The birth of a fair chance company
A job is a crucial in establishing a new life upon release from prison. Yet one study found that more than half of ex-offenders did not have jobs eight months after being release, and being unemployed is strongly linked to a higher risk of committing another crime. Many of these rejected applicants are likely to end up back in prison. In California
Nationally, 97% of the offenders in jail today will be released and then return to the communities from which they came. Statistics show that 30% of adult offenders released from state prisons are re-arrested within the first six months of their release. Even worse, within three years of their release from prison this increases to 67%, or two out of three, ex-offenders returning to prison.* Sadly, revocations are the fastest growing category of prison admissions. Parole violators now account for 35% of new prison admissions as compared to only 17% in 1980.**
37 Degree Media is founded on the idea that everyone, regardless of their background, should be considered for a role they are qualified for, including those formerly incarcerated.
A few years ago, I worked for a nonprofit in Oakland that built computer labs in OUSD schools and gave away free computers to middle and high school students. As the organization got more publicity, we started getting request to do computer/software training in juvenile detention centers and with individuals as part of their probation requirements.
After being in front of classes with 20 high schoolers and maybe 5 paying attention, training young men on probation was a life changing experience. The first time I walked into the training lab, there wasn’t a sound and I had 20 pair of eyes staring at me. They absorbed everything, and I was moved by the eagerness and desire of these young men to learn. It was probably the best training I’d ever given. They thank me and left but I felt I received from them a lot more than I’d given. It was then that I saw the potential of a connection between technology and re-entry.
The term “digital divide” wasn’t as vogue; the funding dried up and the excitement would fade, even though the divide was and still is prevalent. So I moved on to other things.
At the beginning of the year, I received, in essence, my second chance at The Last Mile, In fact, the majority of us at 37 Degree Media have a history with this amazing organization. I was flattered to be responsible for business development for the first ever web development shop inside a US prison. It was through this experience that I met some wonderful return citizens and learned the necessity of giving people a 2nd chance. I worked directly with Erin; Murph; and, through a referral, met Ryan.
Unfortunately, our time at The Last Mile was short lived: in June due to a COVID outbreak at San Quentin, the dev shop inside the facility went on indefinite hiatus. I want to convey my gratitude to Chris and Beverly and the entire team at The Last Mile for helping me, as they say, get back in the game. It was a great experience and we 37DM will always consider ourselves a part of The Last Mile family. We are picking up the baton – the children who flew the coup to carry on with the mission
Thus, 37 Degree Media was born. I wanted to continue to carry on this mission, simply because it is needed and on a visceral level I felt there was work left undone. Ban the box is a wonderful first step, however a return citizen can still be denied a fair chance at any point in the hiring process. So why not just start a business with return citizens as core members and give them ownership?
At 37 Degree Media there is no box to ban and our mission is committed to changing perspectives and being a model for other companies.
*Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics 2002
**Source: Travis & Lawrence, 2002