Prison inmates have all day, every day, to sit around and think. It could be the world’s largest pool of untapped brain time. Chris Redlitz decided to put it to productive use. He founded the Last Mile startup accelerator program at San Quentin State Prison in California.
“I’ve driven by San Quentin every day for the last 14 years, but never bothered to understand the prison system,” says Redlitz, who lives in Marin County north of San Francisco (where the prison sits on San Francisco Bay) and runs the KickLabs tech accelerator in San Francisco.
One day, he was invited into San Quentin to give a 30-minute talk on entrepreneurship. An hour and a half later, he was still fielding questions from the inmates. That’s when he realized these were smart, passionate guys. Becoming Contributing Members of Society
From there, he formulated the idea of the Last Mile. “These guys will be getting out at some point,” he says. “We want them to come out of the program and be contributing members of society.”
It’s a significant challenge. Redlitz is not allowed to bring anything beyond books and articles into the prison and the five members of the first Last Mile class had never been on the Internet and never used a mobile device. “We had to teach them about these things,” Redlitz says. “But the presentations that came out of the class blew people away. We had about 50 invited guests at demo day, including about 11 VCs, and they were astounded not just by the level of the presentations but the fact that they incorporated technologies that the inmates had never experienced for themselves.”
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