California inmates learn tech from Silicon Valley pros
SAN QUENTIN, Calif. — The budding entrepreneurs wear blue sweatpants labeled “prisoner” and huge, flapping blue shirts. Their doors are triple locked, and lunch is a stale peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Complicating matters, participants in this growing Silicon Valley startup incubator are barred from the Internet.
Nonetheless, the program, started by successful tech entrepreneurs for inmates north of San Francisco in the decaying San Quentin State Prison, has expanded, and a new session began last month in the gritty, downtown Los Angeles Twin Towers Correctional Facility.
The reason they're growing is simple: Graduates, now trickling out of the penal system, are landing real jobs at real dot-coms.
The rigorous, six-month training teaches carefully selected inmates the ins and outs of designing and launching technology firms, using local experts as volunteer instructors.
“We believe that when incarcerated people are released into the world, they need the tools to function in today's high-tech, wired world,” said co-founder Beverly Parenti, who with her husband, Chris Redlitz, has started thriving companies, including AdAuction, the first online media exchange.
The pair were Silicon Valley pioneers in the 1990s, and they tap their many high-level connections to help with the prison program. They started the program after Redlitz was invited into San Quentin in 2011 for a guest lecture and was overwhelmed by the inmates' desire to learn.
“I figured, ‘We work with young entrepreneurs every day. Why not here?' ” he said.
After discussions with prison administrators, Parenti and Redlitz decided to add a prison-based firm to their portfolio, naming it for the precarious journey from prison to home: The Last Mile.
Now during twice-a-week evening lessons, students — many locked up before smartphones or Google existed — practice tweeting, brainstorm new companies and discuss business books assigned as homework. Banned from the Internet to prevent networking with other criminals, they take notes on keyboard-like word processors or with pencil on paper.
The program is still “bootstrapping,” as its organizers say, with just 12 graduates in its first two years and a few dozen in classes in San Quentin and Twin Towers. But the five graduates released so far are working in the tech sector.
They are guaranteed paid internships if they can finish the rigorous training program, which requires prerequisite courses, proven social skills and a lifetime oath to lead by positive example.
“This program will go a long way to not only providing these guys with jobs, but it is my hope that they hire people like them who have changed their lives and are now ready to contribute to society, pay taxes, follow the law, support their families,” said Matthew Cate, the former California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation director who approved the training course. “All those things contribute to the economy.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Young adults drive home rental trend in Western Pennsylvania
- UPMC to help China build private medical center to boost public care there
- Government approves compromise on Corbett’s alternative Medicaid plan
- Auto market booming, but longer loan terms cause concern
- Customers anxious for details about Highmark transition plan for W. Pa.
- Abercrombie name to shrink from clothing
- JPMorgan boosts defenses against mounting cyberattacks
- Twitch.tv online network reveals value of video gaming market
- Banks’ earnings up 5.2% in 2Q
- Housing contracts rise as mortgage rates fall
- USDA updates dairy insurance program