The Last Mile program teaches Indiana inmates to code for successful reentry to society

ByMark Rivera and Megan Hawkins WLS logo
Saturday, May 6, 2023
Program teaches Indiana inmates to code for re-entry after release
The Last Mile is a coding intensive program given to inmates at prisons in Indiana and 7 other states to help them re-enter society after release.

PUTNAM COUNTY, Ind. (WLS) -- A unique program at an Indiana prison teaches convicts to code with eye-popping results, and could expand to Illinois in the near future.

Graduates of the Last Mile prison coding program said it has changed their lives. They and prison officials said it's setting incarcerated individuals up for successful reentry into high demand jobs and, more importantly, society at large when they get released.

To an outside, it looks something like a high school computer science class, with more than a dozen computers lined up with students conscientiously clacking away at their keyboards.

But these students are all incarcerated.

"Probably the best decision I made in my entire life," said participant Micah Perryman. "Because it really is a life-changing experience if you use it that way."

All of the IT-oriented men in this class may be locked up behind chain link fences and barbed wire, but they have big dreams of rejoining the outside world.

"That's what Last Mile does. They pave the road to success and basically I'm just climbing the ladder all the way up to the top," said participant Kenneth Wade.

"I have goals now. Things to look forward to and a skill set that no one can take away from me," said participant Jacob Robinson.

"It continues to drive that outlook - that positive outlook - that there is life after prison," said participant Michael Stayer.

The Last Mile is a year-long intensive coding course which equips incarcerated individuals with the skills they need to both transition into a job in the high-demand tech field, but also help integrate them back into society in a meaningful way and potentially with a new worldview.

"It changes the way you think because you're dealing with problem solving with logic," Robinson said.

Robinson said before he came to prison, he was punching a one-way ticket to the grave as a meth addict.

"I'm actually thankful for being in prison. I know that's really weird. Some people might call me crazy, but it really saved my life," he said.

Robinson has been sober since his arrest five years ago, and is near graduating the program with only a few months left on his sentence.

Stayer, originally from Northwest Indiana, is now a teaching assistant for the course.

"Just to see people succeed and completely change their life around. I see it every day. Every six months when we bring a new class in, it's really magical. Sorry I'm choking up," he said, fighting back tears.

Talesa Howell is one of the success stories. She went through the program at her women's prison before graduating, and has now come full circle as the Indiana Department of Correction Program Manager for The Last Mile.

"People who have been formerly incarcerated try to prove themselves. So we work much harder, we show up every day, we show up to prove ourselves to you that we were worth you taking a chance on," she said.

"There is a sense of redemption in those that really want to change the trajectory of their lives. Because at the end of the day, 95% of the people that are incarcerated are going to get out," said co-founder and executive director Chris Redlitz.

The Last Mile program boasts a 0% recidivism rate for the nearly 1,000 inmates who have completed it. Right now, it's only in state prisons in six states through public-private partnerships. They hope to expand to state prisons in Illinois and New York in the near future.