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Marketplace Morning Report

Prisoners could be an untapped resource for startups

Ben Johnson and James Perla Jun 25, 2015
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As part of our series about technology in prison called “Jailbreak,” we’re taking a look at how former inmates could be an untapped resource for the tech community. 

Take Tulio Cardozo, for example. He was an inmate for nearly seven years in San Quentin prison in Northern San Francisco. Because of restrictions on technology in prisons, he had to learn how to code by reading programming books. He says, “for the most part prisons want to keep you far, far away from technology.” 

Even though he had read about technology in magazines like Wired and Popular Science, he remembers the moment he saw the prevalence of technology upon his release: “When I finally got out, I was left at a bus stop in Tucson, Arizona. I got on the bus, it was the middle of the night, the ceiling glowed with cellphones and that’s when it hit me really hard that ‘Wow technology is everywhere.’”

Cardozo ended up going back to prison within a year after his release — Not for reoffending, but rather to pursue a business idea.

While in prison, Cardozo participated in The Last Mile program at San Quentin, which teaches business and technology entrepreneurship to inmates. There, he honed his concept: a LinkedIn type platform called Collaborative Benefit that connects incarcerated individuals with employers.

Since graduating, Cardozo has been employed as a web developer, launched his own startup, and is himself a mentor in prisons around the San Francisco area. He now uses his coding and entrepreneurship skills to make sure other people on the inside get the same opportunities he had.

In his opinion, the lack of technology on the inside could allow former inmates to contribute new ideas to the startup community: “In the absolute absence of all this outside input, you really get creative about what you think you know and you come up with interesting new ideas.”

 

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