About a week after his 15th birthday, Marcus Bullock was sentenced to eight years in a maximum security prison. As the weight of this reality set in, Bullocks’ mother promised to write to him to lift his spirits and continue a connection to her young teenage son’s life outside prison walls.
“I told her, don’t come visit me anymore. I’m not going to call you, don’t write to me, just start grieving now because I’m not going to make it out. It’s just not realistic,” Bullock recalls about the hopelessness he felt. “She came to visit me that very next weekend and said ‘Boy, you lost your mind if you think I’m going to let you go to prison culture.’ She made me a promise on that visit that she was gonna write me a letter, or send me a picture every day from that day forward for the remaining six years of my prison sentence.”
Inspired by the hope these letters and photos gave to him and others in prison alongside him, Bullock went on to offer that same sense of hope to others. After his release he wanted a way to communicate quickly and affordably with his friends who were still behind bars. D.C.-based Flikshop was soon born out of this simple desire to share life with others, and Bullock, the organization’s CEO, made this new form of communication possible alongside his team.
The concept of Flikshop is simple – through the app or website, upload any photo you wish to share. Then you can write a personalized message, and when you’re done just hit “send postcard,” and your message is sent out on the next business day for 99 cents. If you want to contribute to Flikshop’s efforts, there’s even an option to be a “Flikshop Angel” and purchase a gift card for someone to use to send messages to their incarcerated loved ones.
Though the app started as a way for Bullock to stay connected, it evolved to make a huge nationwide impact, with Flikshop’s postcards now able to be sent to any prison in the country. This level of connectivity also aids in the reduction of recidivism, or a person re-entering the prison system. Recidivism is common in the United States – Bullock notes that 76 percent of former prisoners will end up back behind bars within three years of their initial release.
“Research suggests that family connectivity is the number one contributor to success after prison,” Bullock explains. “We all know that access to opportunity is the number one contributor to success for any of us, right? And so we knew that if we created a tool that allowed for family members, or now even employers or government agencies or housing developers, to be able to connect directly with people who are sitting in cells that are going to come home one day…then we will be able to effectively create a pathway to success for most people at the prison.”
As Flikshop connects more people to friends and family members in prison, even more important in the wake of Covid-19 and many prisons closing visiting rooms due to exposure risks, Bullock and his team are currently embarking on a new opportunity to help them grow. Bullock and Flikshop COO Camille Clark are members of Halcyon Fellowship’s Spring 2020 Cohort, which works to “equip early-stage social entrepreneurs with the support they need to transform audacious ideas into scalable and sustainable ventures, and change the world,” according to Halcyon’s website.
“Halcyon gave us a massive [opportunity]. The fellowship included a bunch of opportunities for us to be able to help build onto the platform that now has become the enterprise platform for us over at Flikshop. So, as we thought about how to connect other businesses and organizations, nonprofits and government agencies back to these resources that help people in prison, leveraging the tutelage and the mentorship that came through the program was incredible,” Bullock says.
To learn more about Flikshop, Bullock’s story and the Halcyon Fellowship, listen to the latest episode of District Fray Radio that includes our full interview with Bullock.
Visit www.flikshop.com to check out the organization in action, send a message to an incarcerated loved one or donate to become a Flikshop Angel.
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