It’s hard to know what life is like for the incarcerated. At Pelipost, we believe in the importance of sharing the experience of incarceration by bringing our PeliPALS’ stories to light. Today, we bring you Kristopher DeShawn’s story in his own words.
My name is Kristopher DeShawn. I am 34 years old and have been incarcerated since 2005. With this being the first time in this situation, the biggest things that enabled me to survive and work my way from a level 4 maximum security prison, to now a minimum level 2 is the ability to adapt and be aware. Also, I’ve never lost sight of the fact that I have goals, people, and family to work myself back to.
Furthermore, I know I’m not defined by this situation. Now, I’m a mature adult male. I finally reached the growth and obtained and identity of which I’ve never had, with multiple negatives in my life, a life sentence, and the possibility to never leave these walls, I could’ve self-destructed.
“I’m no longer a person that just exists- I know I have a purpose.”
Kristopher DeShawn, PeliPAL
I have fully embraced my faith (Islam,) graduated from high school, obtained an Associate’s Degree in social and behavioral science, and utilized all self-help / cognitive restructuring tools / classes, so now my manner is one who is constantly evolving. I’m no longer a person that just exists- I know I have a purpose. While I continuously make strides in life, I also strive to impact others and not to be so stereotyped and also to be around like-minded individuals.
What also gets me through my day-to-day is that I write poems, short stories, and read. I’m an athlete, enjoy music, and constantly make it apparent to my mom and younger siblings that I’m still vital to their lives and I love them and vice-versa. As a bonus, I have nieces and nephews now and I’m grateful for the role in their lives, plus they know who their uncle is.
What I look forward to the most from my family is first knowing they are alive every day. Then with that, the phone calls, greeting cards, visits, and photos that let me know that they care, but also that they enjoy life. To have the opportunity to listen to their problems, issues, whatever is going on because I care about them. All of the above things my friends and family do and keep my spirits high. With this, praying, and remaining diligent, every day I wake up I feel blessed.
For now, I wait for my time to impact the world from the outside and not from within a cell. To also show the man I’ve become that my family and friends are proud of. Thank you.
A period of incarceration can be confusing and scary for a person. It’s hard to maintain a positive outlook when ordinary life is stripped away. Receiving photos and staying connected with the outside world can make all the difference for your loved one’s mental health. This applies both while they’re inside and when they return home. Unfortunately, recent facility policies such as photocopying and reduced visitation can make it harder for friends and family to maintain that connection with our incarcerated loved ones. Read on to learn more about these policies, what you can do to help, and some exciting news from two states who are making prison communication much easier in 2023.
The Fight for REAL Photos Continues
When we speak to incarcerated or formerly incarcerated people, the “tangible connection” that comes with holding a physical photo or handwritten letter is often mentioned. According to incarcerated writer Ryan M. Moser, “We treasure mementos like physical cards, letters and photos in prison because we have little else.” As we’ve previously discussed on our blog, facilities across the country are opting to replace original mail with scanned photocopies or even banning physical mail completely. In an effort to prevent contraband, more and more facilities are requiring that friends and family send all letters, photos, and cards to a designated central processing facility. Instead of receiving the original letter or photo, incarcerated people receive a photocopy or digital copy accessible on a tablet. Mail digitization comes with additional fees that add to the financial burdens shouldered by families with incarcerated loved ones.
Staffing Shortages are Impacting Visitation
Visitation was particularly difficult for friends and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some facilities reduced or suspended visitation hours, which meant some families went years without being able to visit their loved one. Unfortunately, this trend is continuing in some states due to higher-than-normal staffing shortages. Montana, for example, began suspending all in-person visitation indefinitely on October 31, 2021 due to staffing challenges. Meanwhile, some facilities have not resumed visitation since the pandemic began, switching completely to video visitation.
Positive Changes are Happening: California & Connecticut Make Phone Calls from Prison FREE
California took a major step forward to keep families experiencing incarceration connected. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill in September 2022 that makes phone calls from California’s prisons free of charge. The new law places the cost of calls state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation rather than families.
Now, with the governor’s blessing, “the simple cost of a call is never going to impair their ability to tell their children they love them or help their partner problem-solve a parenting situation,” said Bianca Tylek, executive director of Worth Rises, a prison reform organization that advocated for the bill. This exciting change in California follows Connecticut, who was the first state to make all phone calls for people in state prisons free with a new law passed in June 2021.
Advocates believe that these changes to prison communication will improve both reentry outcomes and general mental health. “To me, being able to maintain relationships with people was really priceless, and certainly served me well once I was able to come home because I didn’t feel like I was being dropped into a world that I had not been a part of for many years,” said Gus Marks-Hamilton, campaign manager for ACLU-CT who spent eight years in prison.
Studies have shown that incarcerated people who received visitors were less likely to return to prison after their release. A 2014 study of incarcerated women found that those who had any phone contact with a family member were less likely to be reincarcerated. Phone communication in prison was even proven to have a more powerful effect on recidivism compared to visitation.
How Can Friends and Families Help?
If someone you love is incarcerated, you can advocate for positive changes in your own community, city, or state. Visit National Write Your Congressman’s website to identify your state’s legislators and write in your concerns about prison communication policies. You can also inspire others- use your platforms to get others to voice their concerns as well. If you’re not sure where to start, that’s okay. Research both local and national issues, and make sure to look for verifiable information from trusted sources.
If you know of a facility that is photocopying photos, please contact us via email at email@example.com. This will allow our Correctional Facility Relations Department to contact the facility and provide solutions like our photobooks. We are here to advocate for you and help get REAL photos into your loved one’s hands.
Keeping families connected is at the heart of everything we do at Pelipost. In the words of our CEO Joseph Calderon, “We started Pelipost because we understand how much these photos mean to someone on the inside. That’s why we will do all we can to make this process accessible to everyone.”
The holidays can be a particularly difficult time for those of us who have a loved one who is incarcerated. We miss our loved ones and might find ourselves wondering what the holidays will be like for them, or if it’s even possible to have a merry Christmas while in jail or prison. Pelipost’s Co-Founder and COO, Becky shared her experience along with valuable perspective on how families can provide support by sharing their holiday celebrations with their loved ones on the inside.
What are the holidays really like on the inside?
It was definitely not ignored, like just another day. Christmas was big- as big as it can be in there. We would get toilet paper or stuff like that and we would try and make snowflakes out of it and decorate our windows and stuff like that. It’s simply amazing what just using your imagination you can do to get into the Christmas spirit and to feel like you’re bringing it in to yourself so that you can celebrate it, because it’s still a celebration. You still want to celebrate the holidays.
You prepare for your Christmas meal. You start when you have canteen, and you buy your products. And who is going to do what- “I’m in charge of the cheesecake,” “Who’s in charge of this?” It’s like a little potluck that you create, trying very hard to maintain the spirit. And for an evening, for Christmas Eve, for Christmas Day, you try really hard to just separate yourself from where you’re at.
One thing that we did when we wanted to do something special was sharing of the mail we had received that previous year, anything special that we wanted to share. And we had a bunch of letters and that kept us all busy. So sharing our pictures, sharing just where we were, where our families were. “What news did you have of your family?” “What has changed?” Christmas was really a time to sit, eat, and reflect. Everyone knew it was Christmas. We celebrated it, and just made it joyful, as joyful as you can while you’re in there.
How can photos help bring the outside in?
A few weeks before Christmas and the holidays, holiday parties start happening, family gatherings start happening. Scenery, Christmas lights on the house, things that you take for granted. You’re driving by and you see- “Oh wow, that house is really decorated.” The street that you used to cruise by that’s filled with Christmas lights, all those things are things that you can still share. Things like that- those photos can be used to decorate the room because they’re lights.
They bring new life, they bring Christmas in to us. When you see a decoration or anything like that that you think, “oh, this would bring a smile to so-and-so’s face,” take a picture of these moments and send them in. Because if they’re lucky enough to put them up and share them, they bring so much joy and they almost take us out of the cell we’re in and remind us of wherever it was that these events were taking place.
In the back of your mind- yes, of course you wish you were there. But to see the joy being shared, and to see pictures of grandma holding a baby, or granddad with all the kids trying to play football, or any kind of moments that are happening out there, you’re happy for your family. You’re happy for the people that are out there. And to me, it brought me joy to see the people out there and how they were sharing within family and friends and how beautiful it is- beautiful memories.
Watch our full interview with Becky on our YouTube channel here.
If you have a loved one who is spending Thanksgiving in jail or prison, you may be wondering how to approach the Holidays. Should you send cards and photos, or does that make the fact that they’re far away more painful? We spoke to Pelipost’s Co-Founder and COO, Becky, about how the power of photos helped her through the holidays while she was incarcerated.
What is Thanksgiving like on the inside?
You know, surprisingly, there is a lot of warmth inside. There is a lot of camaraderie, and you truly become family with the people in your cell or the people that you see every day. You walk the track with them, they serve the role as your family there. And so in the same instance, Thanksgiving, it wasn’t a thing that you like, ignore. We all knew it was Thanksgiving- “What are we going to do for Thanksgiving?” “Let’s share stories,” “let’s talk,” “let’s watch something special on TV.” You know, you find a way to make it celebratory.
Does sending photos and mail really make an impact?
As soon as the holidays came about – Thanksgiving Day was a big one – friends sending me, “Happy Thanksgiving, thinking of you” cards- all those are bonuses in there to receive. The value of a card changes. And what I mean is, out here where you can go and see hundreds of thousands of cards at Hallmark Store or anything like that, inside, when you receive a card, it means so much more. And I loved it. And I loved receiving cards. And you share them with everyone. They bring you so much joy. So to receive a card with photos inside is jackpot. When I was feeling like my tank was running on empty, with feelings, with emotions, with trying to get through another week, and I would get the envelope and pictures and reminders of home, it would refuel my gas tank and make it possible for me just to get through another week or another month or whatever it was. But it means a lot.
How can families be supportive?
A lot of my family used to think that receiving photos of the holidays was hurtful to me. So they would say, you know, “is it okay if I send you?” or, you know, “we don’t want to make you feel worse.” And they were concerned about that, and I’m sure that there are differing opinions about that. For me, it actually helped to see the families still going on, still celebrating, still living life. And although I was on the inside, it made me personally feel good that people were okay. I got to see my dad. I got to see my mom. I got to see- and don’t get me wrong, it is hard because I’m not there. But the- the happiness that you see. “Oh, my dad looks good.” “Oh, so-and-so’s growing up.” That supersedes what I feel by not being there. I feel good because I was able to at least catch up with that day and be part of the day. And it brought me joy.
September is National Recovery Month, which celebrates individuals in recovery and raises awareness of substance abuse and recovery treatments. We were honored to sit down with Pelipost’s Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer Becky Calderon as she celebrates a decade of sobriety, and we drew strength and inspiration from hearing her story of overcoming addiction. We hope her story inspires others who are affected by addiction, as well as their families.
Was there a moment that inspired you to begin the process of recovery?
I really did have a moment where it just happened. I remember many people saying, you know, “You’ll know when you’re ready. It has to come from you. You’ll feel it.” And it’s true. I was drunk and I was exhausted. Physically exhausted of being drunk, of needing to be drunk. And it was just one week in where I just said, I can’t live like this anymore. This is not living for me.
What were some of the key factors that helped you maintain sobriety over the past 10 years?
I would say that some of the key factors that helped me maintain my sobriety were understanding why I drank and understanding what led to it and knowing that that was under control, that that was not happening any longer in my life. And then also, if you ever feel like you think you can drink again, or you want to drink again, you remember the worst point of your drinking and you almost literally scare yourself straight. Like, is it worth risking this beautiful space I have in my brain right now to begin the whole toxic trip again? And so, the feeling of just being clear minded and not wanting to risk it again was important to me.
What is the best thing that has come from your sobriety?
Before my father passed away from dementia, he was always the one who picked me up as the drunk daughter. And when I got out of my recovery classes, three months later, his dementia progressed, and he would come and go. And there was a moment where he said, “How are you doing, mija?” And I said, Dad, I’m not drinking! I’ve been sober for three months. He gave me the thumbs up, and he said, “I’m proud of you.” And that was probably the last real ‘him’ that I got to see. To know that I redeemed myself in his eyes is like a miracle to me.
What would you say to those who are currently struggling with addiction?
What would I say to those that are struggling? I find it one of the most difficult questions because I know I truly know that there’s nothing one can say. It has to come from within. My first steps of leading to sobriety actually came when I was incarcerated, and I dealt with why I drank. It was a program called Houses of Healing. It was a 13-week program. And I dug into the childhood trauma in my life. That program was the foundation of the idea that you don’t drink, or do drugs, or whatever your addiction is because you choose or you like the alcohol. You do it because you choose to numb something that caused you damage. And I truly believe that if you’re trying to quit without dealing with that damage, that trauma, that pain, it’s impossible. So there’s nothing anyone can say to someone to get them to stop drinking. Believe me, everyone tried that. But until somebody educated me enough to say, “you’re drinking for a reason. Let’s figure that reason out and deal with that reason.” So what I would say is, don’t judge the addiction. Focus on what led you there, what caused your pain, what caused your trauma? What caused you to give up? And if you take one of those at a time, it will liberate you. It will clear your plate of everything you’re carrying. Then you can really see that it’s not the alcohol or the drugs, it’s the numbing of your brain that you’re trying to do. And when you have happy things and know how to conquer the negative, you don’t need that.
What would you say to the families of those struggling with addiction?
In closing, I want to share something about not the person who is in recovery or in their addiction, but the people that love them and don’t know how to help. What I can say is there truly is nothing that you can do to help somebody want to stop. All you can do is support, love them, and just let them find their way. You can try and guide them. But please, the one thing that you do not want to do as family, as friends, as sons, daughters, parents, is you stop living because of that. Because if my son would have stopped his college education or stopped living his life, or if I would have caused any permanent damage to anybody in my family because of my addiction, I would never forgive myself.
What are some of the ways that your life has changed compared to when you weren’t sober?
My life as an alcoholic was a blur. It was a life of hiding. It was a life of lying to everyone I loved, and hiding everything I did. Just wanting to be alone so I could just be alone with my bottle. Now it’s a life of relaxation. I can be me. If somebody says “I’m coming over,” I don’t have to panic if I’m sober or not. It’s freedom- that’s the best way to describe it. I’m free. There’s no more hiding. I’m able to just be me and enjoy being able to give someone a hug if you run into them and not worry if they’re going to smell alcohol on your breath. Little things like that. It’s just being free.
Have you ever tried to send photos to your incarcerated loved one, only to have them tell you that they received a black and white photocopy instead? Some facilities have policies in place where original photos are scanned and copied to prevent contraband. Read on to learn more about why this happens and how you can make sure your loved one is receiving real photos, not photocopies.
Contraband from the outside, including drugs, is a concern for all correctional facilities. In an effort to prevent contraband entering jails and prisons from the outside, some facilities scan original letters and photos and distribute the copies to those who are incarcerated. We understand how crucial receiving photos can be for our incarcerated loved ones. Photos serve as an important reminder of the outside and can provide inspiration , comfort, and hope. We also understand how disappointing it can feel for both you and your loved one to receive photocopies when you’re expecting to send or receive real photos.
Pelipost works with facilities to find alternatives to photocopies
At Pelipost, our mission is getting your photos to your incarcerated loved one safely, quickly, and easily. We advocate for our customers and want to make sure all loved ones are receiving full-color, high-quality photos. We have a dedicated Director of Correctional Facility Relations who works with correctional facilities to provide solutions and alternatives to photocopying. One of these solutions has been our photobooks, which are printed with Pelipost’s signature high-quality, full color photos, directly from our secure fulfillment center. We are excited to announce that Pelipost has received approval from the Virginia Department of Corrections (VA DOC) to become the exclusive provider of photobooks in Virginia! Our photobooks are also currently available to customers sending photos to Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC).
If you know of a facility that is photocopying photos, please contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a text message at +1 (844) 387-5755. This will allow our Director of Correctional Facility Relations to contact the facility. We are always here for you and we’re happy to help get real photos into your loved one’s hands.
It’s hard to understand what life is like for the incarcerated. That’s why we want to bring our PeliPALS stories to light and share their experiences with incarceration. Today, we bring you the story of William Davenport.
If you’d like your incarcerated loved one’s story featured, have them mail it to Pelipost.
Written By: William Davenport
Most people are incapable of relating to the loneliness being incarcerated can bring. My family will never fully understand how letters, photos, phone calls, and visits / video visits help me cope with all the negativity that surrounds me.
Although I put emphasis on my loved ones sending photos, no one gave my request any serious consideration. Fortunately, I found a Pelipost ad, created a prepaid account, and informed my family of an easy way to send pictures. Thanks to Pelipost, I now receive photos regularly!
Photos help me get through the day-to-day struggle of missing my family. Although it’s always great to hear a familiar voice, as an aspiring photographer it’s the photos from my family that I look forward to the most. To sum it all up, my family and potential friends are always welcome to send photos to keep my spirits up during these most difficult times!
It’s hard to understand what life is like for the incarcerated. That’s why we want to bring our PeliPALS stories to light and share their experiences with incarceration. Today, we bring you the story of Safandre Lindsey.
If you’d like your incarcerated loved one’s story featured, have them mail it to Pelipost.
Written By: Safandre Lindsey
Since I was ten, I have been in and out of juvenile facilities, group homes, and prisons. So, you can say I’ve had a hard life, but that was only because I had a hard head. I came from a good working class family, but I was always rebellious. I found God and I’m now trying to turn my life around. I have never hurt anyone to get what I want; I’m incarcerated for a series of drug deliveries.
The most important things that help me get through my day are the photos furnished by Pelipost (who makes it easy for my family and loved ones to send them to me), the music on my tablet, and last but not least, the local news- the one thing that keeps me focused on the fact that I’m not missing anything. What I look forward to the most from my family and loved ones are visits, phone calls, and emails. What my family and loved ones can do to keep my spirits up is keep praying and know that I am now doing the right thing, and will continue to when I am released.
I would like to thank Pelipost for the opportunity to share my story. To people in prison all over the world- keep your head up!
Sincerely, Safandre Lindsey
Thank you for reading Safandre’s story. Please enjoy 20% off your next 4×6 photo order with Pelipost! Simply enter code BLOG4X6 at checkout. Act fast, this offer is for a limited time only.
It’s almost time to celebrate our 5th Annual Love Your Inmate Day! Each year on August 8th, we dedicate this day to our incarcerated loved ones to remind them that they are loved, supported, and valued. Keep reading to learn more about this special day and how you can participate this year.
8/8 Love Your Inmate Day
This day was created to not only support our incarcerated loved ones but to shatter the stigma. Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s ok to talk about it. In fact, it’s good to talk about it because we’re all people, and we all deserve to feel loved and supported.
“With everyday life on the outside racing by, we wanted to create a special day that reminds us to take pause and focus on our incarcerated loved ones, and what we can do to give them a little extra attention. We hope in turn this gives them the added peace of mind that their family and friends are thinking about them, and are here to support them through these difficult times” says Becky Calderon, Chief Operating Officer of Pelipost.
The intentions of Love Your Inmate Day (LYID) are not only to show your incarcerated loved one that you care, but also to get in touch with other friends and families affected by incarceration. The significance of this day is to show that no one is alone in this journey, whether behind bars or on the outside.
How to Participate
The Love Your Inmate Day website lists multiple ways to get involved in this year’s celebration. These include:
‘Love Never Gives Up’ Merchandise
Show support for your incarcerated loved ones by grabbing the latest products from our EXCLUSIVE Love Your Inmate Day Collection. Part of the proceeds are used to help children with incarcerated parents through Pelipost’s Student of the Month Program and Pelipost’s Overcoming Adversity Scholarship. You can purchase all ‘Love Never Gives Up’ Merchandise here.
Get your picture on our Dedication Wall! Get your “LOVE NEVER GIVES UP” bracelet, snap a photo, and email it to us at email@example.com to be added to the 2022 Dedication Wall.
Love Your Inmate Day Giveaway
Finding ways to bring lightness and joy into a difficult experience is key to making it through the experience. Participate in the Love your inmate day giveaway for a chance to win all kinds of fun prizes, including a Visa gift card, a Pelipost t-shirt, a Love your inmate day bundle, and plenty of PeliPOINTS that you can redeem for free pictures on the Pelipost app. Learn how to enter here.
8 Days of Dedications
Create a dedication to your incarcerated loved one on the LYID Facebook page. All you have to do is send us a photo and a message about your loved one. We will be sharing the dedications on our Facebook wall all day from August 1st-8th, 2021.
Don’t forget to send your incarcerated loved ones photos in honor of Love Your Inmate Day! You can download the Pelipost app through the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.
Joseph Calderon, the CEO and Founder of Pelipost, established the ‘Pelipost Overcoming Adversity Scholarship’ in 2021 to empower and reward students seeking a college education while overcoming the challenges of having an incarcerated parent/guardian.
Joseph was pursuing his college education while his mother was incarcerated. Because of his grit and endurance to overcome adversity, he was able to graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business. Together, he and Becky began the Pelipost mission to serve families who are fighting the same battle to remain connected in such an isolating season. Pelipost is committed to helping meet the financial needs of those experiencing family incarceration, so they can pursue a college education and improve their quality of life.
We are pleased to announce the recipients of the first annual ‘Pelipost Overcoming Adversity Scholarship!’
Meet our Scholarship Recipients
“My goal is to work with foster youth. I’m currently an intern for a nonprofit organization that works with foster youth and the at-risk homeless. Many adults who have entered foster care don’t have driver’s licenses, bank accounts, birth certificates, etc., and these are some things I help them achieve within my internship. I also help them navigate financial aid and sign up for their local community college classes. As a former foster youth, myself, I can understand the barriers and challenges in pursing higher education. I try my best to lead by example and show them that it’s possible. I want to do humanitarian work in other countries one day. Meanwhile, I’m staying focused in school and within my internship.”
“Although I haven’t fully decided what branch of business I want to work in, I plan on being an independent businesswoman and I have the work ethic to do what it takes to reach my goals. I would describe myself as optimistic, independent, and goal oriented. I am a very dependable and reliable person because if I say that I will do something, then I am bound to do it. I am a person that keeps their promises because I feel as though loyalty is a very important aspect of life. I am the type of person that works on a skill until I have perfected it. I’m always interested in learning new skills and interested in taking action to things that will help me advance in my career.”
“I am a sophomore studying political science and on the pre-law track at the University of Southern California. I am passionate about social justice and equality. I am determined to engage in legal advocacy and make a positive impact on under-represented communities.”
“My goal is to take my nurse practitioner degree and work in impoverished communities to help those less fortunate despite their inability to pay. My uncle is 66 and watching his continuing demise is a reminder every day of the healthcare needs that beset minority communities. I just want to accomplish everything God has for me. The same miraculous God in the bible is the same God that is working in our favor today. He gets his done through people, I believe wholeheartedly I am one of those people. I live in a single parent household; my mother takes care of me and my 3 siblings. She also works as a caretaker over my uncle. We realistically don’t have the funds for me to go to school, but student loans are not an option. The funds will go straight to my schooling, I simply wish to accomplish my goals.”
“I believe in following through with my dreams with dedicated, hard work. It is my goal to achieve my PharmD to not only better the future for me and my daughter, to start an organization dedicated to preventing and supporting substance abusers. I want to show my daughter that dreams are never too far from your reach, and that with consistency mixed with passion, anything is in your reach.”