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Defying stereotypes: Jason’s journey learning how to code

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Jason Jones, a recent graduate of The Last Mile, a program that prepares incarcerated individuals for successful re-entry to the job market through business and technology training. Today, Google.org announced a $2 million grant to The Last Mile, which will allow the program to expand to prisons across the United States, and to establish its first program in an Indiana juvenile facility, Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility. Now that more people will be able to benefit from this program, Jason wrote a letter to future students to help prepare them for their journey.

Dear students,

My name is Jason Jones and I am a software engineer; however, that wasn’t always the case. For the majority of my life, I was whatever stereotype that public opinion thought would fit: at-risk, system impacted, low-income; the list goes on. I’m 35 years old and recently released from prison after 13 years.

I come from a broken home, where gangs became family and the streets became my household. In 2014, while incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, I entered The Last Mile program with no understanding of the opportunity it presented. It gave me a home and my new family. No one could have told me that this one decision would turn my life around.

Before The Last Mile, I had no idea what coding was or how technology worked. I had no real plans of rehabilitation or changing my mind set. Through coding, I was able to redefine how people perceived me. I became part of another underrepresented group: a person of color in tech with a non-traditional background.

Through the program, I found classmates, instructors and volunteers who were genuinely invested in my education and in me as a person. We spent thirty-two hours each week learning skills like JavaScript, web development, team collaboration and how to navigate the workplace. I discovered mentors and positive role models who I could go to with problems or for advice.

Since graduating from the Last Mile, I signed a contract with a tech company that was interested in my success, and I relocated to a better place for growth and prosperity. And just two months out of prison, I’m able to travel on a plane for the first time in my life, visit parts of the country I’ve never been, and do things that I thought were out of my reach.

This process has been anything but easy. It takes a lot of hard work, commitment, discipline, focus and sacrifice.

I’ve faced a lot of adversity in my life, but coding gave me a different approach to solving problems. It taught me how to break down the larger problems into smaller, workable ones and create a workflow that leads to a solution. I’ve learned better communication skills and how to collaborate successfully on a team. I’ve learned how to break down some barriers that were stunting my growth and learned how to ask for and accept help. But most of all, I’ve learned how to take control of my life and set the direction in which it is going.

All of you have the opportunity to reimagine what you want your life to look like—always be your best self and believe in the process. This keeps me on a positive path.

Yours truly,

Jason Jones