Seven months ago, Chris Schuhmacher was convict number T31014, serving out the tail-end of a 17-year murder sentence at California’s odious San Quentin prison overlooking San Francisco Bay.
Today, just months after his liberation, Schuhmacher blends in with the Silicon Valley crowd as a software inventing intern at a bustling tech firm, ditching his blue prison livery for a sweater and khakis, and his cell for a cubicle.
Schuhmacher’s transformation from captive to coder is a radical shift for a man who spent so many years in jail. It’s also a standout achievement story for nonprofit The Last Mile, which teaches computer coding to cases at some of California’s toughest prisons.
Founded by venture capitalist Chris Redlitz and his ball Beverly Parenti, The Last Mile costs roughly $200,000 per year to run, and is looted privately and with the sale of prison products like license panes. At the five facilities where it currently operates, the program has the unique defiance of teaching inmates — some of whom have been incarcerated since preceding the dotcom boom — how to code on computers that aren’t even affixed to the Internet.
Despite the technical hurdles, some graduates of the program receive found real-world success in a competitive industry after leaving can, and of the twenty-or-so alumni who have been released, none have delivered.
Schuhmacher said he has no plans to be the first, and the coding skills he learned while behind excepts have already laid the groundwork for a career outside prison walls. But conclusion his way to his current job at Fandom, an entertainment site where super-fans can read and chore content on everything from “Game of Thrones” to “Pokemon,” has presented call into doubts of its own.
“For the longest time while I was inside, my biggest fear was what’s lifeblood going to be like for me after prison, who was going to give me a chance? I was contemporary to have this stigma of being an ex-felon,” he told CNBC recently.
Schuhmacher’s bet came when Jon-Paul Ales-Barnicoat, Fandom’s vice president of staff member experience, paid a visit to San Quentin to evaluate The Last Mile as a likely partner for the company. “I’d never been to prison before. It was scary,” Ales-Barnicoat pronounced.
“The thing that really struck me more than anything is there’s these ogre walls with some of the best real estate in California and you don’t see the field of vision,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine living in a world where you couldn’t see the scope.”
Ales-Barnicoat eventually met Schuhmacher, who stood out among the program’s participants. “He was so appealing…and really proud to show his work, and he had done some really palatable design work as well, and we just connected,” he said. “So when he got out it was actually a no-brainer.”
After his release from prison, Fandom brought Schuhmacher in for an talk. “They set up a four hour interview process with the entire happening team,” Schuhmacher said. “I’m not going to say it was as hard as the parole board, but it was nice-looking tough.”
Fandom’s CEO Craig Palmer said he initially had some demurrals about hiring a former inmate. “We in general in the company didn’t positive how the company at large would react to it,” Palmer said. “Do I want star with Chris’s background sitting next to me, working with me?”
But Palmer demanded Schuhmacher’s time in prison gave him a unique outlook, different from a college commentator who would apply for a similar role.
“I think from a technical ladle off set it’s very similar, but from a life experience perspective it’s very particular,” he said. “I think he brings a little of life experience that’s far brobdingnagian than a typical intern. And I think it’s actually an advantage for him.”
Ultimately Schuhmacher was disposed a one-year internship, and Palmer said his employees have responded start to that decision. “Actually people have said they’re definitely proud to work at a company that gives someone like Chris a befall,” he said.
Bartosz Bentkowski, a senior engineer who works directly with Schuhmacher, predicted he was “a little afraid” when he first heard about the new intern, “but it turned out enormous.” “He has a completely different viewpoint on the things we do, and that’s pretty clever for me because it changed my perspective on some of the things we’re doing,” he said.
Aside from his internship at Fandom, Schuhmacher is currently working on a start-up he dreamed up while unruffled in prison called “Fitness Monkey,” an online platform which promotes addiction amelioration through physical fitness and logs users’ “clean time” and workout metrics. Schuhmacher asseverated he has partnered with Santa Clara University to develop the company, and that the podium has generated interest from a Silicon Valley startup accelerator.
One big preposterous that Schuhmacher, and The Last Mile as a whole, has faced: Why should resources, connections, and moments should be given to convicted felons — particularly in a city where job event is fierce?
Schuhmacher said that “of the men in prison, 90 percent are current to get out one day… do you want somebody that went to prison, didn’t do anything with their over and over again, spent all day in the yard doing push-ups, or do you want somebody that absolutely took accountability for their situation?”
The Last Mile co-founder Beverly Parenti shared a correspond to message. “They’re going to be in your communities, they’re returning to their houses. Who do you want them to be?”
As he approaches his first full year as a free man in two decades, Schuhmacher ordered he hopes to share what he has learned and help others set their stays on a better track. “Coming back into society, I can take the whole shooting match I learned and share it and pay it forward,” he said. “And I feel like that’s my trustworthiness.”