Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg traded in his signature black hoodie for a white shirt and slacks when he toured California’s oldest prison.
The 31-year old social media CEO, his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, and some Facebook staff members toured San Quentin State Prison, including the entrance to the Death Row area in East Block, on Oct. 13.
Later, reflecting on his historic visit, Zuckerberg wrote on his personal Facebook page: “I’m going to keep learning about this topic, but some things are already clear. We can’t jail our way to a just society, and our current system isn’t working.”
|“Making our criminal justice system fairer
and more effectiveis a huge challenge for our country”|
Warden Ron Davis, summed up the visit this way:
“It’s special when you can have an innovator, someone who has changed the course of history, who has given man another way to connect with each other — for him to come inside a world that is disconnected and learn about our community and our effort to rehabilitate people is extraordinary.”
Zuckerberg said earlier this year he read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and it impacted his view about prisons.
“I wanted to visit a prison that had really good success and meet some of the folks,” Zuckerberg said.
The Facebook billionaire and his staff toured CALPIA and other California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) programs.
Zuckerberg was greeted by Warden Davis, Prison Industry Authority board Vice-Chair Darshan Singh and CALPIA General Manager Chuck Pattillo, among others.
Zuckerberg met and talked with offenders from CALPIA’s Code.7370, a nationally recognized program in which Silicon Valley tech experts help offenders learn computer-coding skills without Internet access.
After looking at a couple of projects on which the inmates were working, he wanted to know how the class was taught, what inmates were learning, and how many hours a day they spent coding.
“You know, that’s how I got started — coding,” Zuckerberg told the inmates.
The new Code.7370 curriculum utilizes program architecture to simulate a live coding environment.
“The real-world job experience this computer coding class provides is beneficial to offenders and the general public,” said Pattillo. “If a person can leave prison, get a job and not come back, it saves taxpayers money and keeps communities safer.”
Code.7370 is part of CALPIA’s Career Technical Education (CTE) program, which has a proven track record for success. Graduates in CTE programs have some of the lowest recidivism rates in the country, with a cumulative rate of 7.13 percent.
While visiting the coding class, Zuckerberg met with Chris Redlitz and Beverly Parenti.
Redlitz and Parenti co-founded another highly successful program for inmates, called The Last Mile (TLM).
They established TLM in 2010 at San Quentin, utilizing the experience and resources of successful entrepreneurs, leveraging their extensive network in the technology business community to help bridge the gap between the penal system and the technology sector.
Redlitz and Parenti also co-founded Code.7370 with CALPIA.
Zuckerberg asked the San Quentin News reporting inmates to describe the most surprising thing about the first time they came to prison.
Editor-in-Chief Arnulfo T. Garcia, 63, said he came to prison the first time at age 18. “I was scared,” said Garcia, explaining how prison was much more violent back in the 1970s.
“I also came to prison at 18,” Design Editor Richard “Bonaru” Richardson said. “It was nothing like TV. There were some people inside who had very negative attitudes, but there were also some good people in here, too. I learned that I had to deal with people as they are.”
Richardson told Zuckerberg he grew up in Modesto, where all he encountered were negative role models.
“While in prison, there’s no place to run,” Richardson said. “I had to face my problems head on, so I had to learn how to avoid those negative role models.”
Zuckerberg was interested in how inmates got to San Quentin.
“You don’t start your incarceration at a place like San Quentin,” Garcia said. “You have to work your way down to a progressive prison like this.”
Garcia talked about the new CDCR program that allows younger offenders to avoid being sent to maximum security prisons and stay at a lower level institution like San Quentin.
“The youngsters we’ve encountered are very receptive to being at San Quentin,” Garcia said. “San Quentin News is reaching out to the youngsters to get them into programs so that they would have a better chance of staying out of prison once they get out.”
Referring to his visit, Zuckerberg said, “It’s still sinking in,” adding “I was surprised by the focus on learning here. Also, I didn’t expect to find a fully functioning newspaper.”
“Making our criminal justice system fairer and more effective is a huge challenge for our country,” Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook site.
More information about CalPIA can be found at www.calpia.ca.gov.