Finding work as a convicted felon can be difficult. At the only women’s prison in Kansas, inmates have the chance to learn skills for jobs in a fast-growing field.
Prisoners in Topeka have been learning to code and build a website since January. On Tuesday, a ribbon cutting was held celebrating the program’s half-way point.
“This gives me a new career goal, so I can’t go back to my old one, so this gives me hope,” said prisoner Suzanne Hayden.
Hayden has been locked up for a financial crime since 2012 and will be for eight more years.
“You have the ability to move on, learn new things, learn from your mistakes, and still come out on top,” said Hayden.
Every weekday, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., she and the other women work in the computer classroom.
“We’ve been helping each other, we’ve been digging into books and finding the answers, and we’ve really come to be a group in that way, a support system for one another,” said Hayden.
The program is called The Last Mile. It was founded in 2010 in San Quentin State Prison in California. Jason Jones is a graduate of the first program.
“I didn’t have no plans to rehabilitate before this program, I had a date, I knew when I was going to go home, my plan was to keep doing whatever I was doing,” he said.
Now he’s the lead remote instructor for the program, teaching inmates in four states.
“When you Google me, my crime doesn’t come up until the seventh page. And I think that right there, when you try and control your narrative, you try to control your story is powerful,” said Jones.
Making the most out of your release, that’s what the Department of Corrections is hoping for in Kansas.
“Most inmates are at some point going to be released, and the more skills that they’ve developed for success upon release, then the greater opportunity that they’re going to have for successful reentry to the community,” said Acting Secretary of Corrections Chuck Simmons.
Secretary of Commerce, David Toland was also at the event.
“In Kansas there are 50,000 vacant jobs, 50,000, now those aren’t all tech jobs, but a bunch of them are, and so it matters so much that we are developing our workforce across the state, that’s the only way our state can grow,” said Toland.
Officials say they hope the program can expand to other state prisons in the future.