At San Quentin State Prison in California, inmates are barred from using the internet, and many have been serving time since before smartphones existed. But a new project offers a chance to take part in the tech transformations they might otherwise have missed. The Last Mile Works is a full-fledged web development shop where inmates help build apps and other software for everyone from tiny startups to established companies like Airbnb. The men in the program make $16.77 an hour—not much by Silicon Valley standards. But the real goal is to help them land jobs once they’re out.
The Last Mile Works gives Code.7370 grads a way to get real-world experience on the inside. Because they can’t use the internet, the dev shop’s coders work on a closed network, and a manager pushes the results to the outside. Any money the shop makes is funneled back into the nonprofit. The tech industry is the perfect fit for job seekers with unusual résumés, Redlitz says. “It’s about the quality of your work, not your background.” Inmates can’t go online, but coding connects them to the 21st-century economy they’ll enter when they’re free.