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.”
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.
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.
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.
For our incarcerated loved ones, tangible items are cherished and appreciated because it gives them a physical reminder that they are loved. In addition to written letters, there are a variety of creative things you can mail to your loved one to give them a reminder of home. Receiving mail is something special regardless of someone’s love language, especially for those who may be struggling due to the separation from their friends and family.
Keep in mind that every facility has their own rules and regulations, so make sure you review the specific facility’s mail policies before sending. Here are some of our favorite mail ideas that include creative items to remind your friend or family member of your love and appreciation.
Children’s Drawings and Artwork
Sending a handmade and personal piece of mail is one of the best ways to remind an incarcerated person how much they are loved back home. Creating a drawing or piece of artwork is a simple way for children to comprehend making something for someone who is in a facility.
This piece of mail can be anything from a painting to a simple sketch that the child decides to create for the incarcerated person. A one-of-a-kind personal creation is both a great way for a child to express themselves, and a way to give the recipient a unique reminder of the artist’s love for them. Consider asking the child to draw themselves and the loved one, encouraging them to think of their family member or friend even while they are apart from one another.
Acceptable Food, Clothing, and Gifts
Giving a gift in the form of a care package is another great way to show your appreciation and love for an incarcerated individual. These items must be sent through private vendors and prison catalogues in order to abide by facility standards.
Items that seem simple to us can be greatly valued by those in facilities, because they do not have access to the same thing they would have while living at home. These types of gifts do not have to be complicated, and are an easy way to remind someone of home.
Photographs through Pelipost
Pelipost allows you to send pictures to your incarcerated loved ones through an easy three step process. With your incarcerated loved one’s mailing address and inmate ID number, you can upload a photo that will then be printed and delivered through Pelipost. Pelipost is also the top-ranked mobile app to send photos to incarcerated persons for its ease and affordability. It is important that you feel supported throughout the process, so our customer support team is here to help via email at email@example.com.
Our program is a simple and affordable way to deliver pictures right to your loved ones, and it is made possible by an experienced team who understands what it is like to have someone you love in a correctional facility. The app was born out of first-hand personal experience, and you can read more about the Pelipost origin story on our blog.
While a loved one is experiencing incarceration, it is very important to stay in contact with them. Phone calls, in-person visits, and sending letters are all important ways to stay connected. But sending photos can be the most impactful way to stay in contact with your inmate. Photos are a tangible item your incarcerated loved one can hold on to and remind themselves of how much they are loved back home. To simplify the procedure, apps have been created to send photos to inmates with ease. With its simple process, affordable cost, and experienced team of experts, Pelipost is the #1 app to send pictures to inmates.
Easy and Convenient Process
One of the main reasons Pelipost is the best app to send photos to inmates is our simple, user-friendly process. Once you have downloaded the Pelipost app from either the App Store or Google Play Store, there is a simple 3-step process for your photos to reach your loved one.
1) UPLOAD: First, enter your incarcerated loved one’s mailing address and inmate ID number. Then, upload your favorite photos to the Pelipost app directly from your camera roll and we’ll take it from there! Make sure to follow these tips for content and sizing restrictions for the photos.
2) PRINT: We will print, package, and ship your photos directly to the correctional facility. All photos are 4×6 glossy prints.
3) DELIVERY: Your photos arrive at your loved one’s facility in approximately 3-5 business days. From there, photos are screened and delivered to your loved one shortly after, depending on facility screening times.
Not only is the Peli-process easy to use, Pelipost is also the #1 app to send photos to inmates for its affordability. There are no hidden fees, gimmicks, or fake offers, and we are transparent about our prices upfront. To send your incarcerated loved one 5 photos, it is $3.99. To send 10 photos, it will cost you $6.99. And to send 20 photos to your inmate, the price is $8.99.
Great Customer Service
Founded by a mother and son duo, Pelipost is first and foremost a family run business. The friendly, supportive atmosphere of a family business easily translates over to our excellent customer service. Our top-notch service is marked by quick responses to help requests, surprise sales, and community building. To contact our customer service team, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org and a team member will be happy to assist you as soon as possible.
We Understand Because We’ve Been There
Pelipost is the best app to send photos to inmates because the team understands what incarceration is like firsthand. Joe Calderon realized the difficulty of sending photos to inmates when his mother, Becky, was incarcerated. Together, they came up with the idea for Pelipost to ease the process of sending these precious photos to loved ones. The Pelipost team knows what the incarceration process is like because we’ve been there, and we are here to support you during this journey.