12 Year Old Girl Creates A Unique App For Children With Incarcerated Parents

A Florida pre-teen designs and builds a mobile app
that allows children to send photos and letters to their incarcerated parents.

Jay Jay built the app that allows children to easily send letters and photos to their parent.

JayJay Patton Photo Credit - Marissa Lewis

In the United States 2.7 million children go to bed knowing their incarcerated parent won’t be in their home in the morning. Because of the stress that accompanies their parents’ absence, many children develop varying levels of separation anxiety or other psychological problems. In the long-term, the disruption associated with parental incarceration will likely adversely affect the quality of the child's attachment to their parent. Children exhibit internalizing problems, such as anxiety, withdrawal, hypervigilance, depression, shame and guilt. The number of parents incarcerated vary from state-to-state; just under 65,000 are housed in Florida facilities alone. In February 2018, “Jay Jay” Patton designed and developed a much needed mobile application, “Photo Patch” to help children maintain healthy relationships with their parents who are serving time in prison. Jay Jay’s software stands for more than most trendy apps; it speaks to her budding passion to advocate for what some are calling the “invisible victims” of incarceration. That is, the youth who are in a similar position she was in when she was torn away from one of the most influential people in her life: her father.

At the age of 3, Jay Jay’s primary means of communicating with her father, Antoine, who was incarcerated in a maximum security New York State Correctional Facility 6 Hours away from her, was by “snail mail”. Snail mail is ordinary U.S. postal mail, lacking the speed, efficiency, and often the personality of modern communication tools like email, social media and text messaging. Because of New York State Correctional policies, U.S. postage remains the primary form of communication for children like Jay Jay to use when attempting to keep in touch with those confined in antiquated prisons.

Jay Jay just wanted to send her dad photos of her report card, her 5th birthday party, her 1st graduation and so on. Luckily for Jay Jay, when her mother Regina found the time, she was willing to help Jay Jay stay in touch with her father throughout their separation. It was hard finding a communication groove. Over a 7 year period, Regina would try her best to guide Jay Jay through the intricacies and regulations of prison correspondence.


Jay Jay and Her Mom, Regina

Jay Jay and Her Mom, Regina Photo: Marissa Lewis

“Even though that experience has come to an end for me, I found out that millions of kids are still going through what I went through. I think it's only right to try to help them, ” stated the honor roll STEM-loving kid.

In 2015, Jay Jay, Antoine (no longer incarcerated) and three other New Yorkers started the charity, Photo Patch Foundation, which has strong resemblances to that of a tech startup. Fusing software and activism, the 501(c)(3) charity created the first ever free and interactive website (www.photopatch.org) that allows children to communicate with their parent. Interestingly enough, Antoine built the first version of the website while still in prison. Children type letters and upload photos and then the charity will physically print, package and send the contents to the incarcerated parent. They have already connected over 1,000 families.

Want To Send Photos and Letters to and Incarcerated Loved One?

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Jay Jay’s father had been teaching her how to code since he was released - she was 10 years old at that point. It was in 2018 that Jay Jay, the “Junior Director” at Photo Patch, decided to build the mobile version. She spent about 2 months building and fine-tuning the mobile app and even added a social wall feature that allows families impacted by incarceration to support each other.

Antoine and Jay Jay doing some coding. Photo - Marissa Lewis & Roberto Guido

Both the website and the Photo Patch app allow the children to easily do a one-time account setup, enter their parent’s address information, and they can then begin uploading photos and typing the letter they'd like sent to their parent. The kids can even send a custom postcard to their parents. Once the child is done with their letter, they simply hit the “Send” button in the Photo Patch app. The Photo Patch team receives the message and completes all the additional work, which includes the tasks of printing, packaging, sealing the content and ensuring the shipment is delivered through the postal mail. What makes this even more unique is the fact that it's all free. The children and parents pay nothing as the charity raises funds online and in the community to cover the cost of the technology and materials.

“I just feel like kids should be able to talk to their parents no matter where they are, ” said Jay Jay

The Photo Patch Foundation is growing into a national nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the massive cycle of intergenerational incarceration through educating the public about the invisible victims of incarceration and empowering the children they serve. Photo Patch has branches in Florida, New York and a budding branch in Los Angeles, California. The charity has an organizational goal that promotes turning these underserved children into the future leaders of the nation through both prevention and intervention programs. The website and mobile app provide a much-needed communication tool/resource that will assist in maintaining, creating and sustaining a healthy relationship with the child and their parent; but Photo Patch as a whole is building a support system for the youth to demystify parental incarceration and any stigmas associated with it.

Following the communication tool, the charity has created other programs and events to empower the children in various ways. Photo Patch offers an “L.I.F.E. Lessons” program (Love, Intellect, and Financial Education) to children and parents as well. The classes cover a multitude of topics that assist in developing all that attend, promoting growth outside of their regular routine of living and thinking. The topics may range from computer programming, credit score management, starting a business, the importance of relationships and more. The mission of each Lesson is to expose the children to something new, interesting, practical and useful; creating countless future opportunities for them to learn and grow.

The charity also hosts “Pop-Ups” which are events that provide an interactive and positive atmosphere where families can enroll their children into a Photo Patch Photoshoot and after taking the photos, children can immediately start the process of communicating with the incarcerated parent. Photo Patch takes the kids to different interesting places (Baseball Games, swim parks, bowling, museums, etc.) and captures photos of them the entire time. The children can then use the app or website to send photos to their mom or dad. While L.I.F.E Lessons are more focused on building character and knowledge, “Pop-Ups!” are fun events in which children impacted by incarceration can create memories, build friendships, visit new places and then instantly share all of this with their parent they wish was there.

“Photo Patch Foundation has been helping my boys stay strong and strive while they go through life with an absent father”, states Fatima, mother of 2 young boys involved in Photo Patch programs.

Photo Patch Foundation has and continues to partner with other nonprofit organizations in South Florida, New York City and in Los Angeles, California. The charity has the hopes that their empowering resource will be used by children in all 50 states in the next 3 years.

Regina, Jay Jay and Antoine

Regina, Jay Jay and Antoine at Jay Jay's birthday party Photo: Kwame McLean / One Touch Photography

Although not the case for everyone, there are a great number of children who want to stay in contact with their incarcerated parents. Many of them still have not sent a letter to their mom or dad yet because of the strict guidelines and multitude of steps needed to send snail mail. Jay Jay’s courage and empathy for others experiencing an all so real struggle of her past has made communicating to prison easier than ever. And what was initially only a web-based service, Photo Patch is now available for Android and iOS devices. Photo Patch Foundation offers this free tool to any youth in the U.S. looking to communicate with their incarcerated parents. The families of the children in need of the charity’s services are encouraged to sign up their child or children by visiting www.photopatch.org or by downloading the Photo Patch app from the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store. The charity is also asking for your help with partnering with them to help the youth impacted by incarceration by supporting their GoFundMe campaign. Funds will be used to reach more impacted children, implement more programs, and provide more resources to the children they serve. Go to our How to Help Page.

Want To Send Photos and Letters to and Incarcerated Loved One?

Click to start sending photos,
postcards and more today!

Or just search for "Photo Patch"!


Video Links

Informational Video about Jay Jay building the App:

How to Use the Mobile App:

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