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Greeting cards target captive audience

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  • New series of greeting cards is geared toward prison inmates
  • Study shows the U.S. prison and jail population is rapidly growing
  • Card creator is selling her cards online and through stores
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By Saeed Ahmed
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(CNN) -- Ever find yourself struggling to craft the perfect sentence for a loved one who's, um, serving a sentence? Now, you have a friend in the greeting card business.

Terrye Cheathem has created a line of greeting cards geared toward prison inmates.

A Los Angeles, California, lawyer has come up with a series of cards geared toward prison inmates, a rapidly growing segment of the U.S. population.

Some express simple good wishes: "We are all praying for you while you do your time."

Others celebrate holidays: "You had the choice to be 'naughty or nice.' And you chose ... Now you have to do your time. But, Christmas won't be the same without you here."

Others dole out tough love: "When you called last time, I was not very sympathetic. I guess that I have heard your promises to change too many times. Please - stop promising to change. Just do it."

Creator Terrye Cheathem said the cards let family members say "Look, things need to be different when you get out."

She came up with the idea a few years ago while looking -- without success -- for a birthday card to send her brother-in-law, who was serving an 11-month sentence.

"There are so many people who have mixed feelings about communicating with their loved ones in prison," Cheathem said Thursday. "They are unhappy, oftentimes profoundly embarrassed. People don't know what to say."

So she created Three Squares Greetings to capture the sentiments for a captive audience -- one that seems to be getting larger each year.

More than 2.3 million people were in jails or prisons in the United States at the beginning of 2008, according to a study released last month by the Pew Center on the States. The center is a private organization that advocates for alternative programs to alleviate prison populations.

For the first time in the nation's history, the center says, more than one in 100 Americans are behind bars, a higher proportion than any other country.

Cheathem is selling her cards online and through stores. She also wants jails and prisons to carry cards designed for inmates to send their relatives.

"They're 'Thank You' cards," she said. " 'Thank you for visiting,' 'Thank you for bringing the kids,' 'Thank you for coming to court.' "

Like many, bookstore owner James Fugate was at first reluctant to carry the line in his Los Angeles shop, Esowon Books.

"I have some issues of being nice to criminals," Fugate said. "And in my 20 years in business, I've seen some relatives who don't seem to realize the gravity of what (their family members) have done."

Fugate said he changed his mind when he realized that most of the cards carried messages asking inmates to turn their lives around.

Cheathem understands the hesitation of shoppers and sellers.

"I can't think of any other product that anyone wants to receive and certainly no one wants to be in the position to buy one," she said. "But there is a need for this."

Cheathem points to Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick of Detroit, Michigan. He was charged this week with perjury, obstruction of justice and misconduct of office. He was released on a $75,000 bond.

"I have a card that says, 'I'm sorry to hear about your arrest,' " she said. "Right now , there are probably 50 people or more who would send it to him." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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