The Last Mile throws out the window what a tech accelerator is supposed to look like. This six-month entrepreneurship program at San Quentin correctional facility has generated a groundswell of support for criminal justice across America.
It transitions groups of inmates into self-empowered, technically savvy, kick-ass entrepreneurs and community members.(Image: The Last Mile)
Beverly Parenti is the executive director of The Last Mile. Through careful vetting, inmates incarcerated for a long time and within three years of their release date are eligible for the program. Keep in mind—many of these men have never used a smartphone or had internet access. Without familiarity of our “connected world,” they may return to a life of crime just to survive.
Through the use of The Last Mile Tech Accelerator program, these men develop a skill set to participate in technology jobs outside of the prison setting and develop skills they can sell in the real world.
Breaking the Cycle of Incarceration
To understand the profound impact of the project, you need to know that the rate of re-incarceration is 60%.
Creating an opportunity to choose a different path other than crime breaks the generational cycle. The Last Mile distills down to the prisoners who’ve proven they can walk the road to success. Parenti says, “We look at the results of the testing and then we actually have personal interviews. So we have a pretty intense screening process.”
Multilevel Programs Designed to Give Back
There are two tracks for the accelerator program, one for familiarization with technology and the second (Code 7370) to advance them into coding with front-end engineering skills. Since the prison has no internet connectivity, they use a proprietary program by The Last Mile to simulate live coding. Those that really make the effort work with communities in need and offer services to the inner city and underserved areas; using their education to earn a living.
An example of this is the launch of the Teen Tech Hub, an idea of one of the graduates of The Last Mile entrepreneurship program. This after-school program is designed for the youth in the community to come in and learn coding skills.
Working with Inner and Outside Community Support
The Last Mile has a joint venture company called Reboot SQ. If the inmates commit, pass the technical assessment, and graduate from two codes of the program, they become candidates and have a chance to “pitch” their entrepreneurial ideas.
While the programs have started with the male prison inmates, an important part of their strategy is to expand them into the female prisons.
Ensuring that they have the right candidates is a priority. These are the people ready not only to change their lives, but also the lives of those around them.
“The Last Mile has had a major impact on me because I will say that giving back makes me feel whole. When I see the effect of our work on families and on the men….and who they’ve become and how they’ve evolved and how much impact my husband and I have had on their life; it makes me very proud,” says Parenti.
Addressing the question from those that think these programs are too good for inmates, Parenti answers back, “It’s pretty simple. A lot of inmates are going to be released from prison, and I ask, who do you want them to be?”