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These two founders are breaking the prison industrial complex one letter at a time

Uzoma Orchingwa and Gabe Saruhashi, the cofounders of Ameelio, are bringing better, cheaper communications services to people in prison.

These two founders are breaking the prison industrial complex one letter at a time

Letters and calls from family provide crucial mental health support for the incarcerated, offering hope and alleviating isolation. But prisoners have evolved into a profit center for telecommunications companies, which sell lower-quality, high-cost services—$1 per text message!—to penitentiaries. To combat these exploitative rates, Uzoma Orchingwa and Gabe Saruhashi launched Ameelio in early 2020, when Orchingwa was a grad student at Yale, and Saruhashi as a current student. Their service lets family members write messages in Ameelio’s mobile app and transforms them into physical letters. Ameelio has helped connect more than 223,000 users and their incarcerated loved ones, who are sending more than 100,000 letters and postcards per month. The nonprofit, which was inspired by Orchingwa’s personal difficulty keeping in touch with incarcerated friends, is now expanding, offering a free videoconferencing service. Partner jails offer Ameelio software on whatever camera-based hardware they have (or Orchingwa and Saruhashi will sell them Samsung tablets) in order to provide these critical resources prisoners need “to start charting a path to success,” says Saruhashi. Ameelio is also building online education and mental health tools into its service, along with the ability to register incarcerated voters. “We don’t want to have two separate societies,” says Orchingwa, “one that’s completely locked up and doesn’t have access to technology and the resources to help rebuild their lives.”

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About the author

Diana is an assistant editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. Previously, she was an editor at Vice and an editorial assistant at Entrepreneur

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