m from Chicago, Illinois. Growing up, all I chose was the bad path. Because that’s all I saw. So my mind was already made up at a young age. I ended up getting myself in a spot I didn’t want to be in. But now I’m fighting to get myself back to the outside. I’m a changed man.

I came in at the age of 19. Now I’m 25 (soon to be 26 on May 17). I grew up in here. My charge is attempted murder, and I was sentenced to 40 years at 85%. What gets me through the day is music and my family. I most look forward to my family never giving up on me and staying by my side.

Every time I get pictures, or hear from family and friends, that lifts my spirit up. I will never give up fighting to get my life back.

It’s sad that there will be some kids who chose this life, but don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. I wish I could help them and let them know this isn’t the life to live. I hope they pick a better path. I want to tell Pelipost thank you for letting me share a tiny bit of my story.

The Pelipost Story

Becky & Joe at Pelipost HQ

Pelipost is a family run business that was born out of love and personal experiences of Mother/son, Becky and Joe Calderon, who experienced first-hand what it’s like to have and be an incarcerated loved one.

Joe was in college, Becky’s legal troubles caught up with her, and she received a three year prison term. Becky was sentenced to California’s Central Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, an eight-hour drive away from Joe. Communication was extremely limited, and finding ways to stay in touch was challenging. 

While incarcerated, Becky missed major events, like her son’s graduation, when he got his first job out of school, and when he bought his first car. Becky would ask Joe for photos of his life, but sending photos to prison manually is a complicated, time-consuming process, and he struggled to find the time to send pictures.

“To receive pictures from home was a celebration in the cell,” Becky says. “It didn’t matter who received them, they were always shared with those around you. It’s like saying ‘SEE! This is my real life outside of these walls.’”

“One day, I remember thinking to myself ‘I have thousands of pictures on my phone. I wish there was a service that could print and send my photos for me,’” Joe says. “The idea stuck with me and upon my mom’s release, we got down to business and launched a mobile app called Pelipost.”

From this personal experience, Pelipost came to be. Becky and Joe understand what it’s like to be separated from a loved one by incarceration. Their mission is to bring hope to families and their incarcerated loved ones through cherished representations of the love and life on the outside. Today, Pelipost has shipped over 10 million photos and proudly serves over 500,000 customers around the world.

Dionna and Her Story From the Inside

Pelipost is launching a new series devoted to the stories of those incarcerated. Our next story is by Dionna Beacham who shares her struggles and her triumphs while behind bars.

Written By: Dionna Beacham

Hey Pelipost Viewers,

I would like to share my story with you. I’ve never written for a blog before, so bear with me.

I am a 45-year-old African American woman who has been incarcerated since the age of 19 for a crime I committed in 1994. My 14-year-old co-defendant did a few months in a juvenile center and went home. She put the crime and blame on me because I was older. She got off without any repercussions. I’ve been sitting behind bars for 27 years for a crime that was committed by two people but was solely placed on one individual. 

At the end of the day, I was found guilty by a jury in 1996 and sentenced to an extended term of 90 years imprisonment. The state wants me to serve 45 years of that 90-year sentence. I was a first-time offender who had no criminal background but was sentenced as a habitual criminal.

Did I deserve to be punished for my crime? Absolutely! One hundred percent! Should it have been so harsh? I don’t believe so. I deserved to do time behind bars, but to sentence me as if I am the worst of the worst and incapable of change isn’t fair.

Still to this day, I continue to fight for my freedom, reaching out to various organizations, projects and legal firms for professional assistance. The road has been bumpy, but I refuse to give up. I continue to fight because I am no threat or danger to society, nor am I that same selfish, non-compliant, immature teenager who did a lot of childish and foolish things in her past. I’m mature. I’m wiser, and my “thought process” is far from what is used to be when I was a kid. 

My past does not define the person I am today. During my years of incarceration, I’ve kept busy doing positive things trying to prepare myself for society. I’ve graduated from several college classes and in March 2020, I earned my Associates Degree in Liberal Studies. That is something I am very proud of.

The criminal justice system talks a good game of rehabilitating, restoring and returning offenders back into society, but truth be told, the non-violent crimes and/or repeat offenders are the ones who keep getting chance after chance. Offenders who have nowhere to go upon release and did nothing to better themselves while incarcerated. Yet, offenders like myself who have a strong support system on the outside, have a place to go upon release and bettered themselves through education are the ones who rarely get a second chance to prove that we can live in society as law-abiding citizens.

I also know that no good deed I’ve done while incarcerated can erase the fact that the crime I committed in 1994 changed and disrupted the normality of so many lives. Although I am sincerely remorseful and very apologetic to the victim’s family and my family as well, the consequences of my past actions still remain. I cannot change the past. All I can do is continue to work at being better than I was the day before. I’ve evolved into a mature, hardworking, responsible, and educated woman. My freedom means a lot to me and I will not stop fighting until I get it.

What helps me get through the day? My faith in God. I was brought up in a Baptist church, so I look to my daily bread readings to help build my strength, because at times I do get discouraged. Writing my own fiction novels helps me get through the day as well. Writing takes me away from prison for a while. Last but not least, knowing that I have family and friends on the outside who love me and support my fight for my freedom really means a lot and gets me through another day.

What do I look forward to from family and friends? Mental support, letters, emails, visits, and phone calls mean a lot to me. It gives me that connection with them. Staying mentally fit goes a long way behind these walls.

What can my friends and family do to keep my spirits up? Honestly, just continue to encourage and support me mentally and spiritually, and most of all continue to help me fight for my freedom.

To be incarcerated for over two decades and never see a parole board is truly sad. The parole board seriously needs to come back to Illinois. Offenders are just sitting here getting old. Hopefully change is going to come.

Respectfully, 

Dionna B. 

FAQ With Becky, Formerly Incarcerated and Co-Founder of Pelipost

Incarceration can be a challenging journey for all parties involved. As the loved one of someone incarcerated, you know that it is important to keep in contact to boost their morale. But just how important is sending photos to the person on the inside? We sat down with Becky Calderon, a formerly incarcerated individual and the co-founder of Pelipost, for an inside perspective on receiving mail behind bars. 

Q&A with Becky, Co-Founder of Pelipost

Daily Encouragement

Incarceration can be a very difficult and dark period for a person, and take a toll on mental health. The incarcerated are stripped from their friends and family, living in an unfamiliar environment, and away from their normal lives and routines, which can offset everything. In fact, 23% of incarcerated people suffer from major depressive disorder, and many others suffer from a variety of other mental illnesses. Sending mail to inmates can help encourage them on a daily basis and bring them joy on a dark day. For Becky, thinking of her family pushed her to keep going, and receiving mail from them fueled her fire. “It adds gas to your tank and it feeds your energy,” she says. Although sending mail may seem insignificant to you, it can bring daily encouragement for someone on the inside. 

“You go through real lows when you feel like you don’t know if you have the will to make it through the end of the day, week, or month,” says Becky. “When you’re in there you want to focus on surviving in there, you don’t want to think about home all the time, but sometimes the mail, calls, and visits remind you that you have a life, a purpose, and a meaning.” 

A Picture’s Worth 1000 Memories

There are a multitude of ways to keep in touch with your incarcerated loved one, from visits to phone calls to sending letters. However, the most important way from the eyes of the person on the inside is by sending photos in the mail. The visits are great, but they can only happen every month or couple of months if the facility is far away. However, a photo sent in the mail is something tangible your loved one can hold and look at anytime they want to see your face. Although many facilities are allowing photos sent through email nowadays, it is better to have them printed physically. 

“When you’re feeling down and lost you can go through your box, get your pictures, have them in your hands and remember that memory,” Becky says. “You can look at it over and over and see that memory differently with endless possibilities.” 

The Difference a Photo Can Make

Your incarcerated loved one understands that life is fast on the outside, and it can be hard to find the time and resources to send them photos. But receiving the photos can make a world of difference in their attitude and motivations. “When you get pictures of your kids waiting for you to come home, or you see your mom getting older, or if you become a grandparent while you’re in there, you become determined to not get into trouble because you feel the need to come home,” Becky states. “It motivates you to do good, stay on track and take courses or anything you can do to shorten your time.”

Becky and her son, Joseph Calderon, decided to create Pelipost after experiencing the impact receiving photos while behind bars can make firsthand. Becky recalls that all of the people in her cell would gather around when one of them received photos, and they all would share in the joy together. “Part of the reason we created Pelipost was so I could show people that this is my son and this is my life,” Becky says. “The pictures validate that you are someone, that you have a family that cares, and that you created something good. The feeling can’t be matched.”

All in all, sending your incarcerated loved one tangible photos for them to hold can make a huge impact on the time they spend behind bars. Becky adds, “Sometimes you need that push: don’t give up, look at your family, don’t give up.” 


To read more about the experiences Becky has been through, check out Becky’s Story Inside Incarceration on the Pelipost blog. To download the Pelipost app go to the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

My Journey Behind Bars (Pt. 4)

Pelipost is launching a new series devoted to the stories of those incarcerated. In honor of that, we are featuring the story of Tyrone Toliver called ‘My Journey Behind Bars.‘ This is the final part of Tyrone’s story…. (get caught up with part onepart two, and part three.)

“Because we are family!”

Written By: Tyrone Toliver

Imagine if I had gotten the baseball scholarship that I was working toward before I began my journey behind bars. What if I went to college? A year or two later, I’m good enough to be drafted by a pro team. I’m worth millions! I tell uncles, aunts, and cousins not to put their time, energy, and life savings in an investment that I know isn’t good. But no one listens to me and as a result, they lose everything.

Am I now obligated to support them? To give them loans? To help them just because I’m family? Why can’t I say, you should have listened to me, so live with your decision. Why can’t I say, you’re on your own, my money is mine? Everyone in my family would expect me to help because I could, even if they didn’t take my advice and avoid trouble. Why? Because we are family! Anybody who is in contact with an incarcerated family member needs to say to themselves, he or she might not have taken my advice, but we are still family.

I was loyal to a fault in the criminal world. I put that loyalty into something positive when Kristy came into my life. The moment Kristy was supporting my goals and proud of my accomplishments, I was receiving all I needed to stay out of trouble. It was tough in the beginning, but I had Kristy as my backbone. There were so many days that I wanted to give up and quit. What helped me get through these difficult times was looking at her photos, reading her letters, calling her, and hearing her say, “I’ll be visiting at X time Saturday and Sunday.” How could I hurt her by giving up?

“The words “I’m proud of you’ motivated me, and her loving support inspired me to change.”

The rehabilitative groups I signed up for were substance abuse, coping skills, life skills, and art appreciation. These groups helped me accept responsibility for my actions and gave me a clear path to successful change. I had to use my time wisely and put in an honest effort. Talking to Kristy about my time in all of these groups was helpful. I would send her my certificates every time I hit a milestone. 

One of Tyrone Toliver's certificates of completion that he has received while incarcerated.

The words “I’m proud of you” motivated me, and her loving support inspired me to change. I become a better person every day. From her compassion, I learned the definition of reliable, respectable, and being resilient. This all came through in her efforts to distract me from prison life and to get me to think about the free world. It’s funny because she had no idea how much of a difference she was making in my life by simply being by my side. We got married on March 21, 2014 and I am so grateful to call her my wife.

My belief system slowly started to change. Kristy’s compassionate support helped me think about what I used to value and what I value today. 

I sit in my cell with eight photo albums of her, working on achieving my limit of ten photo albums. Each album has 100 photos. When I’m stressed, I look at her photos. When I’m depressed, I look at her photos. Bored, anxious, or when I want to fantasize, I look at her photos. 

Tyrone and his wife Kristy who helped him rehabilitate during his journey behind bars.
Tyrone and his wife Kristy

She dedicated the past eight years of her life to giving me companionship, a commitment, dedication, and love. I get the feeling that my biological family gets jealous of Kristy’s understanding of my needs and her compassion for our struggle. 

I believe that incarcerated individuals who are in a rehabilitation program and recovery need someone on the outside to help motivate them and hold them accountable. I went from the SHU to a maximum-security, 180-design (highly secure), level 4 yard; to a medium-security, 270-design (more open), level 4 yard; to this minimum-security, level 3 honor program. I achieved countless certificates, laudatory chronos for jobs I held, conduct credit, and mentoring and group facilitator achievements. And now I’m a college student. None of this would have happened these past eight years if I had never met Kristy and saw that there still was beauty in this world.

Don’t forget to send your incarcerated loved ones photos! You can download the Pelipost app through the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

My Journey Behind Bars (Pt. 3)

Pelipost is launching a new series devoted to the stories of those incarcerated. In honor of that, we are featuring the story of Tyrone Toliver called ‘My Journey Behind Bars.This is part three of Tyrone’s story…. (get caught up with part one and part two)

Written By: Tyrone Toliver

I used to ask myself why my family did not love me. Today, I ask myself, why it is so hard for my family to believe in a family bond or connection, despite being separated by prison? 

On October 20, 2012, a wonderful woman by the name of Kristy wrote the first of many letters to me. It shocked me how I could easily feel the honesty and truth in her words. 

I struggled with whether or not I would enroll in self-help groups, take correspondence self-help courses and noncredit correspondence college courses. I knew that therapy groups from the mental health department would give me an easy transition, so I signed up for them. How else would I get Kristy to see that I loved to laugh and that I appreciated a great sense of humor if I was still stuck in this dark place? 

Kristy helped calm my spirit with her words of encouragement, focus, dedication, and commitment. I knew I wanted to marry her, but I knew very little about relationships, marriage, honesty, balance, and supporting someone emotionally. I decided to dive head-first into becoming sober and rehabilitating myself.

‘I came to grips with the fact that some of my family members needed to hear what dedication, commitment, loyalty, and being family is all about.’

Cleaning up my system allowed me to clear my head. I came to grips with the fact that some of my family members needed to hear what dedication, commitment, loyalty, and being family is all about. They needed to hear from me in a way that only they could understand. So, I wrote all my family members and told them this: I am part of this family, regardless of the choices I made, which have cost me dearly. I’ve been taken away, and yes, I’ve struggled. But you all, no matter what, should have been around throughout this 30-year journey. I was a family member who needed your love and support to connect me to you all…

Learn more about rehabilitation, recovery, and loved ones in Part 4 of Tyrone’s Journey Behind Bars coming soon…

Don’t forget to send your incarcerated loved ones photos! You can download the Pelipost app through the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

My Journey Behind Bars (Pt. 2)

Pelipost is launching a new series devoted to the stories of those incarcerated. In honor of that, we are featuring the story of Tyrone Toliver called ‘My Journey Behind Bars.This is part two of Tyrone’s story…. (get caught up with part one here)

Written By: Tyrone Toliver

I may have been better at hiding my anger but regardless I still participated in many of the riots that occurred in Pelican Bay. As a result, my cellie and I were sent to the SHU. This is when I experienced a nightmare that overwhelmed me with fear. I told my cellie ‘something bad is about to happen.’ 

Not too long after this incident, I was told that I had to go to court for assaulting a correctional officer. Even though I won the case, the fear remained. In August 2000, I was told that in a month, I would be paroled back to the streets. That’s when I knew where my fear was actually coming from. The fear of getting out. 

“I was being kicked out of my home….”

Those of us who do whatever it takes to survive do not allow time to do us. We do not look at calendars, but instead we live according to seasons or sport seasons throughout the years. It’s easy to forget how long you’ve been gone. You forget the date, your age, how much time you’ve got left, and even faces. In 2000, the SHU had taken a mental and emotional toll on me to the point that I would hear voices. So for a while, I thought being told I was going home was actually Thorazine wearing off. 

I was not asked to make a parole plan. So once they came to my door, I thought I was being punked. Five hours later, the transportation officers came to the SHU to get me. This is when I really knew I was in big trouble. I was being kicked out of my home.

I was released from prison with no skills and on psychiatric medications. I was to live with my cousin, who was addicted to drugs, in my enemy’s territory, miles away from my city. Fear, anxiety, stress, depression, and delusions made me run to the streets with childhood friends to do drugs. However, through some of these friends, I was able to find two jobs that helped me to stay away from my cousin’s place. 

My jobs were in the same city as our hangout spots, so among the younger homies, I took up the big homie role. I told my war stories and backed up my words with my actions. I felt love, support, respect, and like I belonged, and I felt at peace again. Unfortunately, in April 2001, I was arrested again.

Eventually I was convicted of second-degree robbery and sentenced to a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life as a third-striker. Even though I was ready to pick right back up where I had left off, I was different. You see, even though I was gang-banging and committing crimes during my 7 months out, I was also working. In my job, I was meeting future NBA players, recording artists who sell millions of records, and college students. I worked security for all of the music concerts in Imperial County and Los Angeles County, while also covering Long Beach State College for all sporting events. Before my arrest, I had started dreaming of a future again and living a good life. Once I got convicted in February 2002, those dreams faded away.

Then, in 2004, my little brother was killed. In 2006, I tried to kill myself, and in 2012, I tried to kill another inmate. As I sat in the SHU again, facing a second 3-strike sentence, I heard people talking over the tier about recovery and rehabilitation. The first time I have ever heard the word “recovery” was in a juvenile hall Alcoholics Anonymous group, so I stopped listening. It wasn’t for me. But then I thought, a governor of California had recently added “Rehabilitation” to the name of the California Department of Corrections (it’s now California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.) I never knew why, so I became curious. 

I started listening again. I heard inmates talk about how you might live in a good home but be the product of a toxic environment. You might have friends that get you caught up in bad things. Your family might blame you and desert you. This got my attention! They were talking about things I thought about and was too afraid to talk about.

These inmates talked about low self-esteem leading a group of kids to break the law. Then they talked about taking college classes, doing correspondence self-help courses, and going to self-help groups when we were out of the SHU. 

These guys were talking a language I had never heard before. As I listened, day after day, I realized that they sounded like the college kids I had worked with in my event security and telemarketing jobs when I was out in 2000.

Then, I asked myself ‘why I should do any of that when I have 3 strikes and no one cares what I do or even if I survive prison.’ The only time I was sent money was when I was in the hole or in the SHU. Sometimes I would be lucky to get a package to replace my property when I got out of those places. Memories of my family missing, dead homies and family members played on my mind. 

‘What was the point of me being anything than the best at surviving prison?’

For months, I sat troubled mentally and emotionally, knowing that my family would show me more love once I died a respected gang-banger. The neighborhood would show my family the ultimate love and respect only in that situation. So what was the point of me being anything than the best at surviving prison? Then, I recalled a family member who told me that I should have listened to my family’s words, but not lived like they did.

Throughout my life, I made choices behind bars as a kid, as a young man, and as an adult. Now in 2020, I wish I could take some of those choices back. I used to blame my family because I thought that all I needed was for them to do the opposite of A, B, and C (as mentioned in Part One.) However, what I really needed was their support and acceptance. I probably would have had a different time locked up in the very beginning, and probably never would have come back.

I’m wiser today because in October 2012, my life changed. Today, I’m blessed, loved, and cared for because someone came into my life and showed me pure love. Her words helped motivate me to look into self-help courses, correspondence courses, self-help groups, and into changing my negative behavior into positive actions…

Learn more about rehabilitation, recovery, and loved ones in Part 3 of Tyrone’s Journey Behind Bars. Click Here

Tyrone and his wife Kristy who helped him rehabilitate during his journey behind bars.
Tyrone Toliver and his wife Kristy

Don’t forget to send your incarcerated loved ones photos! You can download the Pelipost app through the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

My Journey Behind Bars (Pt. 1)

Pelipost is launching a new series devoted to the stories of those incarcerated. In honor of that, we begin this series by sharing the story of Tyrone Toliver and his journey behind bars.

On my first day in prison, in 1995, I was fighting a mental and emotional battle…

Written By: Tyrone Toliver

So many find it hard to show love, compassion, and support for a man or a woman who is incarcerated. This is especially true of family, who often say one of the following things, to themselves or to their incarcerated family member:

  1. You weren’t raised to break the law or hang around anyone who is a criminal.
  2. I do not have enough time to spend it on a person who is incarcerated.
  3. You broke the law, you do your time. You did not want to be out here with us; if you had, you would not have committed the crime or put yourself in the predicament that got you there in the first place.

What family members who say these things do not see is the underlying fact that no matter what, the person who is incarcerated is still family. 

In my situation, I was taught how to commit crimes and do drugs by my own family. Gang-banging allowed me to make a name for myself, while providing security and protection for them. 

But as my journey behind bars began at age 10, I realized that my family did not appreciate my sacrifices. I believed that because writing letters to me, accepting my collect phone calls, and sending me a money order once a month was too much for them to do. So, as a juvenile delinquent, I carried hatred, anger, and animosity inside me—not for my enemies or for authority, but for my very own family. 

This hatred was something I had never talked to anyone about. As a result, I entered prison in Tracy, California (AKA “gladiator school”) at 18 years old (1995) and all I wanted to do was hurt someone else. 

My journey behind bars continued at 16 years old. My family thought that I would do all that I possibly could to come home. To this very day, I don’t know where they could have gotten such a ludicrous idea. (As a mature, rehabilitated man today, I’m afraid to ask them.)

You see, they never gave me a reason to seek recovery, rehabilitation or help change my way of thinking through education. Speed up to 2012, and for the first time in my life, I heard about coping skills, toxic environments, arrested development, self-help, and cultural conditioning. These are phrases that I had never heard before! I soon learned that they meant changing and improving yourself. There was no way for anyone in my family to think that I’d do anything to come home soon after learning any of that. It’s 2020, and they are still doing the same things I was taught in 1981 at 5 years old.

On my first day in prison, in 1995, I was fighting a mental and emotional battle. I thought I could only win if I hurt myself or someone else. First, I hurt myself and that didn’t work. Then, I hurt someone else and that didn’t heal me either. Once the smoke cleared, I was being transferred to Pelican Bay State Prison, California, for assault with a deadly weapon. I had become the animal everyone said I was. I was no longer Tyrone Lee Toliver. I had become Inmate Toliver #H93393 AKA Lil No-Name Dog at the worst prison in California. I lived off other weak and afraid inmates because I received no visits, no letters, and no phone calls. I actually thought and felt that I had nothing to live for, so I was merely existing to die.

“I was back in the same building at Pelican Bay and forcing a guy to give me back my old cell. Things felt normal.”

Then, I was thrown a curve ball. I won my court battle for assault on an inmate with a weapon. I would be paroling in a month. How? I wondered. I thought it was a joke until I remembered that I didn’t actually have a life sentence; it just felt like it. My original sentence was 5 years. Now, I was even more angry and I didn’t even know why. As I left in September 1996, I told them to keep my bed warm.

A few months later, December 1996, I was back. By the following September, I was in the same building at Pelican Bay and forcing a guy to give me back my old cell. Things felt normal. I felt loved, supported, peaceful, and slightly happy. By now, I was better at hiding my animosity, hatred, and anger…

Ready for Part 2 of Tyrone Toliver’s Journey Behind Bars? Click here.

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