From prisoner to programmer: One man turns 28-year sentence into a learning opportunity

Reporter Chisom Oraedu shares the story of a formerly incarcerated man who is changing the course of his life by learning coding skills and launching a new career.

On Sept. 8, 1996, Lucious Jackson was sentenced to 28 years and 8 months in prison. The charge? Burglary for the sale of stolen property.

Jackson spent the latter portion of his prison sentence in San Quentin State Prison — the oldest prison in California, notorious for having the largest death row population in the United States. But the San Quentin of today is a much different picture.

“Some people who’ve never been to San Quentin and have only heard about it on the news, they know the stories. They hear the history. They don’t know what San Quentin is today,” Jackson said. “If you go to San Quentin, you have no choice but to succeed. Unless you didn’t want to.”

On May 18, 2015, Jackson decided to turn his time in prison into something constructive. He became a member of The Last Mile, one of many programs available to inmates in San Quentin.

The Last Mile is a program that prepares incarcerated individuals for successful re-entry through business and technology training. The program was started in 2010 in San Quentin, first as an entrepreneurship program, then in 2014 a coding curriculum was added. The Last Mile has now spread to four other prisons in California.

“The thing about coding that is so great … is that it really is leveling the education playing field,” said Natrina Gandana, program director of The Last Mile.

By teaching the program members computer coding, it provides them with marketable skills that will put them on the same technical level as other job candidates, increasing their chances for gainful employment after incarceration.

After receiving an early release from San Quentin on April 20 of this year, Jackson was able to re-unite with his mother and family members. He had served 21 years and 6 months of his original sentence.

As a member of The Last Mile coding program, Jackson developed a passion for web design. Now that he is released, he hopes to continue cultivating this passion.

“What I want to do is continue with my training in web design. I want to continue working with The Last Mile, to work at an internship … I want to set the foundation for a web design career. That’s my mission, that’s my objective.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Reporter Chisom Oraedu previously volunteered with The Last Mile in 2015.)

Chisom is a current senior at Stanford University pursuing a B.S. in Science, Technology & Society. Her academic pursuits focus on the social and cultural conditions that foster technological and scientific innovation. She hopes to work in the media/entertainment industry after undergrad as a broadcast journalist. Chisom's past work experience includes a production internship at "Good Morning America" in New York City, where she assisted in booking guests for the show and pitched and helped produce her own original fashion segment idea. During the end of her senior year, Chisom plans to intern at KRON4 -- a San Francisco news station -- on its assignment desk, assisting with story research and day-to-day operations. After graduation, Chisom hopes to work in either New York or Los Angeles.

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