How did you hear about JTC?
I heard about the Justice Through Code program through social media. It’s actually a funny story. One day I was complaining to my girlfriend about how I was having trouble getting re-admitted into FIU and other local universities due to the negative stigma surrounding formerly incarcerated individuals. Just a few days later there was a retweet on her twitter feed advertising the JTC program. She sent me the link and when I read the description it was a no brainer. I immediately applied.
What made you want to apply?
Coding and Computer Science has always been a passion of mine. It was the reason I decided to pursue a degree in the field when I attended college. Due to my incarceration I wasn’t able to finish my degree. When I read up on the JTC program at Columbia University, It seemed like a perfect opportunity to get back into the learning environment that was taken from me.
Do you have any previous coding or technology experience?
What has your experience of reentry been like?
I believe I am truly one of the lucky ones. I was fortunate to be blessed with a very supportive family that provided a home to live in and resources for me when I was released. The sad truth is that many formerly incarcerated individuals are not as fortunate and end up homeless after release or struggle day-to-day with minimum-wage paying jobs. Although being blessed with this support, having a record still limited me greatly in my search for meaningful jobs and furthering my university education. Searching for jobs in the field of my choice was a nightmare. Any position I applied to in the software engineering field, I never got a response back from. As mentioned earlier, I was also denied acceptance into many local universities. Whether the true reason for the no responses from these companies was because of my incomplete education or my record, I may never know. All I do know is that both are a direct result of my involvement with the criminal justice system. I believe that employers and institutions today still see individuals with records as weaker candidates and this usually results in applications being tossed to the side. Even in situations where they don’t, there is still always an extra process involving these types of applications and you as the applicant must hope that the employer or institution has a heart and is willing to see past the record and notice the change you have made and are trying to make in your life.
How do you think Justice Through Code will support your reentry process?
I truly believe that this opportunity through Justice Through Code was God sent. After reading up on the program, I am certain the technical and interpersonal skills I learn through this program will help me in my future career. Whether it's learning how to code in Python or working on resume building and interview skills, these resources and skills will translate into making me the best applicant I can be for future job opportunities. JTC’s mission statement is “Providing life-changing access to career track technology jobs for the formerly incarcerated”. Reading this makes me confident that JTC will be very active in our re-entry process as a graduate of the program. Justice Through Code has partnered with tech companies and organizations to help their graduates get full-time positions and internships at companies in the NYC area. Moves like this assure me that Justice Through Code has my back and will support me thoroughly both during and after the program is completed.
What do you wish employers knew about formerly incarcerated people?
I wish employers knew the breakdown of how people become incarcerated, the stories behind the record, and to not place judgements on the records themselves. Every person has a story and I would encourage employers to hear us out before passing judgement. There are situations in which people were incarcerated because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or even wrongfully accused and convicted of a crime. In these cases the individuals still end up having a conviction on their records which affects their ability to obtain and maintain a meaningful job. Regardless of the reason for an individual’s incarceration, I would like employers to know that we are capable of change and accomplishing great things. Our records DO NOT reflect our intelligence level and ability to make a positive impact on our world going forward. Jane Goodall quotes “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make”. I believe having the experience of going through the criminal justice system and having to overcome the many adversities we have faced along the way allows us to work harder to become the future technology leaders of our generation and generations to come.
What are you most looking forward to this semester?
The thing I am most looking forward to is the final project that we will be presenting at the end of the semester. This will consist of each student creating an application in Python from scratch to present to the JTC faculty as well as others. What excites me most about this is that we are encouraged to brainstorm our own ideas to transform them into well developed and functioning applications. An advantage of this is that we are not tied down to particular problems. Instead we can take the thought process into our own hands and try to solve meaningful problems that are dear to us and our community.
If you could create your dream app, what would it be?
A dream app? Hmmm, I have so many ideas. One that is dear to me though that I will share with you has to do with helping currently incarcerated individuals in jail awaiting court dates have better access to their lawyers and case information. Essentially this app would allow you and a lawyer to direct message for faster communication as well as give you access to all documents and case files associated with your current case.