Flipbooks Help Prisoners Stay Connected To Their Loved Ones : All Tech Considered For people in prison, rules limiting access to technology make seeing video of their kids' first steps difficult. But a Colorado woman is using a 19th century solution for this 21st century problem.

Flipbooks Help Prisoners Stay Connected To Their Loved Ones

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Many of us now rely on smartphone videos and video chats to share special moments - a baby's first steps, a graduation - with family and friends who are far away. People in prison usually can't take part in that because of rules limiting access to the Internet and cameras. From Colorado Springs, reporter Noel Black has the story of an artist with a solution.

NOEL BLACK, BYLINE: Like many proud parents, Nicole Garrens captured her son, Zander's, first steps on her cellphone. She wanted to share the video with her husband, Roy, but Roy recently went to prison in Texas.

NICOLE GARRENS: The last time he saw him, he was between 5 and 6 months. And, you know, he was crawling and kind of standing up, holding on to things. But, you know, when a baby starts to walk, it's one of their biggest milestones, and it breaks my heart to know what he's missing.

BLACK: Nicole moved to Florida after Roy was incarcerated so she could be near her family, but she wanted to figure out a way for her husband to see the video.

GARRENS: You know, pictures can only say so much. They're still pictures.

BLACK: While almost anyone with a smartphone can send or receive short videos these days, prisoners still have little access to technology. So Nicole went looking online for a creative solution. She found flipbooked.com, a small company that turns short videos into flip books. The company's founder is Colorado Springs artist Liza Tudor. For her, this 19th-century technology was the perfect solution to a 21st-century problem. Tudor's ex-boyfriend had gone to prison, and she wanted to send him a video.

LIZA TUDOR: We had a dog that we'd gotten together, and she was getting really old. Her name was Nala, and she was, like, almost 13, and I was worried she was going to die soon, which she did. So I took a video of her giving me some kisses.

BLACK: Before long, Liza had written her own software to turn short videos into flip books.

TUDOR: I've programmed to break it into frames and essentially lay it out in a contact sheet.

BLACK: Think of a sheet of stamps.

TUDOR: This stuff is really great.

BLACK: She prints the images out, tears the paper along the perforations, stacks them by number and...

TUDOR: There we go. So here's the whole book.

BLACK: When Tudor sends flip books to prisoners, she just sends the printout in an envelope. The prisoners assemble the books themselves.


COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: I have a prepaid call from...


COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: ...An inmate at the Colorado Correctional Facility.

BLACK: Tudor's ex-boyfriend, Nick Wells, has been at the Limon Correctional Facility in eastern Colorado since 2011. He remembers when he got that first flip book three years ago.

WELLS: You know, the next thing you know, I'm in my cell. I get mail. And I saw my dog running around, acting crazy, and it just - it made me laugh. It brought the biggest smile to my face.

BLACK: Tudor also sent him a flip book of his young nephew.

WELLS: Being able to see him walk for the first time was just heartbreaking, at the same time, like, overwhelming sense of joy. And so I get to be a part of that. When you look back at your life, those are the moments, these little, tiny things, you know.

BLACK: And those tiny moments aren't just about toddlers. Lori Kuhn lives in Los Angeles. She turned to Flip Booked with a video of her godson tying his tie for the first time.

LORI KUHN: There are many milestones, and learning to tie your first tie is something typically that your father teaches you.

BLACK: Her godson's dad, Wayne Boatwright, is currently serving a seven-year sentence in San Quentin. He was blown away.

KUHN: It's beautiful. It's heartbreaking. I can't even put in words. I'm glad I was there to capture it and share it with Wayne.

BLACK: Even if it becomes easier to send personal videos directly to prisoners, Flip Booked users say there's something magic about being able to hold a little bit of time in your hands. For NPR News, I'm Noel Black in Colorado Springs.

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