Two weeks after being released from a California state prison where he spent nearly two decades, 45-year-old Kenyatta Leal was immersed in technology at a San Francisco startup.
Leal had a full-time paid internship at RocketSpace, a tech accelerator that rents space and provides services to startups.
The former inmate credits his employment to The Last Mile, a nonprofit that introduces inmates to business, entrepreneurship and technology, and helps them transition to the world outside prison walls. Nationwide, community college districts have often taken the lead with inmate tech training that has included technology classes. The Last Mile is among the more specialized volunteer efforts.
Inmates enrolled in The Last Mile program at San Quentin prison in California listen to tech entrepreneurs give practical instruction. The Last Mile View Enlarged Image
The Last Mile program "changed the trajectory of my life," Leal said.
Leal walked out of San Quentin, a prison overlooking northern San Francisco Bay, in July. Under California's "three strikes" law, he had served 19 years of a 25-to-life sentence on a weapons possession charge.
Within an hour of his release, Leal says, he was on the phone with RocketSpace founder Duncan Logan.
The two met earlier when Logan came to San Quentin as part of The Last Mile program. The two hit it off, and Logan promised Leal he would have a place at RocketSpace when he was released.
Logan kept his word. The internship was followed by a November job offer and a February promotion to team leader of campus services.
The nonprofit program was invaluable to his understanding of technology, Leal says.
"The single most important thing The Last Mile taught me about technology was how quickly technology enables us to gather information and how we can leverage it in business," Leal said.
Although inmates don't have Internet access, The Last Mile shows them how to tweet, write blogs and use social media. Volunteers transcribe inmates' tweets and post them, often uploading them to the online question-and-answer site Quora, and printing out the responses issued by Quora users.
Being on Quora, even though not in real-time, opens up a new world for inmates, says Silicon Valley venture capitalist Chris Redlitz of Transmedia Capital. Redlitz co-founded The Last Mile with his wife, tech entrepreneur Beverly Parenti.
"It's given the guys a global audience to communicate to and get feedback from," Redlitz said. "It's been very inspirational to the inmates and people on the outside."
The Last Mile works with 30 inmates in San Quentin and in Los Angeles County's Twin Towers jails, part of that county's 22,000-bed jail system. Inmates in the San Quentin program take classes 2.5 hours a week for six months, and the LA program is similar.
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