World’s youngest billionaire visits state’s oldest prison
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg traded in his signature black hoodie for a white shirt and slacks when he walked inside California’s oldest prison on Oct. 13.
Zuckerberg was greeted by San Quentin State Prison Warden Ron Davis, Prison Industry board Vice-Chair Darshan Singh and California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) General Manager Chuck Pattillo, among others.
The 31-year old social media CEO, his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, and some Facebook staff members toured the prison.
“It’s special when you can have an innovator come inside a world that is disconnected from most innovations and learn about our community and our effort to rehabilitate people is extraordinary. As one of the most accomplished visionaries of our time, I am sure his interest in public safety and criminal justice issues will spark broader conversations and solutions to benefit all,” said Warden Davis.
Zuckerberg said earlier this year he read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and it impacted his view about prisons.
“I wanted to visit a prison that had really good success and meet some of the folks,” Zuckerberg said.
The Facebook billionaire and his staff toured CALPIA and other California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) programs.
Zuckerberg met and talked with offenders from CALPIA’s Code.7370, a nationally recognized program in which Silicon Valley tech experts help offenders without internet access learn computer coding skills.
After looking at a couple of projects the inmates were working on, he wanted to know how the class was taught, what they were learning and how many hours a day they spent coding.
“You know that’s how I got started — coding,” Zuckerberg told the inmates.
The new Code.7370 curriculum relies on a simulated live coding environment.
“The real-world job experience this computer coding class provides is beneficial to offenders and the general public,” said Pattillo. “If a person can leave prison, get a job and not come back, it saves taxpayers money and keeps communities safer.”
Code.7370 is part of CALPIA’s Career Technical Education (CTE) program, which has a proven track record for success. CALPIA graduates in CTE programs have some of the lowest recidivism rates in the country with a cumulative rate of 7 percent.
While visiting the Code.7370 class, Zuckerberg met with Chris Redlitz and Beverly Parenti, the co-founders of another highly successful program for inmates, called The Last Mile (TLM).
TLM was established in 2010 at San Quentin, drawing on the experience, resources and extensive network of successful technology entrepreneurs, to help bridge the gap between the penal system and the tech sector.
Redlitz and Parenti also co-founded Code.7370 with CALPIA.
Zuckerberg asked the news reporting inmates to describe the most surprising thing about the first time they came to prison.
San Quentin News Editor-in-Chief Arnulfo T. Garcia said he is 63 years old and came to prison the first time at age 18. “I was scared,” said Garcia explaining how prison was much more violent back in the 1970s.
“I also came to prison at 18,” San Quentin News Design Editor Richard “Bonaru” Richardson said. “It was nothing like TV. There were some people inside who had very negative attitudes, but there were also some good people in here, too. I learned that I had to deal with people as they are.”
Richardson explained to Zuckerberg how he grew up in Modesto, where he encountered many negative role models.
“While in prison, there’s no place to run,” Richardson said. “I had to face my problems head on. So I had to learn how to avoid those negative role models.”
Zuckerberg was interested in how inmates got to San Quentin State Prison.
“You don’t start your incarceration at a place like San Quentin,” Garcia said. “You have to work your way down to a progressive prison like this.”
Garcia talked about the new CDCR program that allows younger offenders to avoid being sent to maximum-security prisons and stay at a lower-level institution like San Quentin.
“The youngsters we’ve encountered are very receptive to being at San Quentin,” Garcia said. “San Quentin News is reaching out to the youngsters to get them into programs so that they would have a better chance of staying out of prison once they get out.”
Referring to his visit, Zuckerberg said, “It’s still sinking in,” adding, “I was surprised by the focus on learning here. Also, I didn’t expect to find a fully functioning newspaper.”
~ By Juan Haines, San Quentin News and Photos by Alan Barrett, CALPIA