I Went Back to Prison and Learned to Believe in the Process
What I experienced as a formerly incarcerated individual my first day in San Quentin for The Last Mile Demo Day
Back to Prison
Being an ex-offender and formerly incarcerated individual who has served a decade of incarceration, one might readily suspect that never in my life would I be anticipating or elated about going back to prison, especially when that trip has always been in handcuffs and shackles. But this was no ordinary trip, and this was no ordinary prison. It was the infamous San Quentin state prison located just outside of San Francisco, California, a 45 minute drive north just over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and situated in an unincorporated town that looks like a seaside resort in Cape Code, with picturesque views of the bay.
I had been anticipating this journey and excited about this experience, since being invited to attend The Last Mile Demo Day by its founders, Chris Redlitz and Beverly Parenti. The Last Mile is a program that was founded by the husband and wife team in and literally began in a prison broom closet. It has expanded into a much larger space over the last 5 years. Where a former printing shop was situated it will be fully converted into a state-of-the art technology facility where inmates will participate in the program and learn to code — with no access to the internet.
Coding for Corrections
TLM began as an entrepreneurship program and has since evolved into Code.7370, a coding program.
Then there’s TLM Works, an aspect of TLM that pairs TLM graduates with outside companies to do web development.
The Early Beginnings
There were 5 inmates who are founding members, being the very first graduates of TLM when it was only and entrepreneurship program. Today, 3 of the 5 have been released, another will be released this year and the last has some time left to finish his sentence. TLM’s most public and vocal graduate of those first 5 is Christifino Leal, simply known as Kenyatta. As TLM’s unofficial spokesperson, he’s a shining example and the epitome of what TLM has the ability to do and he represents the evidence of its transformative power flawlessly. Kenyatta’s personal journey from living a criminal lifestyle and being incarcerated for life at San Quentin, to graduating TLM and a fortuitous release, is nothing short of a miracle. He has been featured via numerous media outlets from Forbes, Tech Crunch and CNBC.
TLM has evolved over the 5 years it’s been active.
As you can imagine San Quentin houses some of the most infamous offenders of the most notorious crimes in history. A lot of concrete and steel bars, gangs and violence.
TLM has tapped the root of prison reform and prisoner rehabilitation and is a solution for human transformation, and evidence of the ability of human potential when given opportunity and the necessary support.
Unconventional as it may seem to be, it works!
This year TLM entered a partnership with SiriusXM to create TLM Radio and run some shows to gauge the audience receptiveness to the sharing of the many success stories of TLM’s students and graduates, all inmates who are currently and formerly incarcerated. It was a huge success and the show was slated for a longer run. SiriusXM’s own Sway Calloway is a host of TLM Radio as well as on the Advisory Board of TLM.
My trip to San Quentin was nothing short of a spiritual experience. I was emotionally moved as I sat in the audience and learned of all the progress TLM has made over the years from where it first started. I was brought to tears as I listened to the personal stories and transformation of the TLM graduates. I was proud and elated for each one of them and their successful journeys toward rehabilitation and redemption. I was amazed by the effectiveness of the program but more touched by the individuals who brought it to fruition and are dedicated to making it thrive. To see the prison administration from the warden to and faculty support TLM was extraordinary. Never had I witnessed such an innovative and rehabilitative program during my own imprisonment. I spent most of my decade of incarceration in federal prison, and in all that time I had never seen any program remotely close to what TLM is in San Quentin. I was in total awe, beyond what words could express. All I could do was thank Chris and Beverly for such a moving experience. I decided that day to support and assist TLM in every way that I could. After the day was over and it was time to leave, as I walked toward an area to await an escort out of San Quentin, something caught my eye. On the wall was painted the TLM mantra, ‘Believe in the Process’. I believe!
I’m elated to share that I am now an official TLM brand ambassador and look forward to being a part of the TLM team, and assisting in continuing their great work in 2018.