The Last Mile at San Quentin breaks the cycle of incarceration

San Quentin aims to prepare offenders for life after prison

San Quentin aims to prepare offenders for life after prison

A Code.7370 class at San Quentin State Prison in California (California Dept. of Corrections/Twitter)

When it comes to places where you might find tech innovation, you might think of places like Silicon Valley, or even the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto.

Penitentiaries might be, well, somewhat further down the list.

But over the last few years at Spark, we've done a number of stories about the surprising initiatives at one in particular: San Quentin State Prison, in Marin County, California.

The facility has developed a reputation for innovative programs that prepare prisoners for technology careers once they've served their time.

One of the earliest programs at San Quentin was called "The Last Mile."

In 2011, venture capitalists Chris Redlitz and Beverly Parenti launched the program at San Quentin. The goal is for participants to get employment in a paid internship program in Silicon Valley.

The husband-and-wife team created a way to give people in prison business and entrepreneurial training. And in particular, teach them how the tech world functions. And then they managed to persuade prison officials to let them launch the program.

One of the first men in the program was Chrisfino Kenyatta Leal.

Leal spent nearly 19 years in the California prison system for possession of a firearm under California's Three Strikes Law. After resentencing, he was released from prison in 2013 and has become one of the program's biggest success stories.

When our interview with Redlitz and Leal first aired back in 2014, Leal was working as Team Leader of Campus Services at RocketSpace. He now works full time for the Last Mile.

So far the recidivism rate for The Last Mile is zero. Not one graduate of the Last Mile program has returned to prison.

Shortly after our interview about The Last Mile, they added another component to the program—Code.7370, a full time computer programming course at San Quentin.

Shawn Drost is the co-founder of Hack Reactor, a coding academy in San Francisco. They partnered with the Last Mile to offer the coding course at San Quentin.

The course at San Quentin has to deal with teaching a coding course to students who have restrictions on the technology they can access in prison.

One of the graduates of the program is is Aly Tamboura. In 2014, Aly was a member of the first group selected for Code.7370.
Aly Tamboura (LinkedIn)

Tamboura had worked for the San Quentin Newspaper. He was also an alumnus of the Last Mile program and a graduate of the Prison University Project.

Following his release he got a job almost immediately. Today Aly works for The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropic organization run by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. He's focusing on the area of criminal justice.

Speaking to Spark host Nora Young this month, Tamboura explained how instrumental the Last Mile and Code.7370 program had been in helping him get work after his release.

"Without the coding skills, I don't think I would have ever have even gotten the initial interview," he said.

He also said there are ways to broaden programs like those he was involved in at San Quentin, to better prepare not just those still in prison, but also those who have been released.

"We have to expand opportunities to formerly incarcerated people, and I also think that as a society we need to change the narrative around what it means for someone to get in trouble and go through our criminal legal system."


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