For 22 years, Zachary Moore had to sit in a 1.8 x 2.7 meter prison cell. But now, he sits in an open-space office in San Francisco, examining and checking the code.
At 15, this man was sentenced to life in prison for murder. 38-year-old, he has a full-time job as a software engineer, working with colleagues who graduated from Stanford University. With a six-figure salary, he has the highest salary among the US workers.
Moore's story is one of the best examples of perseverance, hard work and the spirit of redemption. It also raises a controversial question: Should a convicted murderer be given a second chance?
Moore grew up in the middle class, in a quiet neighborhood in Redlands, California.
His childhood was like all other children living in the suburbs, with video games, sports, hanging out with friends. But at home, things are extremely chaotic.
Moore's parents are both alcoholics, often drunk and neglecting their children, sometimes forgetting to feed them. When he entered adolescence, he had difficulty controlling his emotions and found a way to cure himself with alcohol and drugs. But it only makes all emotions become more extreme and everything becomes more complicated.
On the night of November 8, 1996, a quarrel with family members broke out. Anger, jealousy and pain invaded his entire mind. At 11:30 pm, Moore picked up a knife, approached the bench where his younger brother was sleeping and stabbed his sibling.
At the trial, Moore's defense lawyer blamed a habitat full of drug use, alcoholism and violence and abuse. They were used as the reason for his psychic twitching, eventually accumulating into a negative reaction. But the jury did not show any pity when making the final decision, due to the nature of the offense. In September 1997, Zachary Moore was convicted of murder and under California law at the time, he received an unspecified life sentence with no release time before 26 years.
Three days before his 17th birthday, Moore was transferred from the juvenile detention center to a high security prison.
For the next few years, Moore struggled with life in prison, trying to find out who he was and what he did.
"Prison is like high school – it's a group of 30, 40, 50 year old men who have been trapped there since they were teenagers.", I said. "People will wear these masks, feel it suits them and feel accepted. Nobody wants to face themselves."
Moore was in constant trouble and in 2000, he was transferred to a solitary confinement, where he would be shackled for 23 hours a day and had almost no human contact. "First", I said. "I started pulling down my mask layers."
He realized his crimes were not the result of "escape extremist emotions", or that the circumstances in which he grew up were not what killed his brother.
"Millions of children around the world grow up like me and have found other ways to get things done," I said. "Actually, I am a difference among them. There are things about me that only I can solve and fix by myself."
Moore soon joined a group of prisoners trying to improve themselves. Despite being constantly bullied and mocked by others, they have formed a group to support each other. He joined Buddhist learning groups, meditation classes and gradually, with the emotional support of his fellow inmates, learned how to "remove negative emotions from the mind". .
Moore was later transferred to Ironwood State Prison, a facility with average security. There, he enrolled in an online degree program at Palo Verde College, earned an associate degree and graduated with an average of 3.89.
Then one day, he saw a flyer in the prison corridor talking about a program called The Last Mile.
In 2010, Chris Redlitz, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor, was invited to speak to business with prisoners at San Quentin State Prison, north of San Francisco.
"I expected to go there and find a bad group of people," he said. "But I quickly realized that many of them are skilled entrepreneurs who don't have the way to learn and express themselves."
Together with his wife, Beverly, Redlitz founded The Last Mile (TLM) and began offering a biweekly entrepreneurial program at prisons. But soon, the couple realized there was a bigger systematic problem that needed to be addressed.
When former detainees are released from prison, they are given between $ 10 and $ 200 in cash for toll. These people often have no prospects for work or housing, and very little contact with the outside world. In California, nearly 7 out of 10 released prisoners have re-committed crimes within 3 years. This perpetual cycle has contributed to a growing detention crisis, placing a financial burden of up to $ 182 billion per year in the United States.
Therefore, Redlitz wants to empower prisoners, teaching them skills so they can easily use them to find jobs when they leave prison. And in California, there is no more reliable skill to get a job than programming.
Therefore, The Last Mile has launched a comprehensive code training program to prisons in San Quentin.
With funding from many large facilities, Redlitz transformed an on-site printer factory into a technology center with full modern equipment. To address the prison's strict Internet ban policy, he built an internet simulator.
When The Last Mile expanded his coding program to Ironwood Prison in June 2015, Moore was one of the first to be involved.
At the time, Moore had only used computers three times in his life – all before 1996 – and he had never known the so-called Internet. The year he was imprisoned, AOL and Geocities still ruled the sites. However, the programming job appealed to him.
"I don't know anything about technology, but I have to embrace it.", he shared. "I feel that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity."
Despite carrying a life sentence, Moore still harbored hope that he would be released one day. And then, he wants to have prepared himself to be able to find a useful job.
But first, Moore must pass the screening process of The Last Mile.
First, the prisoner must have a clean record, no offense for 2 years before filing (cyber criminals are automatically removed from the list). Prisoners must also have a track record of improvement from the prison management. Next is passing a logical test to assess linear thinking and problem-solving skills.
Because the program focuses on assisting people who are about to leave prison, the majority of prisoners who participate are less than 3 years in the sentence. However, it also offers a 10% chance for people like Moore, who want to get a second chance in life.
Moore has overcome challenges, accepted and started the first code learning program, with two courses lasting 6 months.
Four times a week, from 7 am to 2 pm, he joins a small group to learn basic programming languages like HTML and CSS. For the first month, he was only allowed to code by hand. When exposed to computers, he will have to learn based on a combination of video tutorials. These videos were made in studios in San Francisco, by technical experts from Google, Airbnb, Slack and Alibaba.
"We don't have access to the Internet. Studying is frustrating because I don't know what the free world really looks like. It forces you to do everything visual and creative." he recalled.
Moore graduated from the group with the highest score and soon realized that The Last Mile also provided additional training at San Quentin Prison, focusing on advanced algorithms and data science. He applied to transfer the prison to study and was accepted.
Not long after arriving here, Moore received an unexpected piece of good news: He had a chance to be released.
In California, the law surrounding violent crimes committed by young people has been reviewed.
A state bill, passed in 2014, ordered that young people (under 18 when committing crimes) were tried as adults when they were given the right to release, after attending hearings to Determining eligibility for early release. It was followed by another bill, which completely forbade the courts from judging anyone under 16 as for an adult.
In 2018, Moore was tried before the release committee.
I know this is my chance to be a human again. And what needs to be done now is to convince 12 people to make the verdict, those appointed by the governor of California.
"I took them on the journey of my life, from the age of 3 until I was 37", I said. "I exposed myself to them dissecting them, analyzing from thoughts to emotions."
Moore's release decision is confirmed. But the council still has 150 days to reverse the decision. During those 5 months, he could only wait and know that at any time, his freedom could be taken away.
During this time, Moore threw himself into the code, completing the final rank in his course. Through a program provided by The Last Mile, he even helped build elements of an actual website for Dave's Killer Bread, an organic bread company founded by a former associate. judgment.
On November 12, 2018, after 22 years behind bars, Moore was free.
The Last Mile agent picked him up outside the prison, gave him clothes and a laptop, took him home to one of the transitional houses, a place for people similar to him before. Gradually, Moore began to get used to society again.
For the next 6 months, he worked part-time as an engineer for The Last Mile. When he felt ready, he started applying for technical internships at technology companies in Silicon Valley.
"I know that no company wants to hire me," he recounted. "I just want to be in an interview."
According to Jennifer Ellis, chief executive of The Last Mile, technology companies often don't want to hire people who have been detained for two reasons: legal issues and cultural integration. "Both are understandable but not plausible," she said.
In fact, laws in the states of the United States are trying to help offenders integrate into the community, like erasing their criminal history on job applications. However, they have not brought much effectiveness in practice. Especially in Moore's case, he was a violent and murderous criminal, causing him to receive severe discrimination from employers.
Moore accepted these discrimination by speaking out about his past, which The Last Mile encouraged. "I wrote my story in the cover letter and used it to explain what I had learned about myself", I said.
In May 2019, Moore left his post at The Last Mile to become a technical intern at Checkr, a technology company known by the New York Times then "one of the next unicorns of Silicon Valley".
In September of that year, the company hired him to work as a full-time engineer, a position with a six-figure salary.
Checkr is one of the growing tech companies in Silicon Valley and one of the rare places to accept people who have criminal records. 6% of the company's employees are talented people with a past criminal record.
"A person's conviction should not become their life sentence", Checkr spokesman said. "If someone is motivated to make a change in their lives, then their past shouldn't define their future."
On a Saturday afternoon, Moore boarded a train in Oakland, where he currently lives and headed to San Francisco to meet another graduate from The Last Mile.
The two plan to do regular "check-ins" by meeting to talk about issues, difficulties and emotions, before watching the horror comedy Zombieland: Double Tap.
Since its inception, The Last Mile has moved 70 graduates into the workplace. No one has to go back to prison, according to the organization's report.
It is considered a small but important victory in a larger ecosystem of anti-recidivism efforts. The Last Mile is currently developing new programs, offering additional programming courses at 15 detention facilities spread across five states.
In a way, Moore is a typical graduate student. Now, he is a middle-class white man, with the privileges of an ordinary person. Although Moore reconnected with his parents, he did not feel it was the right place to ask for forgiveness. He also never thought that he had been completely forgiven.
"I have an incredible regret that it will never disappear," I said. "My brother will never have a life that should have been received. He will also never be there at Christmas, Thanksgiving or birthdays."
But in the eyes of Chris Redlitz, founder of The Last Mile, it was these difficulties that made Moore a desirable candidate in a technology space, where resilience is always important.
According to Redlitz, Silicon Valley is the place where if you fail, get up, dust off and try again, he said Redlitz. Who embodies a better person than Zach?
"I have a thought that Silicon Valley is a place where if you fail, get up, dust it off and try again", he shared. "And who could prove it better than Zachary Moore?".
Refer The Hustle