San Quentin Inmates Write Computer Coding for Start-Ups

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Wearing a blue prison uniform, Chris Schuhmacher sits in a gutted factory building surrounded by the concrete and steel walls of California’s oldest penitentiary, San Quentin. Schuhmacher stares intently at the computer screen in front of him, then types a line of multicolored code, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Schuhmacher is not stamping out license plates or making furniture, but devising complex computer calculations for one of the nation’s fastest-growing start-up companies. It’s a slice of Silicon Valley behind the razor wire of the institution with the largest number of U.S. death row inmates.

It’s good work for Schuhmacher, who has spent 16 years in prison for killing a fellow drug dealer in Los Angeles. It pays well, $16.77 an hour, compared with the usual prison wages of less than $1. Most important is what the work will offer Schuhmacher once he gets out: a sense of purpose and the possibility of starting a new life. “I know my crime was super violent, but I’ve used my time in prison to my advantage,” he says. Now awaiting a parole board hearing, he is using his wages to pay court-ordered compensation to his victim’s family. “It feels great to have a chance to pay the restitution,” he says. Schuhmacher is one of the first employees of a new technology joint venture that began in September inside San Quentin. The joint venture, The Last Mile Works, is giving these inmates job skills that are in high demand. It is a small but cutting-edge experiment in a much broader, nationwide movement aimed at reducing the numbers behind bars by lowering the repeat offender rate among freed inmates.


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