Six years ago, when Terrye Cheatham’s brother-in-law was sent to jail, Cheatham was eager to express her sympathy.
“I really felt sorry for him because he spent his birthday behind bars,” Cheatham recalls. “A relative of mine asked me to send him a birthday card.”
While she rifled through cards at the greeting card store, Cheatham could not find an appropriate card for someone who was in custody. “I saw birthday cards, spiritual cards, and anniversary cards–but I didn’t find an appropriate card for someone who was spending their birthday behind bars.”
Cheatham, a civil rights and employment lawyer, immediately saw a marketing niche for a population that remains largely invisible. “Several years ago, I was working as a legal advisor for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and every day, huge bags of mail arrived for the inmates. Even then I had started thinking about greeting cards for the incarcerated since I had never seen one.”
Sensing an untapped need, Cheatham began writing verses for greeting cards on her computer. “I did it for years before I took steps to launch the business,” Cheatham admitted. But she knew she had hit on a unique idea: “The prison population has grown so large, it’s created a tremendous market for the cards,” she observed.
Utilizing about $50,000 in start-up costs, Cheatham launched Three Squares Greetings in June 2007 at the Leimert Park Book Fair. She hired a graphic artist, a consultant, a web designer, and a printer to design the unique greeting card line. “I wanted to create an array of greeting cards for birthdays, holidays, and other events for those who just can’t come home,” she said.
“I realized that it’s been impossible to find greeting cards to express difficult, sensitive, and sometimes mixed feelings to loved ones and friends who find themselves entrenched in the criminal justice system,” said Cheatham, who added that the greeting cards are for parents, children, and friends of the incarcerated.
Although the cards can be purchased on her website, Cheatham hopes to sell the cards to prisons and jails across the country.
As for the greetings, Cheatham says she hopes the cards impart messages of cheer and encouragement. “The cards carry greetings such as, ‘You may be behind walls, but we are still family and that will never change,’ ‘Do you have any idea how many people care about you?’ ‘If it weren’t for those walls, I’d give you lots of hugs and kisses,’ and ‘We are all praying for you while you do your time–don’t forget to pray for yourself–God will hear you.’ Other greetings include, ‘Sorry to hear about your arrest,’ ‘You’re in my prayers’ and ‘I put money on your books.’”
“I think the cards make it easy for buyers to express sentiments that are not easy to express,” said Cheatham. “The cards are designed to keep inmates in touch with family and friends.”
Cheatham, whose company motto is ‘Three Squares Greetings–for those who can’t come home,’ said that the response to the cards has been tremendous. “A prison chaplain in Florida told me he loved the cards,” she recalls.
And Cheatham is already expanding her greeting card line. “I’m releasing a line of cards just in time for Father’s Day,” she revealed.