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Acer Chromebook at San Quentin showing image from a cryptocurrency class.
Brand new Acer Chromebook computers like this one were issued to students in San Quentin (Photo courtesy of San Quentin News)

This article was first published by San Quentin News, a newspaper that reports on rehabilitative efforts to increase public safety and achieve social justice from inside San Quentin State Prison. Visit SQN’s website or follow them on Twitter. Aside from the headline, it appears as it was published and has not been edited by PJP.

San Quentin prisoners are participating in a first-of-its-kind program that allows them to take laptop computers back and forth to their cells. 

Acer Chrome Book computers have been assigned to prisoners in The Last Mile’s Coding 7370 program.

“We get to use them in our cells to do our assignments, watch coding videos, read PDF books, and practice coding skills,” SQ resident Sherman K. Newman said. “We work off line in the cell without wifi connection.”

Coding 7370 was launched at SQ years ago, with the help of Hack Reactor and the California Prison Authority (PIA). It’s part of The Last Mile, a program that teaches career skills to prisoners, including entrepreneurial skills and programs to facilitate reentry.

The laptop program is sponsored by The Last Mile in partnership with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the PIA. It first started as a pilot program at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City.

Newman said he plans to use his computer to finish his thesis by creating an app that teaches people how to move and protect their money in the crypto world.

The self-described ex-gang member is also writing a book entitled “Crip to Crypto.” Newman has been a student in Coding 7370 for the past five years. He has been learning about Block Chain technology and cryptocurrency since 2015.

Newman wants to help poor people in the community where he comes from to gain financial stability. He believes that helping them move into cryptocurrency can create opportunities to build wealth and lower the desire for crime.

“I grew up in an unstable home environment, so I took to the streets,” said Newman. “I joined a gang, carried guns, ran from bullets, and hit licks [did crime] to eat.”

Newman believes cryptocurrency can offer a way for marginalized people to stop living hand to mouth. He believes blockchain’s libertarian system can give everyone a shot at the American Dream, regardless of race or criminal stigmatization.

“Being Black and a felon, it’s hard to survive in this world,” said Newman. “We traditionally face difficulty getting bank loans and we face housing discrimination.”

One of Newman’s goals is to use his coding skills to create the “Calicoin,” a specific coin for California, to encourage new people to enter into the crypto market. Newman wants to incentivize the app for people of color to start learning, building their brand, and investing.

Newman hopes that his ability to use his new computer in the cell will offer him a pandemic-proof opportunity to prepare his app without disruption. He hopes to get an opportunity to finish his book and to give back to his community.

These new in-cell computers have been in high demand since COVID-19 has caused so many program disruptions at SQ. Many incarcerated students in the GED and college program are anxiously anticipating getting one of these mobile devices to continue with their own rehabilitation.

As a coding student, Newman has already been receiving assignments and software updates during quarantines. With this newfound freedom, he expects to finish his app and release his book in 2023.

“This book is a rallying cry to the community,” said Newman. “We need to learn how to code. We are going to have to learn this stuff because this is where the economy is going.”

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Steve Brooks is a writer for San Quentin News, an award-winning newspaper published out of San Quentin State Prison in California, where he is incarcerated. He has been published in the San Francisco Public Press, Street Spirit, All of Us or None and Voice of Witness. He is also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and has won a 2020 Journalism Excellence Award by SPJ's Northern California chapter for two of his columns published by PJP.