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.
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.”
I cannot begin to express my gratitude and am beyond thankful for your service. I’m a single mom and my children are young. I was able to set up my PeliPALS account and it was a breeze. My daughters uploaded their pictures and it’d be here in a matter of days. The fact that my daughter didn’t have to “bother” our family to get a ride and pay for printed pictures. It was a relief on both our ends. She enjoyed it because she was able to add captions. Helping me meet new members of family I’ve missed. Yet making me feel a part of with a simple picture. So thank you so much for that.
I treasure those pictures dearly and close to my heart. I’ve put them on my bunk so I wake up to see them, the sights of nature that bring me peace. Reminding me, I’m closer to that freedom and my babies. I go to bed and look up at all the pictures and know that I’ll wake up to see those smiles of the ones I love most and who love me as well. Hearing from my children via calls, emails, video visit, and pictures help me and make me so happy. The fact it’s so simple for them to upload and send pictures make it all worth it. Especially when my mom struggles with English and apps. Again, thank you so much!
My daughters enjoy but no more than I when I hear my name and see Pelipost knowing I’m receiving pictures. This helps relieve a burden from my busy family raising my children. Something so small can contribute but be a part of the family still. Thank you so much! I highly recommend your service. We will continue to use your service once I’m released because my fiancé will be happy to receive weekly and monthly pictures. Thank you so much! I’d rate you 5 stars online but til then this will do.
As people, we send gifts to loved ones for birthdays, holidays, or just to show that we care. However, due to the rules and regulations of what inmates are allowed to receive in the mail, gift-giving is not the same. But did you know you can buy gifts for your incarcerated loved ones through approved catalogs? These catalogs can include anything from food, clothing, and other items that are approved to send to your incarcerated loved one. Many of these care packages can be ordered online and shipped to your incarcerated loved one’s facility. We have listed a few care package resources below. Just as a reminder, always check your loved one’s specific facility for their rules and regulations.
Access Securepak allows family members and friends to send packages to inmates. This company was developed to eliminate contraband and greatly reduce the time and labor required to process packages. You can create an account and purchase a care package from them here: https://www.accesscatalog.com/index.html?PageID=8
Union Supply Group:
Union Supply Group offers inmate and family package programs for either state-wide agencies or individual facilities. Union Supply Group uses the entire range of products offered by Union Supply Company and Food Express USA to create completely customized programs. To purchase, visit: https://www.unionsupply.com/sp_union_supply_direct.aspx
Jack L. Marcus Company:
The Jack L. Marcus Company offers care packages to send to incarcerated individuals in select states. These states include California, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. To send a gift from their catalog, go to: https://jlmarcuscatalog.com
iCare offers snack packages that friends and family can send to their incarcerated loved ones to show them how much they care. From salty to sweet, they have the perfect package to send your loved one a treat. Send your loved one a snack pack here: https://shop.icaregifts.com/shop
Inmate Care Packages:
Inmate Care Packages offers a wide range of options to send to your incarcerated loved one. The categories for their bundles include Food, Clothing & Apparel, Personal Care, Books/Magazines, Electronics & Accessories, and even inmate phone plans. You can find their care packages here: https://www.inmate-packages.com
Through Pelipost, you can send photos to your incarcerated loved one. Photos are a tangible token of your love that your loved one can physically hold and cherish. Photos mean so much to incarcerated individuals, and help you to keep in contact with them.
I am Bobby Bostic and I was sentenced to die in prison at 16 years old. In 1995, an older man and I committed the robbery of two people who were in a crowd of five people, and committed another robbery of a single individual thirty minutes later a few blocks away. No one was seriously injured in these crimes. The judge at my sentencing hearing pronounced:
“Bobby Bostic, you will die in the Department of Corrections. You do not go to see the parole board until 2201, and nobody in this courtroom will be alive in the year 2201.”
I have been in prison since 1994 (over 25 years now) and I have rehabilitated myself. I have completed several college courses from Missouri State University. I obtained my Associate of Science degree from Adams State University in the spring of 2020, and now I am only 30 credits from obtaining my Bachelor’s degree in Social Work. I have completed over thirty prison rehabilitation classes and programs. In addition to this, I have written five non-fiction books and eight poetry books. I also have the blueprints for several nonprofit organizations for troubled teens, and a charity that I will establish soon. Furthermore, I have many more goals that I am currently pursuing.
I want to thank each and everyone of you for hearing my story and trying to help me. I am also doing what I can to help others. It is a struggle but we are claiming victory. If we keep saying “struggle” it will remain just that, but words can have power.
Becky, you have lived it so you know this struggle, but you saw victory. Each photo that Pelipost sends to an inmate is a victory. Pictures mean so much to us in prison. So to the Pelipost team: all inmates in America thank you for giving us victory by each picture that you send us. Those pictures are a light in a dark prison. Each picture brings us hope, each picture makes us stronger, each picture lets us know what we are missing in the world and with our loved ones. Each picture offers us power against oppression, each picture that Pelipost sends to us prisoners gives us victory.
The period of incarceration can be a scary, confusing, and lonely time for your loved one. Removing a person from society and stripping them of their normal lives and responsibilities can greatly alter an incarcerated person’s outlook on life, and can even affect their brain chemistry. In fact, 37% of people in state and federal prisons have been diagnosed with a mental illness, along with many others who simply struggle with keeping a positive mindset. To help your incarcerated loved one make it through this difficult period with high spirits, you can send along our tips for how to stay positive in jail.
Focus on Yourself
While incarcerated, it can be difficult not to succumb to distractions, like the actions and opinions of others. Remind your incarcerated loved one that they should not worry about others and to focus on themselves. Goal setting, staying focused, and working on personal growth will help your incarcerated loved one keep their head up and not succumb to the negativity of others.
An excellent way for your incarcerated loved one to work on themselves and keep a positive mindset is to further their education. Although it varies from facility to facility, many jails connect with local schools to offer a variety of academic courses, life skills education, and career and technology education for incarcerated individuals. Your incarcerated loved one can participate depending on their academic skills, disciplinary record, level of custody, length of sentence, and program availability at their specific facility. Furthering their education will give your incarcerated loved one goals to accomplish, a sense that they are making good use of their time, and wider opportunities upon their release.
Work on Your Physical Health
Another way for your incarcerated loved one to make use of their time and keep a positive attitude is by working on their physical fitness. Although it varies, many facilities offer fitness centers, classes, and/or equipment for their inmates to use. Working on their physical fitness can help an incarcerated individual boost their self-confidence, improve their mental health, and improve their physical health. This will not only help their mindset, but reduce the risk of injury or disease while incarcerated as well.
Work Towards a Goal
Goal-setting gives a person a sense of purpose, direction, and motivation. Although the goals may be different than on the outside, it is important for incarcerated individuals to have something to work towards. These can be goals related to education or physical fitness like mentioned before. However, they can also be goals along the lines of improving artistic ability, writing, keeping good behavior, or working towards having a more positive mindset. Whether big or small, encourage your incarcerated loved one to set specific goals for them to work towards during their time on the inside.
Stay in Contact with Your Loved Ones
One of the most beneficial ways to keep a positive outlook while incarcerated is to keep in contact with your loved ones on the outside. For the members on the outside, using services like Pelipost to send photos to your incarcerated loved ones can make a huge impact on their mindset. This will help them feel loved, supported, and connected to you during your time spent apart. Phone calls, in-person visits, and letters are also great ways to stay connected during this time.