VCs transforming prisons with Beverly Parenti, Chris Redlitz and Kenyatta Leal
Speaker 1:0:05"Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." This quote has been shaped by many throughout history and is one I try to reflect upon when meeting New People. My guest today embody this kind of thinking as founders of the last mile, a rapidly growing and impactful organization working to transform life for incarcerated individuals for successful reentry through business and technology. Training Beverly Parenti and Chris Redlitz were and are successful. Venture capitalists, though they did good things. They weren't looking to start a new nonprofit. In fact, they entered California, San Quentin State Prison, quite reluctantly. Next thing they knew they were going to San Quentin twice per week for 40 weeks in addition to running their VC firm. The results of their efforts are extraordinary. Please be sure to listen all the way through today's episode to hear from Kenyatta Leal, one of the graduates who have transformed his life sentence to reenter and share his skills to help lift up others.
:1:07If you didn't need the money, would you still show up to your job? I'm John Weems. I've spent half of my career in the corporate world and the other half in full time spiritual guidance as a pastor. I respect people of all views, unless they're totally closed-minded a-holes. I'm not here to tell you what to believe. I am here to encourage you to think beyond the check. Welcome to this podcast where we talk about work life and the meaning of our time here. You'll hear from a wide range of business people from multiple backgrounds.
:1:39Beverly and Chris, thank you for joining me today. Thank you John. Thanks for Eminence. So we will definitely circle back to the last mile which many of our listeners are starting to, to learn about. Uh, but before we get there, once you acknowledge many of our listeners range from very early career trying to figure out how to have an impact on the world to those who are maybe in their second or third act. So let's rewind a little bit for each of you and talk about the early days as early as you want to go from, you know, in the neighborhood growing up to a first job. But tell me a little bit about a formative experience that
Speaker 2:2:13that shaped your experience of work in the early days. Well, first job that goes way back, I believed that I have worked all my life. I grew up in a home where my both of my parents worked. They were extremely industrious and I'm first generation American. They came to the country with virtually nothing and built their careers and really instilled within all of us the desire to be the best we possibly can be and to work as hard as we can to prove ourselves and to become successful. So I worked in the family business as a babysitter and I worked for the post office. Imagine that throwing hand, throwing mail into slots for airmail for army bases and so forth. And that was really an exciting job because it was my first experience with a government entity and it was one of tremendous responsibility. So I really enjoy it.
Speaker 3:3:20That is the first person that's ever said working for the post office was exciting.
:3:25I was a teenager and everyone else was adults and so they used to tag along on the weekends when they went out and that was fun. But beverly, where. Where did your parents come to the us from and what was the family business? My parents came to the United States from Austria. They actually came independently and met in New York. They both escaped the Holocaust and the family businesses varied. My father ran an import company and we used to do piece work at home for his business and then late in later years he had a retail empire and I worked in the store. Did your parents talk much about their experience of escaping? Absolutely. I had. How did that inform your development as a person in society exposed to such trauma?
:4:20Well, I of course was extremely grateful for their, um, their journey and their persistence and how they were able to overcome tremendous obstacles as you can imagine. And it made me grateful for the freedom of being in the United States and having the ability to pursue a life of opportunity that they were not afforded at my early age. Thank you for sharing that.
:4:57Chris, what about you?. I just want to make sure that you understand that this is our second chapter. Yes. So people, you know, talk about how you qualify your, your work life. So I think we're at our second phase. Okay. Is that fair? That's fair. Okay. Yeah. And I'm sure not the last, not the last. The first. Yes. Yeah. You know, very similar. Uh, my, uh, my dad's parents came from Germany and a very strong work ethic as well. Uh, when he was young child, he didn't speak English. German was his first language, a very industrious family as well. So I think the similarities that Beverly and I had about a strong work ethic were, were very apparent at an early age. And I too started working. I had my paper route when I was nine. And, uh, that was, I was very proud to be throwing papers and my, my best buddy Pete Hathaway.
Speaker 3:5:54Still today we had a, we were next door neighbors and, and had a adjacent paper routes, so we kind of competed each other with each other even at that age. But, uh, so, you know, I think that's really translated throughout, always working, always, um, you know, uh, having some source of income and so forth when you're a little kid, you know, I used to take my paper out money and go buy baseball cards and I still have many of those today. So I'm a, I was a Yankee fan early, so I've got my mickey mantle cards that are worth a lot today, but I'm not going to give them up. But yeah, that, um, that was really something that was, was important for us to work at an early age. What paper did you deliver? It was, I lived in a town called Palos Verdes in southern California was called PV News.
Speaker 3:6:44So as a local paper later, my brother actually delivered the La Times, which is a much more difficult paper to throw on Sundays, especially to throw it out of the back of a car. So funny because one of my jobs in my parents' store was putting together the New York Times and so the sections would come in do throughout the week, and then on Sunday I would compile everything starting at 5:00 AM now. How early did you start your route? I was nine with my paper out. Yeah. How are we wanting or at nine? Oh No, it was twice a week actually. So it was, um, it was Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons. So it wasn't every day. What time saying Saturday morning was relatively early. I think we delivered it. We got the papers, I think six or 7:00 AM a slacker. I know exactly five minutes know. So let's shift from that time into two good timing.
Speaker 3:7:43Uh, I won't go through your, your entire resume or linkedin profile, but each of you have a good knack for timing. Let's, let's talk about how you put yourselves in the right place at the right time, early in the Internet. Boom battles. Maybe you talk a little bit first about yourself and a first virtual holdings. So throughout my career from working in the stores too, fast forward, my career started in New York and then I moved to Chicago in New York. I was actually working at as a counselor in a, in a clinic, a health clinic is my major was education and social science in Chicago. I was visiting a friend and I liked the city and so I said, oh, I'll just go, go on a job interview. And Lo and behold, on the very first interview I was hired at an ad agency to be the traffic manager for all their campaigns. The job was great. The relationship didn't last and the city was freezing in the winter and really, really hot in the summer. So I said, I want to live in a Mediterranean climate in the United States and moving to southern California. And
Speaker 2:8:56I decided to move to San Diego. So in San Diego had a number of jobs and you know, my entrepreneurial spirit that I picked from, picked up from my family, it would just persisted. And so I did a number of different jobs until finally as a manufacturer's Rep, uh, through one of my clients, I was asked to open a retail store and I did and we opened one and then two, and then three and more, um, in a very high traffic, a tourist destination center in San Diego called Seaport village. And not only did I run the retail stores, but I also did a lot of special events and one of the owners of the shopping center came into my store one day and said, do you have email? I said, no, but I can get it. And Lo and behold, that was the beginning of first virtual. Uh, it was Lee Stein.
Speaker 2:9:52He was one of the cofounders of first virtual, along with several other technology gurus. And I joined to be the facilitator of everything other than technical. Um, we started the company in 1994. Uh, there were the five of us. We were called first virtual because that's what we were. We're completely virtual. We didn't have an office. No one had the same zip code. And fast forward to two years later when we had hundreds of employees and we actually had our first IPO, but it was because of my creativity and drive in the business I had that I was invited into this unusual opportunity and it just seemed like the future. And that's where I wanted to go.
Speaker 3:10:42Chris, a little. I know part of your background involves reebok. Feel free to comment on that through ad auction was not your conventional studious person growing up. I really sort of live my life through experiences. I was much more enamored with that then sort of traditional education even though I did go to college, but when I was a couple years into college I really wanted to do travel. I wouldn't really want to do experiences. So I ended up getting on a boat with a couple of friends and we sailed to Hawaii and spent some time there. And uh, there was a phenomenal experience and coming back, my parents like, well he's got it out of his system. And then a couple months later I went to, to Utah and became a ski boot ski bum for a while. But that's, that's sort of been how I've operated throughout things that are really interesting to me that I really dig in.
Speaker 3:11:42I thought, you know, how am I going to be a good skier? You know, I want to really dig in and, and spent all my time doing that. And I've sort of adopted that throughout. So, um, I was an avid runner and uh, you know, I think marginally competitive. Um, and that really led that passion for running led me to being introduced to a guy who was working for reebok when Reebok was very, very small in the early eighties and he invited me to be part of his team and, and I did and join the company and it's been obviously well chronicle that we went from very small startup to becoming number one in the world for awhile over Nike and in the sort of later 19 eighties. And it was a tremendous growth experience that I learned about, you know, growing company about, you know, how to, uh, you know, how to really service customers and, you know, working as a team.
Speaker 3:12:40And uh, you know, my avocation of running was also part of our vocation, so it was really a very unique experience and uh, uh, I left Reebok after a little over 10 years and you know, you never think that lightning's going to strike twice because how do you get involved in a company like that with tremendous growth going from 10 million in revenue to 4 billion. It's just like, hey, you know, how do you do that? And then I saw the internet in the early nineties and I became a prodigy and compuserve, um, you know, user and, and I thought, wow, this is really, really interesting. I mean, I became enamored with technology and I got invited with a group of guys who start a online yellow pages called on village in 1994 and that was eventually sold the superpages a few years later. And that was my first experience in technology, uh, in a, in a couple of years later, we started in San Francisco at a partner.
Speaker 3:13:36We started a company called ad auction and that was a online media exchange to buy and sell media. It's really was a precursor to what's now probe programmatic buying. Um, we sold online media and uh, you know, some other traditional media, but in that time, and then in the late eighties or late nineties, I'm sorry, in the whole ad market was about $50 million dollars when we first started. And now obviously it's just past $80 million, I think. So it was very, very early. Uh, we raised a lot of capital there. We ended up selling the company, but that, uh, that was the, my first introduction to I'm raising capital, the venture community and that's also where barely and I met. I'm hearing a recurring theme with both of you around going all in when you're passionate about something that you preempted Malcolm Gladwell on the 10,000 hours, but you were, whether it was running sailing papers, business, you were, you were doing that.
Speaker 3:14:32So again, I encourage our listeners, you can find beverly at, at the above on twitter and Chris, your handle at Chris Redlitz. Okay. So you've got very creative. Well, but it works. It gets the job done. Uh, let's, let's fast forward a little bit to kick labs, share about your experiences from those early days to now. How did that shape your, your creativity, your entrepreneurial spirit and how are you sharing that with others? Yeah, it was interesting because know beverly and I had been working together since we were at, at auction. So for us today it's been 20 years working together and in coming out of the downturn of 2008 being in San Francisco, there was an abundance of available office space. Technology was just coming back, you know, obviously we went through the trough of, of that downturn, but it was a really good vintage for early start, early stage startup companies.
Speaker 3:15:29Uh, so we had the opportunity of getting an available space in San Francisco right near the atnt park, beautiful space. It was 25,000 square feet and they couldn't rent it. So we were given the opportunity to take the space, put startups in that space and take a little bit of equity for no rent. So, um, we ended up being incubating some companies there. And the whole premise at that time was this disruption with startups and legacy brands was starting to be recognized in social media, hadn't really taken it, you know, come full stride by then, uh, you know, in, in, in Oh, eight, no, nine. But because both beverly and I had relationships with large brands, um, I had relationships in southern California with some of the media companies as well. We started to introduce those brands to startup companies that could be disruptive. So it's, it really started our practice of, of uh, before even big brands have innovation teams. We started do that matchmaking and that really started resonates. So that was the sort of impetus of kickoff labs and our venture fund actually transmitted capital came out of that, that instance of Kyc labs.
Speaker 2:16:42So getting back to how kick labs started in and what our roles were there. During my previous career, I was responsible for running numerous events in San Diego. I was the chair for America's Cup and America's Cup merchandising. And during some of the prime races we housed all of the licensed logo brands for America's cup. For example, I did some superbowl events and on and on, so in taking that to kick labs, we became an event hub for the tech community and we worked with a number of big universities and had alumni events that kick labs. We ran some interesting local, actually even some interesting local political. I'm here for events, but also just people in tech who wanted to reach out to the startup community which was just blossoming at the time. I would come. The space and all of our companies were able to mingle and meet and network with those who attended as well as the speakers and we were the only gig in town at the time and it was extraordinary, so we had our startups and we were able to help each of them in so many different areas in marketing and strategy and business development and brand intros, but we also help them work together and then hosting these events give.
Speaker 2:18:16Gave them an opportunity within the space to do all this networking and it was. It was just phenomenal.
Speaker 3:18:23Do you mind sharing from kickoff labs and Transmedia, some of your companies you've helped launch of which are especially proud? Yeah, we did kick labs for better part of three years and we, we had to make a decision, are we going to be a venture fund or are we going to be an incubator accelerator? And we felt like we really wanted to focus on venture. So even though we were doing extraordinarily well, we kick labs, we had to make that decision. Uh, some of the early companies, one most significant, that was very early, a kick labs company called wish and wishes been extraordinarily successful. Uh, they've raised a lot of insurer and you know, that's, it's a company that we're very bullish on. It's a super consumer shopping APP. Uh, that's really taken hold and also coming from la now they are the sponsor of the Lakers there on the liquor, a uniform.
Speaker 3:19:20So I'm really proud of that as well. Especially now that Lebron is playing for the. Oh yeah. And again, I'm still a warrior fan now converted where? Fan. But there's deep in my heart. I know what it's not the warriors. I'm rooting for the Lakers. Having wish on Lebron is a pretty good. It's pretty good. Pretty excited. Pretty excited. So let's, uh, let's talk a little, your friend Ron Suber who was gracious enough to join me on a previous episode. Talks about Aiccu adversity quotient. You've shared about some of the, the immense challenges that your, your parents faced and some of your jobs growing up. Talk a little bit about adversity in business or life that you had faced and how that has shaped you. And then we'll get to talking about the last mile.
Speaker 2:20:01So this brings me to my very first job interview in New York. You know, I had come back from a gap year, traveled around the world and landed in New York. That's where my roots were and I found the ideal job and it was at the center of war and peace studies. And I went on the interview and you know how you walk out and you say, I nailed it. That was so great. And the next day I received a call and I'm so excited because I'm sure I'm going to be in one of the top performers here. They had to decline hiring me because of my typing skills. Oh, I said, are you serious? Typing skills can be acquired, but all the other attributes that I have that probably attracted you to me in the first place are not something that you can learn. There's something that you have a passion for. I didn't get the job, but today I am unbelievably minute. Are we talking? Oh, too many to count. How about you Chris?
Speaker 3:21:10You know, I, I, I've always been competitive and I can't say that I had any real struggles growing up. Fortunately, you know, is pretty. I'm pretty fortunate for that, but I'm always being competitive. And, and um, you know, being around guys, especially with reebok that were much more talented than I was from a running point of view. So I, you know, I always put in more time and effort and so forth to sort of get over those shortcomings. But I think that translated also to into silicon valley. Silicon Valley is one of those places where you try fail, try again. And you know, we've had successes, we've also had companies that haven't done so well. So I think that really gives you some perspective as well, like, you know, it's not always going to work. And um, I think that's what allows people to hear, especially to take that risk knowing that if it doesn't work that you can try again and people won't necessarily judge you on failure that judge you on effort.
Speaker 3:22:13And many times companies don't work because it's not the right time, it's too early, too late, whatever. But I think if you really are true to what you are doing and um, you know, put an effort forward, people will reinvest in you. And that's certainly how we look at when we invest in entrepreneurs. So many, uh, many of our listeners and people out there have a someday planner. If they, if they made enough, then they would do the thing they really intended or then they would do something good for the world. They talk about their exit and off time share big dreams, uh, having had some, some good exits. How has your relationship and view of money and investing in the world evolved over time? You know, I really look at success, especially financial success is giving you freedom and leverage, right? And, um, everybody potentially has a number.
Speaker 3:23:07Both beverly and I worked hard without ever having a number. It's never been how much we could make. It's more about, as you said before, about being immersed in it and really, um, you know, having that as a, as a, as a passion when you work. Um, but really that's how we look at it when we, when we started our social enterprise and we'll talk about it was for the ability for us to do this and fund it and have the time to lend to it. That was somewhat due to success. Um, but you know, I don't think you need to be rich necessarily to do something that you're really passionate about. Um, that has some sort of social benefit.
Speaker 2:23:52We actually teach our students inside the correctional facilities when they're trying to come up with their capstone project, Orient our entrepreneurship program, when they're coming up with the business idea that they're going to ultimately build out a plan and pitch. We tell them to tap into their passion and to pick something that they would do every day, even if they did it for free, that they would wake up every morning and be excited to do. And I think that will certainly having having financial resources gives you the freedom to do what you want to do. I think that people need to really look at what they are doing on a daily basis and try to devote as much time as they can to the things for which they are passionate and if you pursue those things honestly and with verve, the money will come. How
Speaker 3:24:57sounds like you were both naturally focused or have willed yourself to become focused. When you're passionate about something, how intentional are you when you're starting something? Are you, are you tracking time or is it, does it just evolve for you? Uh, you know, we have to be very thoughtful, better time because we don't have a lot of it, you know, obviously still very much front and center with my venture firm, so we have to be really thoughtful about that. And uh, you know, the fortunate thing is working together, we have a very clear delineation of who does what and that's what's made us successful working, coupled together that we have very complementary skills. Uh, I think the challenge for us is that we have to be aware of and thoughtful about taking time for ourselves and that's something we're working on more and more because you can just get so immersed in things every day, literally everyday that you don't take time for that. And I think that's important to keep things balanced. And that's something that we work on and we're not there yet. But we definitely work on that.
Speaker 2:26:06Well, we enjoy what we do, we're very passionate about it and we, we just revel in the success stories of our graduates. And so it doesn't feel like work. It never does. And the amount of time that we spend working collectively on a weekly basis, I'm too embarrassed to even say because it's insane, but we love it. And so if you're doing something you love, there's no constraints on time, but as Chris said, we have to make a very conscious effort to say, okay, for the next 30 minutes we're not talking about this and you know, we're very multifaceted and there are so many things that we do outside of the work for the last mile. But um, when we, when we discover new things that we're excited about, we want to share them with everyone. So there's no real clear delineation. It's something that's a lifestyle. What are one or two of your other passions outside of your work with the last mile and your investments? Family and fitness?
Speaker 3:27:09Yeah, I mean, fitness has always been really important for us and I think that that helps your endurance in many ways, but it's really been an outlet for us. You know, we were very conscious about that. We make time for that pretty much every day. It's important for us. We want to stay, you know, relevant as well. So we especially being involved in technology that you have to constantly educate yourself, especially in the business I'm in where things change so fast. So we, we make sure that we inform each other, uh, we have conversations about that regularly and then I'm a pretty avid reader so, you know, constantly digging into books and have one going all the time. But I think part of that is uh, uh, staying fit is really, really important for us. Has my cliff notes for books. So our, our guests and listeners represent a broad array of spiritualities, um, you know, some, some, maybe atheists and may be figuring it out. Seeking a can share a little bit about your views of spirituality.
Speaker 2:28:17Well, there are not conventional and I believe we share this and I totally believe in serendipity and things happen for a reason and if you do good things for people, the universe will do good things for you. And I live by that. I was brought up, brought up in a very cultural home, but not a very religious home, but we had some really tight knit relationships with other people who went through similar experiences and being a first generation American meeting and being with other first generation Americans was a way to connect on a level that really was most meaningful in my life.
Speaker 3:29:09Yeah. I think, uh, you know, obviously, uh, we'll, we'll, we'll begin talking about last mile and, and that experience has really shown another level of, whether you call it spirituality or, uh, or you know, of giving, you know, I was never honestly considered a giving person necessarily. I never thought of myself as running a social enterprise or a socially impactful, you know, organization. Um, so, you know, you don't, I guess I never really realized that I had this sort of in, you know, deep down I guess or centered that, that this was really important for me. Um, you know, religion was always something that was, we were exposed to, went to church and that type of thing. But I never really knew how deeply that church resided inside of me until we started this and saw the impact of giving, not only for us but, but the community that rallies around that.
Speaker 3:30:09It's pretty amazing. A perfect segue. Let's, let's talk about that. That bridge and the origins of the last mile. Well, it's, you know, it's been pretty well chronicled I guess. But, uh, uh, in, uh, 2010, I was invited in to San Quentin to, to give a talk to a group of men about business and entrepreneurship. I had a friend who was doing some mentoring there and she asked me to come in and talk to the guys because no one, you know, that they were exposed to, could answer the questions. And my immediate reaction was, no, why would I want to go into prison? Uh, but she was persistent and I agreed to go in one evening. And My expectation there was that I'd walk in, I talked to this group, they would give me blank stares. I'd walk out and I checked the box of, of giving.
Speaker 3:30:54Uh, what happened was totally the opposite. I, I went in and started talking to these guys and they just lit up and there was a group of about 50 guys and hands wet in the air and they started asking questions that it turned into this three hour discussion, which freaked beverly up because I was supposed to be gone for about 30 minutes. We live very close to st when and we lived in Marin county, which is not, you know, where we live was, was pretty close to the prison. So she thought, well, he's going to talk for 30 minutes, be home, maybe it's, you know, it's certainly less than an hour. And it was an amazing conversation. It was that sort of a seminal moment in my life where I saw the same look and these guys that I saw in founders that we invested in like this passion and desire to create a better life after they serve their time. So I went home and I was really, you know, over the moon, like, wow, we could actually do something here. I had no idea what that was going to be. But um, I came home, walked in the front door and like, beverly, I think we can, you know, start a technology incubator in San Quentin. And her reaction was not actually very positive.
Speaker 2:32:01Well, I've, which you care to share that reaction. You can't actually say everything. I don't know. This is a pg rated show. Oh No, no. We're wide open. We're wide open. No filters required. So beverly, how did they receive and respond? I was flabbergasted. It is not what I expected. And I said no effing way. Am I going to prison? That's right. I have so little. This is, this is. Remember we're running kick labs now, this technology accelerator in San Francisco with all these companies and all these events. I had very little free time and I said, why would I spend my free time, which I have very little of any way going to prison. And you know, this was in my opinion, another one of Chris's crazy ideas, Christmas, CCI. And I figured going scene by the way, usually they'll go away, but it doesn't, it hasn't stopped either.
Speaker 2:33:03So I, um, I just said there's no way I'm, I'm going to do this, and he was, he was, I think equally as flabbergasted because I've never really hit him with such negativity. I'm a very positive person and he said, don't, don't say that like maybe you need to experience what I did was it, maybe not, but let me do some research because really we had no, no connection to the penal system. We had no idea what was happening in this country, which I think most people don't other than what you see in the movies and read in the media. So when I started doing research about all the issues facing a societal impact of incarceration, especially from a fiscal perspective, because you know, we're in also in venture. So thinking at the time, we're spending over $60,000 a year to keep someone incarcerated. And the recidivism rate, the rate in which they would go back to prison within three years was over 60 percent, 75 percent unemployed after the first year.
Speaker 2:34:09So my focus, as I said earlier, was on education and societal issues. I thought if we could reduce recidivism just by a little bit, we could save all those tax dollars that are now going to prisons and put that into education so children in underserved communities could have a better opportunity and not go down that generational cycle of incarceration. So I could reduce the prison population in the future, provide a better life for children. I said, okay, I'll go inside one time because this is a big problem that I was totally unaware of. And then I went inside.
Speaker 3:34:51Yes she did. And she saw what I saw. And so we, we actually proposed to the prison administration that we would start an entrepreneurship program. We had no idea what that meant really. Uh, we, we didn't have a curriculum. We just took all the practices that we were doing from investment in incubating companies and just sort of made it up as we went along early. And I went in for 40 straight weeks. We did two nights a week, uh, and we started with a small group of guys inside and started just teaching them about technology and arm's length. We created, we eventually create a curriculum that basically, as beverly said before, picked a passion project. They actually built a business plan, literally wrote a business plan, and then uh, they created a presentation that, uh, we would present to a live audience and we demo days.
Speaker 3:35:48Yes, just likely would add kick labs. That's right. So we, we actually did that and we had our first Demo Day in 2012 where we had an invited audience of between inmates and, and outside, uh, guests, about 300 people. We had media there. We had some venture folks that I work with and they presented and they just did extraordinarily well because they, this was more than just presenting an idea. This was presenting their passion project and we say a lot to really make it effective, take it from your head to your heart. And they presented from their heart and it really came through. And that was, that was really the moment we realized we were onto something. Other people in the audience said that presentations at the demo day at San Quintin were better than those that they see in the community.
Speaker 4:36:34As I encourage our listeners to go to the last mile.org and watch some of these for yourselves, ranging from a Ted talk in 2012, which features some highlights you, you will be inspired whether you are an entrepreneur yourself or just someone seeking to learn more. I encourage you to do that. Can you talk a little, maybe we will have a subsequent conversation with some of your graduates who are impacting the world. You maybe just give a high level overview of a couple of the enterprises that they've helped. Start with NTLM. Just be clear. It was more important
Speaker 3:37:07to go through the process that actually have them start business because you, when you're inside, you can't start a business. So they came. We wanted them to understand what it meant to take an idea to something that was actually potentially the ability to start a business. Now that's changed. Some of the guys are, you know, we have graduates that are out now. They're doing that. A good example is our ratio hearts who was in, I think our second class. Um, he came from a really rough neighborhood in Richmond, in the East Bay, um, you know, he was, his family had been involved in dealing drugs and really violent. He had multiple people in his family, extended family that had been killed. His goal was to go back to his community and do something good. So He created something called healthy hearts institute and the goal was to go back and teach about health, um, and teach about, uh, you know, really giving back to your community in a different way.
Speaker 3:38:07So today he actually has a five, one c nonprofit. He has a land that has been dedicated, he has community gardens, uh, and this is really living his passion idea. They started in prison and now he's on his, I think it's his third season there. I think he told me last time they had, was it 5,000 pounds of yield or something. It was great lengths to reduce obesity in the low income. So he's teaching fitness, they're going to build a structure there, you know, that's an example of, of taking a passionate project and really launching it a as well.
Speaker 2:38:42So I have a couple of ideas, but one that I think is extraordinary is, uh, Jason Jones, Jason Jones was in our entrepreneurship program and his passion project was called GPA, getting parents' attention because he was recruited by three universities to play football, which was his passion, but because his grades were so poor, he could not accept any of those scholarships. He was rejected. So he came up with this idea of building an APP to connect students with their teachers and coaches and parents so that they could, if their grades were dropping below par, they would have an indication of what's happening and, and a remedy to help them improve their, their, uh, grades. So fast forward, Jason. Well, in 2014 we started a computer coding program in San Quintin as a test to see how, how it would be received by the community just as we did with our entrepreneurship program.
Speaker 2:39:42Will Lo and behold, Jason Jones was accepted into the coding program. He completed all the, completed the entire to track one year program and then went into advanced studies. And today works as a web developer inside San Quentin. In our joint venture business with cal Pia, the California prison industry authority, so he's a web developer working on outside projects, any is also developing his mobile APP GPA and when he returns to society in September, he has the ability to get a job as a web developer and he's very talented. He knows full stack and even doing backend and mobile APP development. He also has the ability to launch his own app out of his passion business and when he came to prison, which was about 20 years ago, I actually think it's 14, 14, sorry. He was at a third grade reading level and he's going to walk out the gate with a definable skill with a client base. The referrable clients that he's worked on projects for in the joint venture and a red and a resume and portfolio of work and an APP that he can launch that sadness. That's a success story
Speaker 3:40:59for our listeners who need web developers who are in very high demand around here who maybe don't want to outsource overseas. How do they connect with this opportunity as a website called TLM Works or doesn't work and you know, we're doing a variety of projects for websites, web apps, that type of thing. And it's been pretty extraordinary because the normal prison wage, when you have a prison job is somewhere in the $50, ninety cents an hour when you're doing those jobs that are, you know, work in the kitchen or whatnot. Those folks that are working for TLM works get paid almost $17 an hour, so it's the highest wage paid in the US prison and that's set by the Employment Development Department in California, but it's pretty extraordinary. Obviously there's a high demand for, for guys to get into this now and women and women soon, so we're going to be launching that very soon in a women's prison. Know currently we're in a seven prisons now to women's facilities and we just launched hd. I'm a youth facility as well, but yeah, it's. It really is. I think the goal for us was to give these people an opportunity who are not quite ready to get out yet based on their sentences, a chance to work, but as you said, it gives a company is an opportunity to add to what we call onshore or you know, keep those, those jobs in the U, s and not outsource outside the country.
Speaker 2:42:29Not I, I do want to comment on the fact that we have a lot of volunteers who come inside multiple facilities, not just San Quintin, but the majority of them are at San Quentin just based on proximity to the tech community, but we're transforming their lives too because when they have the opportunity to come inside and sit with a coder, that's what they see them as a coder and be able to help them advance their career and that connection is transformational on a two way level. Yes. How us people who measure impact for a living and, and your businesses and make good bets. How, how do you measure impact? What have you seen since 2010 with Tlm?
Speaker 3:43:16Yeah, it's. We actually had, if you consider them sort of Kpis, we had three that were gen one was, most importantly, would the program that we started a, would that resonate inside with the men that was most important. If they didn't care about it, then we wouldn't have continued. The second one was, would you know the community around the business community? Would they rally? Would they be interested in what we're doing? As beverly said, we've got a lot of volunteers now. It really resonated way beyond her expectation. People volunteering companies really interested in what we're doing. And then the third is most importantly, when they got out, would business hire. And that is absolutely, uh, I think it's beyond our expectations. I think it's primarily because the first few people that got out for a few guys to get out were placed and they did such an extraordinary job because this job was, was really so meaningful for them.
Speaker 3:44:13And there's, you know, there's sort of a pervasive entitled this, especially in Silicon Valley. These guys weren't entitled at all. They went and they just did extraordinarily well. And that's really everyone that's got out since gotten out since then has done a phenomenal job. So now we've got companies approaching us saying, I want one of those TLM graduates because I know they're a hell of an employee. So those were the important things as a result, you know, knock on wood, we have 50 plus returned citizens. No one's re-offended, you know, the, the, uh, as beverly said, I think at the very beginning, you know, the recidivism rate generally around 60 percent. Nobody's reinventing the last eight years. And you know, we were developing a last mile community of alumni and they, they hold that very dear. This is a zero tolerance program. If you have a, a infraction when you're in the program inside, you get terminated from the program, you cannot have an infraction two years prior to applying to the program. So it's something that is really, really important and it's, it's raised sort of the accountability, I think for our graduates. And that's something that as we scale, we want to maintain. Obviously.
Speaker 2:45:27I also feel it's important to judge success by the ripple effect. It has a pond, families and communities. We talked just briefly about Horacio hearts. There's definitely a ripple effect into his community and by helping people to understand the benefit of health, wellness, fitness, and good food, but I have had the opportunity to meet both of his children and to hear them talk about the dad and how proud they are of him and how they are mentoring other children of incarcerated parents and this is something that I've heard from a number of children and adult children that I've met who are from our graduates. That to me is so meaningful because we've given people dignity, hope not only those who participate in the program, but people they touch and their friends and their fellow inmates and the community when they get home and so many of them go back to youth facilities or youth groups and talk to the kids and tell them, don't do what I did. You know, being. Let me be an example today
Speaker 3:46:43to those who are inspired to get involved either here in northern California or elsewhere, what would you recommend? Someone who maybe is in another location who says, I want to do that. I want to learn from the Tlm model where we are taking this across the country. It's our goal is to be in at least 50 prison the next five years. We have four or five states right now that we're expanding to in 2019 that it's already sort of on the roadmap for us. So if we're not in a city near you yet, we may be. So I would encourage to reach out to info at the last mile data work. There's a form you can fill out. We respond that day. Uh, and you know, there's a variety of ways people can, can help volunteer inside, volunteer remotely. Um, you know, there, there are many ways to, to participate. So I would say if you have interest at all, just reach out, reach out to us and we'll find a way for you to get involved
Speaker 4:47:42how we've talked about the transformation of your graduates, of volunteers. And talk a little bit about the transformation of, of yourselves from those early days as we come to a conclusion. Now, how do you see the world differently than you did in 2010?
Speaker 3:47:59I think we're. We're even more so compassionate. I guess. One of the things I remember early on when beverly and I would drive in at night, you know, we've finished a day in the city and then we say we have to teach this class for three hours and we were pretty tired and we looked at each other like really want to do this and we would leave without fail every evening inspired and we'd go home after being the prison and, and, and having these discussions and seeing the results of what was going on, we'd be really inspired. So I think that's really, that's really made an impression on both of us. And also I said before about how people from your community you have rallied. I mean we didn't know what this was going to be received positively or negatively going to prison and doing this, but it's seeing people rally around this has been really extraordinary. So I think that's really made a lasting impression on me.
Speaker 4:48:55I agree with, of course everything Chris just said, and just to take it one step beyond for me, it has made me a better listener and today I judge each person as an individual, not as a group. I will listen to everyone's story and I won't. I won't judge them, I just won't judge them. Bevin, Chris, some of your openness to listening to the story of individuals without prejudging them. Lead you to meet Kenyatta Leal, a founding member and returned citizen of the last mile program. We're now honored for Kenyatta to join us if you would. Please begin telling us a little bit about your connection and you know, maybe let's, let's start with maybe when you met Chris and we can work backwards a little bit and paint the picture for people.
Speaker 5:49:47Sure. So I met Chris. What about 2009? 2010? I was serving a life sentence at San Quentin state prison for being an ex felon in possession of a firearm. At that point of my incarceration I had done a ton of work to, you know, to rehabilitate myself. Um, I've been through a lot of a rehabilitative programs develop insight into my criminal behavior and I know my criminal background really just trying to gain an understanding of how I wound up in prison. Um, and you know, by the time I met Chris and Beverly, I was really, uh, you know, eager to learn some new things. Um, I've pretty much done all the programs at San Quentin had reached this plateau and uh, so I was looking for something new to sink my teeth into. And uh, when I met Chris, he came with this idea of starting an entrepreneurship program at San Quentin, which I was immediately drawn to because, you know, my crimes that I committed a involve some entrepreneurship skills, but they were just used in the wrong way in the street. Um, and my, I viewed my relationship with Chris and his wife, beverly is, uh, an opportunity to learn how to learn what entrepreneurship is really about and apply those skills so that when I got out I could not just get out but stay home.
Speaker 4:51:05So as I understand it, you were there on Chris's first night. You talk a little bit, I know people were asking questions, what, what questions came to mind for you upon meeting Chris?
Speaker 5:51:15Well, you know, there are a lot of people that come into the prisons and I just really wanted to know if it was for real. So, um, I just listened basically to a Chris and Bob had to say and um, you know, they follow through with everything that they said that they were going to do. And so, um, initially they wanted to just come in and just have some initial talks about how we could shape the program, who else we could get involved in it and um, you know, so that sounded reasonable to me. And uh, from there it was just one step after another where they just follow through with everything they said they were going to do. And so, you know, for a guy like me who had been in prison at that point up to I think about 16 years I had been in. Um, no, it was really important for me because, you know, they're, it's, it's all about not,
Speaker 4:51:57not listening to what people say, but really watching what they do in their actions just showed me that they were genuine in what they wanted to do. Yeah. So let's rewind a little bit and then we'll come back to the idea. Um, and I encourage our listeners to check out an interview you did with a sway on the last mile radio, which you can find firstname.lastname@example.org. In that, along your journey you talked about receiving a letter from your mother that, that really stuck with you and resonated kind of reframe. Thanks. Can you talk a little bit about that and maybe how that shapes the way you continue to think and live with intentionality?
Speaker 5:52:32Yeah, so I, at the time I was in the hole for a altercation and I had been involved in and um, I was really searching for answers and my mom was somebody who was always believed in me and supported me no matter what. And uh, I was in a tough spot right then. And, you know, I was just like, you know, telling her how bad I wanted to come home and all the things that I wanted to do and she just stopped me, you know, and in the letter and just let you know if getting home coming home is what you want to do with getting out is what you want to do, then you need to act like it. Act like it every single day with your actions, the way you speak, the way that you walked, everything that you do, act like you really want to come home.
Speaker 5:53:16And uh, it was a wakeup call for me because while I was talking about what I want to do, I wasn't really, you know, living that out on day to day basis. And so, you know, words ring true to me today. Um, I want to continue to make an impact in this space and help other people. And I can't do that running the streets, you know, I have to really stay focused and surround myself with people who are on the same trajectory as I am. And so that's one of the reasons why I'm so glad to be working with TLM today because it helps keep me grounded in ways that, um, you know, that I don't think that my teammates are fully aware of.
Speaker 4:53:51You talk a little bit about from first getting started with Tlm to, to today, um, and, and, you know, talk to our listeners about what you're up to and um, you know, ways that they can engage.
Speaker 5:54:03Well from day one, when I met Chris and Beverly, I, I mentioned to them that I didn't want to just be a participant in the program. I wanted to, you know, be a part of the growth and expansion of the program. I saw this from the very beginning and then, you know, when I got out of prison in 2013, I continued with the program being an evangelist and, you know, doing talks and sharing my story. I'm done a lot of podcasts similar to this. I'm just a heightened awareness and share my story with folks that change is possible. And, uh, I started working at rocket space, which is a technology campus here in San Francisco about two weeks after I was released from prison. I stayed there for probably about my first four and a half years. I'm out and about two months ago I resigned from rocketspace and started with The Last Mile full time as a business development specialist. And that's basically what I focus on today is the expansion of the organization. I'm really just focused on, you know, the, um, the relationships with, um, you know, state governments and departments of corrections and uh, another piece that I'm really focused on as well as to our reentry network. So we have more and more people who are getting out of prison who have graduated from our program and we're just finding creative ways to keep us all engaged and focused on the mission of the program.
Speaker 4:55:23I will come back to your current role. What was, uh, what was your role at rocketspace?
Speaker 5:55:28My role there, I started off as an intern. I worked my way up into a management position and then a sales position as well. And what does rocketspace do? So rocketspace really focuses on bringing the future to market with technology companies here in San Francisco. Um, we've opened a rocket space, opened up a campus in London, there's a rocket space in China as well, and basically they're just helping bring the future to market with startups.
Speaker 4:55:52I help pay the bills by being a business development person myself. In your role as a business development specialist, how can our listeners be helpful as we all work to expand networks and make connections? What will be helpful to you?
Speaker 5:56:06Well, they can start off by reaching out to us at thelastmile.org if they want to volunteer with the program, if they are somebody who's in a position where they could hire somebody who's formerly incarcerated to take a look at that, you know, don't just check the box and, you know, discount somebody because they've been to prison or have a record, take a look at the individual and whether or not they've done the necessary work to, you know, understand, um, you know, their criminal behavior and um, you know, have an open mind. But hiring folks is, is a big deal. So I would start there.
Speaker 4:56:38So Chris, let's talk about from from that first night you talked about coming in at night through the mist and meeting a group of, of men for the first time. How does it feel? How seen so much change and having Kenyatta be a big part of that?
Speaker 3:56:56Well, I mean, I'm really proud obviously, uh, you know, we, there's two things that are sort of our, our mantra is one is paving the road to success and the other one is believe in the process. Right? And Kenyatta has done both. You know, what I met him, he was serving a life sentence with no, no really clear path that he was going to get out. But he was one of the most positive guy, enthusiastic guys I've ever met. And I thought, how is this possible that someone serving life sentence can be so enthusiastic? And you know, he became really the center for us that we built this program around. He was in our first class a and he really rallied all of those guys that were the ones that really took that first leap with us. Uh, you know, is Kenyatta said. I was making some pretty dramatic predictions or promises saying if you guys work hard, you can be working in silicon valley and, you know, some of the guys like me, like guy's full of crap maybe. But, um, but, you know, it was, it was bleeding and I, and I said, you just have to believe and now believe in the process has really, it's, it's a big poster on all the walls in our classrooms, like, believe and it will happen and you know, that's, that's really the case. So, you know, Kenyatta has been phenomenal, uh, as he said evangelists, but also an example of staying focused, working hard and things good. You know, good things will happen.
Speaker 4:58:18Can you add in, in your work, um, something that you serve as a mentor now to, to others who are coming up as well, and exposure, sharing any, any stories that are inspiring you, a budding entrepreneurs who are going through the process. And learning the way as anything that stands out.
Speaker 5:58:35Yeah. We have a guy in our program, his name is Jason Jones. Very, very impressive young man. He's worked really, really hard on, um, you know, just changing his and himself and, and learning the things that he learned needs to learn to be successful once he gets out. And he's a perfect example of somebody who, um, I would keep a close eye on, you know, when they get out because this guy is like, you know, the potential for what he can do is just unlimited, you know. And uh, I know that once he gets out and he gets settled in a great things to come from him. So Jason Jones is a perfect example of somebody that, uh, that ice is like taking, helping take the program to the next level because
Speaker 4:59:14that will keep your eye on Jason Jones. Yeah, there you go. We'll have opportunities to speak with other other graduates and participants. Kenyatta and Chris, thank you so much for joining me today.
Speaker 1:59:22Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you for making time to listen today. Kenyatta, Beverly and Chris were very generous with their time and I think then please subscribe to beyond the check and leave a review on apple podcasts, spotify, stitcher, or your favorite service. I'm John Weens. Until next time, keep living and working beyond the check.