New Startup Connects Inmates to Their Families

March 25th 2015

Laura Donovan

It seems like the Internet is always buzzing about new startups, but Pigeonly, which connects prisoners to their families and loved ones in the outside world, sets itself apart from the others by serving a community that few have thought to include in the tech development mix. 

Founder Frederick Hutson started the company after spending four years in prison for drug-related charges where he saw that an inmate's money does not go very far. While most companies operating in this space seem to be gouging prisoners with exorbitant prices, Pigeonly is trying to make life a little simpler.

“I noticed that there was this population of people that no one was paying attention to and they had very specific problems. That’s where the idea first formulated in my mind to build products to address various communication issues between inmates and their family members,” Hutson said to Smashd.

Telepigeon, one of the company's services, lowers calling costs by giving inmates a local number for the people they intend to call.

“Without using our service it will cost an inmate roughly $70 to use 300 minutes. With our service, those same 300 minutes will cost them about $18, so there’s a pretty significant price difference,” Hutson said to Smashd.

Another service, Fotopigeon, enables users to upload photos and send them to whomever they'd like, including inmates, in the app's expansive database. The company prints the uploaded photos and mails them to the recipient. This is much more convenient than going through the hassle of actually printing out photos, which are often taken with smartphones, and mailing them the old-fashioned way.

Together, between the two services, the company has distributed 250,000 photographs, and inmates have used 2 million phone minutes per month, according to TechCrunch.​

Hutson hopes his efforts inspire happiness and stability for inmates because he has experienced the loneliness of life in prison.

"The worst thing that can probably happen to an inmate is isolation. Most people in prison don’t have life sentences. They’re going to be released at some point or another, and the problem is that throughout their sentence they have lost track of everyone," Hustson said.

Reentering the real world without friends of loved ones can cause former inmates to act out once again, Huston added in his chat with Smashd. "At that point it’s very easy to re­offend and go back to the same thing you were doing before. Whatever it may be to make money to take care of yourself because you don’t have a support system. When you’re released, you don’t have anything."

​ATTN: recently interviewed Tyrone Hood, a man who spent more than 20 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit. Hood has struggled immensely to adapt to the outside world after being released. 

"[S]ome of the technology has changed at least 96 percent, so I’ve gotta learn from scratch," Hood told ATTN:, divulging that he has issues with the process of "[s]etting up doctor’s appointments, going to these appointments, transportation, do I have enough information to give these people when I get there?"

Never mind the struggles with seeking employment, even shopping for clothes is hard for Hood because of prison. 

"I don’t even know how to go out to the store and buy clothes that match, my niece has to show me that. I don’t even know how to pump gas, or pay a bill, or use the cell phone, or the Internet."

Prisoners who get into trouble for various reasons are often subjected to solitary confinement, which has proven to be extremely psychologically taxing and harmful. Attorney General Eric Holder pointed this out in a video message posted last year:

"Across the country, far too many juvenile detention centers see isolation and solitary confinement as an appropriate way to handle challenging youth. But solitary confinement can be dangerous and a serious impediment to the ability of juveniles to succeed once released," Holder said.

Hopefully more interaction with loved ones will result in better behavior in prison and out when some of these folks are finally free.

To learn about companies that are not like Pigeonly and instead try to take advantage of prisoners, check out this video:

How Corporations Are Getting Rich Off of Prisoners

How Corporations Are Getting Rich Off of Prisoners To learn more about private prisons, click here: http://bit.ly/1GHqv0ULike ATTN: on Facebook for more videos like these.

Posted by ATTN: on Friday, March 20, 2015