Kai Nip

A cohort of students from the School of Management and Yale College have been collaborating in recent months to establish a startup that helps incarcerated persons and their families remain in touch.

Last Friday, Uzoma Orchingwa SOM ’21 and his team presented their enterprise, Ameelio, to EMERGE Connecticut — a social enterprise that aims to help the formerly incarcerated reenter society — for initial testing. While Orchingwa said the team will likely wait until later this month to launch a Kickstarter campaign for the product, Ameelio’s Director of Communications Adanma Raymond said that the prototype testing has been an encouraging first step.

“The response from testing the prototype was largely positive and very encouraging for us as the team hunkers down to get the app ready to launch,” Raymond said. “It’s validating to know that all this hard work is going to result in real improvements to people’s lives and the experiences of both incarcerated people and their loved ones.”

According to Ameelio’s website, the prison telecommunications system is a duopoly — involving Securus Technologies and Global Tel Link — valued at over $1.2 billion. The startup hopes to disrupt the existing communication framework by introducing a free platform for communicating through what they envision to be similar to Skype but with added security features to cater to the needs of the prison systems they hope to partner with. Orchingwa anticipates launching the letters component of the platform, which would allow users four free letters per month, by June of
this year.

The platform will allow loved ones to locate an incarcerated person in a database and draft a hard copy letter. Ameelio will mail the letter with a pre-stamped envelope so that inmates can respond free of charge.

In addition to addressing the issue of obstacles to communication in the short term, Orchingwa believes that his platform will be able to combat recidivism as it will allow for ongoing engagement and connection with incarcerated persons’ communities.

Gabriel Saruhashi ’21, who works on the technical side of Ameelio, said that his job is to understand the “most painful problems” so he can create a product that best serves that client base. He hopes that the Kickstarter campaign will raise awareness toward the issue of prison communication and build momentum toward further developing Ameelio.

“As we spread the word about Ameelio, we hope to connect with more and more families that are impacted by incarceration and find other folks that are passionate about addressing this long-standing issue,” Saruhashi said.

The project team’s current goal is to successfully launch the letters platform, Saruhashi said. Next steps include focusing on spreading the word about the platform and enrolling families of incarcerated persons.

Saruhashi said that he and the rest of the team are in touch with various organizations relevant to piloting the platform in correctional facilities.

“I’m hopeful that Ameelio will not only serve its primary function as a vessel for hope, friendship and knowledge for incarcerated people, but also that our success will draw attention to the American prison industrial complex and how it exploits and monetizes the challenges of some of society’s most vulnerable groups,” Raymond said.

Americans spend $4 billion per year to stay in touch with incarcerated persons, according to Ameelio.

 

John Besche | john.besche@yale.edu