Marcus Bullock credits one thing above all else for helping him survive eight years in a maximum-security prison: the letters, notes of encouragement and photos he received from his mom. Rev. Sylvia Bullock sent her son a message every day during his incarceration, which came after he was convicted of a carjacking when he was just 15 years old.
It meant the world — literally.
“I was able to see the world through my mother’s lens, giving me a clearer vision as to what my life would look like after prison,” says Marcus. “That simple gesture of love saved my life.”
In the age of instant communication via email, text messages, and social media, there is still no easy way to send messages to the incarcerated population, which totals more than 2 million people in the U.S. However, Marcus is changing that with his newly developed mobile app, Flikshop, which makes sending a postcard with a note or photo to an incarcerated individual as easy as a few simple taps on a smartphone screen.
Now, Stand Together is partnering with Flikshop and Prison Fellowship to help Marcus further his mission of connecting people inside and outside of prison and is providing funding for 20,000 individual postcards and granting free access to the Flikshop service for families of those with loved ones behind bars. It’s a strategic alliance that makes sense: Stand Together is a staunch proponent of criminal justice reform — as part of its mission, Stand Together works to ensure that the incarceration experience encompasses rehabilitation and that incarcerated individuals are provided an opportunity for a second chance, once released in good standing.
“Now, more than ever,” says Stand Together advocate Alice Marie Johnson, a prominent voice for criminal justice reform who was serving a life sentence before her 2018 commutation, “the work to connect loved ones inside prison and those in the community is vital to individuals keeping their faith that they will be reunited with their families and communities once again.”
The timing of the new partnership is fortuitous, with Father’s Day this past weekend and many families unable to visit their incarcerated loved ones due to coronavirus restrictions. Even absent the COVID-19 pandemic, holidays such as Father’s Day are a melancholy time for the prison population, according to Prison Fellowship President and CEO James Ackerman, who leads the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families.
“We constantly hear from thousands of men and women across the country,” says Ackerman, “about how keeping in touch with their loved ones is so critical in their personal and spiritual growth while behind bars.”
Flikshop has become the “Instagram of incarceration.” The app currently partners with more than 2,200 prison facilities in all 50 states and has delivered more than 500,000 messages. Marcus, now 38 years old and CEO and Founder of the organization, thinks it can do more than just provide connection and comfort for people while they are incarcerated. The notes, photos, and captured moments of life on the outside can help prepare them for their post-release life. And his example, as someone who was incarcerated and then built his own business dedicated to helping others readjust to life after prison, offers a model that’s just as important as the app he created.
“We aren’t focused on preparing our men and women that are coming home from prison to be able to face the world, and so [Flikshop is] doing it in a very interesting and scalable way with our technology,” Marcus recently told Prison Fellowship. “We can reduce recidivism, but it’s going to take leadership of people that have been through it, that have done it successfully, for us to actually see it come into fruition.”
In the coming weeks, Stand Together, Prison Fellowship, and Flikshop will be sharing stories about how the free postcards delivered through Flikshop have helped to keep families connected.
Photo credit: Flikshop
Photo description: Flikshop CEO Marcus Bullock speaks to the Washington, D.C., Department of Corrections