The Last Mile at San Quentin Allows Prisoners to Become Entrepreneurs – Ray’s Ray of Hope
Some of the most dangerous convicts in the California penal system are housed behind the walls of San Quentin State Prison.
Some of the most dangerous, yet some of the most driven to eventually emerge from their incarceration.
Or if not emerge, then certainly to utilize their time behind bars for a productive purpose.
A program that’s been in place for the last few years called The Last Mile taps into the brainpower of these men.
Launched in 2010, The Last Mile is a tech incubator at San Quentin State Prison. Many of the inmates in the program will spend years in prison and some may never leave, but TLM is aimed at helping them find their voice and, for those who do leave, a job.
Like many entrepreneurs, founders Chris Redlitz and his wife, Beverly Parenti, set out to fix a problem.
Parenti said, "In California, we spend more for prisons than for higher education." "The average cost per prisoner per year is $45,000. So when many men leave San Quentin, we have already invested nearly $1 million for their incarceration."
Two nights a week, a select group of inmates gather to learn about technology and innovation. To get into the Last Mile, inmates complete the in-prison college program. They also go through a rigorous application process and must demonstrate the ability to work well in teams. They're mentored by Redlitz and Parenti along with tech entrepreneurs from companies like Quora and LinkedIn who drop by for guest lectures.
Throughout the six-month course, each inmate cultivates a business idea. At the end of the program, they pitch their concepts to venture capitalists and program supporters like M.C. Hammer. Past ideas have ranged from a food distribution startup connecting leftover produce with impoverished communities, to ways to combat obesity in low-income neighborhoods.
Former inmate Kenyatta Leal said, "there's so much more to us than the crimes we committed ... Social media gave us an outlet to speak to who we really are,"
For Leal, who was incarcerated nearly two decades ago when flip phones were the smartest devices on the market, the program has been invaluable.
At The Last Mile, Leal pitched an idea for Coach Potato, an app that would allow fans to call plays during games. Because of his success in the program, Leal left prison with a job many college grads would envy.
He's not the only Last Mile grad to get a job in the startup community. After 17 years in prison, James Houston is interning at payments startup Ribbon. He connected with the company through TLM.
Of the six TLM graduates who have been released, five are either interning or working full-time at tech startups, and the sixth started his own web consulting firm.
For many, the program is viewed as a way back into society.
Lt. Sam Robinson, the public information officer at San Quentin who tracks the progress of participating inmates said, "[The Last Mile is] the light at the end of the tunnel for those guys that are ultimately desiring to exit the prison and become valuable citizens again."
Time is too valuable a commodity to waste, especially if it’s years behind bars with nothing but plenty of it on your hands.
The Last Mile – tonight’s Ray’s Ray of Hope!