San Quentin is the oldest, and as the press likes to say, most notorious prison in California. It is also one of the most progressive prisons thanks to the over 70 volunteer programs currently operating at the facility. These programs are organized and funded by private citizens, and provide inmates the opportunity to earn a college degree, receive counseling and spiritual support, and obtain job skills.
Recently a new program called The Last Mile was started at San Quentin to help prepare inmates to start their own business after release. While other entrepreneur programs, such as the Prison Entrepreneurship Project, have similar goals, the Last Mile program is unique in that it focuses on business opportunities within the Silicon Valley technology sector.
Given the severe job discrimination faced by ex-offenders and the current state of the economy, many experts in the reentry field beleive the best change for prisoners to make it on the outside is to start a business. Entrepreneurship is not without risk, but the Last Mile helps increase the chance of success by providing program participants in-depth technical training not available to most prisoners. With the burgeoning number of start-ups now launch on the web, such training is invaluable.
Most inmates are already entrepreneurs, because most of them are in jail for selling drugs. They have the entrepreneurial spirit already. What they need is guidance to put these skills into something positive. That’s where programs like the Last Mile fit in. There goal is to find and train those inmates who are going to get out and want to be productive citizens.
Currently, there are 7 men enrolled in the initial launch of the Last Mile program. All of them are enrolled in or have graduated from the Prison University Project, an accredited college program at San Quentin that offers an associate degree. Their stories, posted on the Last Mile blog, provide some grime details of their past and illustrate the amazing strides they are making to turn their lives around, against tough odds.
The Start-up Model
The Last Mile has developed a unique model for training inmates to become entrepreneurs in the technology field. This model is built around the following five topics:
- Understanding the Evolving Digital Marketplace:
Provide participants with extensive background on how technology has changed over the last 10 years and how to utilize technology for personal and professional development.
- Building a Business Knowledge Base: Provide participants with a solid background in business, personal growth, and business inspiration.
- Practical Technology Training:
Provide participants with basic computer training in the critical software tools that are utilized in today’s business sector.
- Interaction with Outside Experts:
Participants meet with invited experts in the technology field to gain further insights on how to make a living in tthis sector.
- Building the Dream: Business
Participants learn how to transform an idea into a business plan and present that plan to potential investors.
Ultimately, the training is designed to give inmates the opportunity to learn important technical skills, formulate a business idea and prepare a presentation to effectively communicate their idea to a prospective business partner. The final session of the course includes business presentations by the participants to an invited guest of outside experts.
The Last Mile program is another example of a volunteer program created by private citizens who are willing to share their technical skills to help prisoners successfully return to society. As states continue to slash budgets for rehabilitation programs, it is the goodwill of volunteers such as these that may one day help reduce California’s high recidivism rate and help bring an end to the era of mass incarceration.