Bridging the Opportunity Divide

For These Inmates, Class Is in Session

November 25, 2014
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For These Inmates, Class Is in Session
At San Quentin, inmates who have never used a computer are learning software development and app building. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The program's goal? Creating employment opportunities upon release.

At California’s San Quentin Prison, inmates are intensely concentrating on the project at hand: learning the vast world of computer coding and programming.

That’s right, prison inmates now have the opportunity to learn computer skills and develop a business model that can be used upon their release. According to Fast Co. Exist, inmates are enrolled in Code 7370 for six months, a class brought to San Quentin by the nonprofit The Last Mile that teaches inmates about the world of business and entrepreneurship. The class is very selective, with only 18 of 100 applicants accepted.

Class meets four days a week, for eight hours each day, and during that time, inmates learn the ins-and-outs of Javascript, CSS and HTML. Their three instructors are from the San Francisco boot camp Hack Reactor and teach in-person or virtual lessons twice a week. For the other two days each week, the inmates practice their skills under the watch of Jonathon Gripshover of the California Prison Industry Authority.

The computer lab at the prison is stocked with refurbished computers, which used to belong to state employees and are now being used by the student inmates. However, none of the inmates have Internet access, so all of their work is completed in a custom off-line coding environment.

The most startling aspect of the program, perhaps, is that none of the participants have coding experience and many have never even used a computer before.

Jason Jones is one such example. Even though he has never used a smartphone and only used the internet for browsing, he has the plans for an app called In Touch that would instantly upload a student’s test scores and other information for parents to review in order to be more invested in their child’s education.

Once released, job opportunities for former inmates are very limited, but the hope is that through this training, employers will be open to hiring them.

For Aly Tamboura, Code 7370 gives him something he never had before: a marketable skill that makes him attractive to employers.

“I get these a-ha moments where a concept or certain element of what we’re learning makes sense,” Tamboura tells Fast Co. Exist. “When I get out, I’ll have a marketable skill.”

And that’s the greatest benefit of the program — a chance for a better life.

MORE: How A New York Program is Reframing Prison Education

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