MARIN, Calif. (KTVU) - After being released, inmates at San Quentin Prison in Marin often return to society without the tools necessary to be successful on the outside. That's why the state prison recidivism rate is higher than 54 percent. But there are some inmates who have a much better shot once they get out, because a special prison program has turned them into highly marketable high tech talent.
On Wednesday morning, 13 inmates graduated from the Code 7370 program which taught them to be software engineers. "It's definitely a way that you know, me trying to be a better person, trying to help other people, is my way of trying to make amends," said graduate Chris Schuhmacher who has been behind bars for 15 years after a drug-related murder.
But now, Schuhmacher has developed an intriguing web application "which is an idea that stemmed from my own story of overcoming substance abuse while in prison by developing a passion for fitness, so I created an online life coaching service that I called Fitness Monkey."
The men had no previous experience with coding, and some had never even used the internet. Aly Tamboura, whose crime was threatening someone with a gun, created an application called Project Tycho. "I come and I code for 8 hours a day here, then I go back to my bunk and I read for about another 3-4 hours a day. And I've been doing that for a year," Tamboura said.
Not only does all this work and learning happen inside the imposing walls of one of the most famous prisons in America, but the men also do everything they do, learning to code, creating web applications, with no access to the internet. "I owe it to my victim and I also owe it to society to come out of here a better man than I came in," explained Tamboura.
The accomplishment brought out supporters in droves. One of the biggest supporters is Bay Area music icon, MC Hammer. "They are writing code, creating new startups, building new companies right here inside the San Quentin walls. That is to be applauded," he said.
Technology CEO and author John Hamm teaches leadership and life skills to the inmates. "They've learned a lot of lessons here. They want another shot, they're learning technical skills and I think most of them are going to capitalize on it. I would hire these guys in a minute," he said.
Beverly Parenti is co-founder of the program. "Post release we enable them to get internships with companies on the outside. They'll have a portfolio. They'll have the experience of working in a collaborative environment," she explained.
Inmate graduate Chris Schuhmacher added "now as part of this group and this program, and the learning I'm receiving, I feel like I do have a chance. It gives me hope.
No wonder officials say this kind of program cuts recidivism from more than 54 percent to under eight percent.