GOOD

This Startup is Taking On Prison’s Other Form of Isolation

Fredrick Hutson's Pigeonly helps connect the incarcerated with the outside world.

Photo courtesy of Reuters/Lucy Nicholoson

Frederick Hutson was always entrepreneurial. As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, he did odd jobs for neighbors, and after receiving an honorable discharge from the Air Force, he bought and sold a series of small businesses. When an old friend told Hutson about a marijuana smuggling business he was involved with, Hutson thought he saw a smarter way of running the operation. As he told The New York Times, it seemed like a way to make enough to start a few legitimate companies. He shipped the drugs through his Las Vegas mail store using DHL, UPS, and FedEx—netting upwards of $500,000 a year—until 10 Drug Enforcement Agency officers showed up with guns drawn. He was sentenced to 51 months in prison. Hutson was 24.


Hutson became part of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in the U.S. He felt the isolation personally, but also began to notice how that isolation made it difficult for fellow inmates to rebuild their lives on the outside, once they were released. According to David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, successful reentry to society is linked to how well an inmate keeps in touch with the outside world while incarcerated.

But doing so isn’t easy. Snapshots sent to offer a physical memento of home are likely to be confiscated. Long-distance collect calls are expensive for families on the outside. These simple realities set up barriers to prisoners’ basic ability to communicate with loved ones.

But Hutson saw these hurdles, and the prisoners dealing with them, as an untapped and, quite literally, captive market.

When Hutson was released into a halfway house in March 2012, he began working on the first version of Pigeonly, an online platform that lets friends and relatives of people in prison search for their loved ones in the first centralized national database of the incarcerated. From there, users can upload photos and have them sent through the postal service for a flat 50-cent-per-print fee.

photo courtesy of Frederick Hutson

Hutson received help with Pigeonly’s business model from San Francisco accelerator NewME, which works with entrepreneurs in underrepresented demographics in technology. Seed funders included Lotus creator Mitch Kapor.

Although the obvious stigma that comes with being a felon proved to be a roadblock with some potential investors and partners, with others, sharing his personal story proved Hutson really knew the system, and perhaps most importantly, the needs of prisoners. He had domain experience. And while Pigeonly stood to be beneficial to both the incarcerated and their families, it also seemed likely to be quite profitable.

Last December, Pigeonly also launched its phone service, Telepigeon, which taps internet phone service providers to circumvent the usual long distance collect calls (and charges). Doing so can reduce prisoner phone costs from 23 cents to only 6 cents per minute.

Every year, on average, inmates are allowed $300 for the prison commissary, and their families spend about $600 on each prisoner. Hutson figures that if 10 percent of the prisoners he markets to tell their loved ones about Pigeonly, and they send 10 photos a month, that—combined with phone service—could be bringing in $22 million in annual revenue within three years.

Next for the business is a venture aimed at inmates scheduled for release, helping them get cell phones, set up bank accounts, and find employment. It will build upon the relationships Pigeonly has already created with the prisoners while they served their time, and in the long run, the company hopes, even help reduce recidivism.

Articles
via Douglas Muth / Flickr

Sin City is doing something good for its less fortunate citizens as well as those who've broken the law this month. The city of Las Vegas, Nevada will drop any parking ticket fines for those who make a donation to a local food bank.

A parking ticket can cost up to $100 in Las Vegas but the whole thing can be forgiven by bringing in non-perishable food items of equal or greater value to the Parking Services Offices at 500 S. Main Street through December 16.

The program is designed to help the less fortunate during the holidays.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Truthout.org / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
Photo by HAL9001 on Unsplash

The U.K. is trying to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but aviation may become the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.K. by that same year. A new study commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and conducted at the Imperial College London says that in order for the U.K. to reach its target, aviation can only see a 25% increase, and they've got a very specific recommendation on how to fix it: Curb frequent flyer programs.

Currently, air travel accounts for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, however that number is projected to increase for several reasons. There's a growing demand for air travel, yet it's harder to decarbonize aviation. Electric cars are becoming more common. Electric planes, not so much. If things keep on going the way they are, flights in the U.K. should increase by 50%.

Nearly every airline in the world has a frequent flyer program. The programs offer perks, including free flights, if customers get a certain amount of points. According to the study, 70% of all flights from the U.K. are taken by 15% of the population, with many people taking additional (and arguably unnecessary) flights to "maintain their privileged traveler status."

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet