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Early one May morning, Renea Royster arrived at her son’s apartment, pulled out her laptop, and scrolled through the dozens of messages from prisoners that had collected in her inbox overnight.She began her daily grind of copy-paste — moving messages sent via Corr Links, an email service available to federal inmates, to the Facebook pages they had paid her to create in their names.She also sells “compound pictures,” print-outs of scantily-clad women, for 55 cents each, to men who sell them inside for a mark-up.Other businesses, like Inmatefone and Phone Donkey, sell forwarding numbers so prisoners can avoid long-distance charges.
Renea has become part of a network of small businesses that help prisoners keep in touch with these pen pals, in addition to friends and family on the outside.
She exchanges favors with Pigeonly and Infolincs — two start-ups founded by former prisoners that allow people on the outside to upload pictures and text with their phones, and then print and send those images to loved ones inside.
She has coined her operation “Bridging the Gap.” It began more simply as awebsite and Facebook group soliciting pen pals for prisoners who submit a picture, a bio, and a fee.
Such sites have existed since the 1990s, and there are now nearly 50, in addition to dozens of Facebook and Yahoo groups that together boast more than 100,000 free-worlders looking for incarcerated people to write.
To help get the word out about her businesses, Renea has cultivated a network of prisoners who hand out her flower-laced business cards and post her bright pink flyers (“Ask about our Monthly Specials! She recently made roughly ,500 in two weeks, a solid bump up from her last job at a Walmart deli.
She’ll be your personal assistant — one man had her research Medieval England so he could write a novel set there — for $125 a month.