For someone outside of prison, one of the most powerful ways to help combat recidivism is to send letters and postcards to inmates they know and love.
Of the estimated 1.8 million people in U.S. prisons and jails, 95% will be released one day. However, every two out of three individuals released from incarceration will be arrested again within three years of their release.
According to Prison Legal News, studies consistently demonstrate that inmates who maintain contact with their loved ones while incarcerated will have better post-release outcomes, including a lesser chance of recidivism.
Sending mail helps facilitate that connection and reminds the incarcerated that there are people out there who still care for them, despite the circumstances.
The Ins and Outs of Sending Mail to a Prison
For an inmate, postcards and letters provide a glimpse into the outside world. But it's not as easy to send mail to inmates as it is to anyone beyond prison walls. Family and friends sending mail must follow strict guidelines, as all content is inspected and read by prison staff.
There are many items that mailed material cannot include, such as cash, staples, paperclips, glue, and even glitter. Drawings and other markings that can be construed as a secret code are also subject to rejection.
When it comes to photos, most facilities limit them to four-by-six inches in sizes, with a maximum of three to five photos per envelope. Photos cannot contain any nudity, sexually suggestive material, hand gestures or tattoos with gang-related implications.
Once all the criteria has been met, the mail must be sent with a prison identification number on it. Most facilities provide this information on their websites. In most cases, postcards are approved rather quickly and can make it into an inmate's hands in less than 48 hours.
This is the biggest advantage of sending a postcard as opposed to a letter enclosed in an envelope — it has a higher likelihood of reaching your loved one faster.
Every prison and jail has its own set of guidelines for approving mail, but to simplify the process for all parties, one business is beginning to streamline the postcard-sending process.
Sending Postcards to Inmates, Made Easy
Flikshop is on a mission to make it as easy as possible to send postcards to inmates. Founded by Marcus Bullock, a formerly incarcerated individual himself, the company is fighting recidivism by keeping families connected so that once an inmate is out, they stay out.
Bullock's story behind starting the business is nothing short of inspiring. At just fifteen years old, he was arrested and sentenced to eight years in a maximum security prison. While incarcerated, Bullock's correspondence with his mother was the only thing that kept him going.
Receiving mail from her reminded him that he had a future beyond incarceration, and gave him the encouragement needed to make a life for himself upon his release.
"In prison, it's a dark and hopeless place," Bullock recalls, "and most of us felt as though we didn't matter anymore once we got that prison sentence. It was my mom's letters and her photos that saved my life. My mom provided a lens, a window into the world that others weren't getting in those cells. I knew that when I came home I wanted to be able to help keep families connected the same way I was connected to my mom."
And that's exactly what he did — in 2011, Flikshop was born. To send a postcard to an inmate through the app, users simply snap a photo and add personalized text. After the postcard is submitted for printing, for just 99 cents, it's automatically sent to their loved one.
"I had no idea how to build a tech company," Bullock admits. "All the capital for our company was coming out of another construction company. I would have to do a kitchen remodel, just to hopefully net some profit out of that so I could take it and invest it in postage for the postcards."
But with determination and a mission to evoke positive change, Bullock got into a Techstars business incubator and received his first substantial investment. He used that money to hire employees and grow the business, which now sends thousands of postcards to inmates every day.
"The photos and postcards, those snapshots that I had into my loved ones' lives, that's really what kept me going," says Adam Clausen, a formerly incarcerated individual who received postcards from Flikshop. "It positively reinforced all of the changes that I was making."
Flikshop makes it easier than ever for relatives and friends to share stories, memories, and words of hope. But its impact reaches far beyond pen and paper.
"Most of the time it feels surreal that we're connecting tens of thousands of families every single week, every month," Bullock says. "It's an opportunity for my children to be able to see what the possibilities are, no matter the background. Because now, I'm bigger than a guy who was just in prison. Now I'm a dad, I'm a brother, I'm a son. Now, I'm a CEO."