I heard about an amazing organization and I want to share it with all of you. The subject matter is one most of us don’t ever want to talk about: inmates in prisons.
While the topic might be an uncomfortable one, we should all remember an important fact — 95 percent of those incarcerated will eventually be going home. That means inmates will re-enter society. Unfortunately, far too many of this population will re-offend and end up back in prison. In fact, the rate of recidivism in some places is more than 55 percent.
Chris Redlitz is a wildly successful California businessman and entrepreneur. Back in 2010, a friend of his asked him to speak to a group of inmates at San Quentin State Prison. His friend was a volunteer at the prison and said there were a group of men who were extremely interested in business.
Although Redlitz was at first reluctant, in the fall of 2010, he journeyed to the prison to meet with the men. Needless to say, he did not have high expectations.
Instead of being disappointed, Redlitz was blown away by the group of inmates he spoke to and interacted with — their knowledge of business was much greater than he expected and their enthusiasm and entrepreneurship amazed him. Far from seeing men dejected and full of despair, Redlitz saw men with hope for the future and the desire to succeed. Instead of just acknowledging the experience as memorable, Redlitz took action.
After convincing his wife and business partner Beverly Parenti to help, the couple created The Last Mile (TLM). The purpose of the organization is to educate and train inmates. They learn skills having to do with all things software, website development, coding and the world of I.T.
The Last Mile began its entrepreneurship program inside San Quentin in December 2010 and the next May, the first six graduating TLM students did a business demonstration in front of hundreds of members of the business community. The program was an instant success, empowering inmates with knowledge and skills that made it possible for them to obtain meaningful and high-paying jobs when they were released from prison after serving their time.
The curriculum in the program is rigorous and the training intense. The Last Mile was the first U.S. prison education program of its kind. Very soon, numerous major corporations began partnering with the nonprofit organization, enabling it to expand and offer more programs in other prisons. Currently, there are 12 program locations in four states; California, Kansas, Oklahoma and Indiana.
Since 2010, TLM has served more than 460 students — thus far boasting of a zero percent rate of recidivism. That is incredible. One testimonial of the group said he went from being incarcerated to earning a job with a six-figure salary.
Of course I am sad these inmates committed crimes in the first place and I am in no way trying to diminish their wrong-doings. But our country spends more than $48 billion on prisons at the state and federal levels, and we should all be concerned about that amount and the fact that so many inmates re-offend and are re-incarcerated. We should all want inmates who have served their time to get out of prison, find meaningful work, and become productive, honest members of society.
I am sure Chris Redlitz, as a successful businessman, did not think helping prisoners succeed in life was something he would do. He didn’t “need” to help this population of men and women in our country — but he felt called to do so. Surely our nation is better off when law-breakers become successes in business and perhaps go on to mentor others.
If you would like more information about this organization, check out the website, www.thelastmile.org.
South Forsyth resident Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.