15-year-old Jay’ Aina Patton, with the help of her father, is changing the way that children communicate with their incarcerated parents.
At just age three, Patton’s father, Antoine, was incarcerated for gun possession. Considering the fact that he was imprisoned hours away and her mother was left to raise two children, Patton only got to visit him twice during his seven-year incarceration. With phone calls being 72 cents per 15-minute, calls were not always a priority in the family’s budget. She sent letters to her father, though infrequently. From then on, Patton understood that the prison communication system was flawed.
Antoine also shared in his daughter’s frustration from prison.
“I remember thinking, ‘This could be better,'” he revealed, in an interview with Teen Vogue.
Antoine enrolled in the Bard Prison Initiative, a program that provides free college courses in New York prisons. Initially, Antoine was not interested in the tech industry. However, after reading up on it, he utilized the prison’s computer lab and computer science manual to teach himself coding. When Antoine was released in 2014, he filed the paperwork for the Photo Patch, his organization that he founded while in prison, which helps children get letters and photos to their incarcerated parents easily. Patton and his team would print, package, and mail out the photos and letters for children, free of charge. Photo Patch uses money from individual donations, grants, and fundraising events to fund its operation.
Jay’ Aina came up with the idea of her father launching an app to go along with her website after she spent hours coding and perfecting it at just 12-years-old. Within three months, the app was complete.
“Everybody’s on their phone. It’s way easier for them to take a picture and type a letter right there,” Jay explained.
Since its creation, the Photo Patch app has been downloaded over 10,000 times. With the coronavirus forcing visitation to be canceled, numbers are rising from a daily average of 50 letters to 75 to 100.
“No matter where the child or parent is, they should always have a bond, a connection, and be able to talk to each other,” reflected Jay’ Aina said. “We know that being able to talk to each other helped our bond a lot. So why not give that same thing for [other] kids and parents?”