Regaining My Self Worth

Posted on Apr 17, 2014 in Featured


Phoeun You

San Quentin State Prison


I will not preach about why I am in prison or how bad I was before I entered prison. However, I will share with you my experiences about how stressful life is inside prison and how bad it is to be doing time.

Imagine yourself as a lifer from an early age. All your freedom and fun you would’ve experienced is now gone. Just sitting here inside these walls, with only limited things to do. I can’t help but think about the good ol’ days. I try not to, but at times my mind seems to always wonder on its own: thinking about my family and friends, how they are doing, and the pain that I’ve caused them. I can still clearly remember looking back in the courtroom, to see the tears as they rolled down my mother’s and sister’s faces, as they heard the verdict-”guilty.”

To this day, I continue to worry from hearing news of my mother having diabetes, and my sister murdered by a jealous boyfriend. My heart aches and misses them dearly. Besides my family, there are also the simple pleasures of life that I miss: beautiful girls, home cooked meals, and the son I still haven’t yet met. I often think of them, and the simple things. I try to picture how my life would have been like if I was a free man.

What will forever haunt me is that I took an innocent person’s life. No matter how bad my life is today, I will always be ashamed and feel emptiness knowing the person’s life I took never had a chance to see tomorrow. I had no right to do what I did. At times I wish I could trade places with him, maybe this would ease my mind. Nevertheless, the choice I made is something I have to live with for the rest of my life.

Through all of this pain, I’ve learned to be patient and keep my anger in check as I deal with other obstacles in prison: the ignorance of the other inmates and the guards who at times test my limits. Not too long ago I was walking the yard enjoying the fresh air, when two guards approached me and one of them said, “Hands on the wall and strip down to your boxers.” “For what,” I asked. The guard said with a smile, “This is prison, I can do that.” I hesitated, but complied. After the guards left, my anger from the humiliation had set in. You don’t know how badly I wanted to jump up and tell him how I felt.

Wearing the badge didn’t give him the right to belittle me.

I tell myself giving up is not an option, but I know that my chances of getting out are slim. In the meantime, I will continue to try to do everything I can to better myself so I won’t slip back to my hard headed ways. Through programs and school, I’ve managed to maintain a sense of hope and keep what’s left of my sanity. Also, now that I finally realize the importance of education, everyday seems to look and feel brighter. Through education I’ve regained my self worth. I believe everyone deserves to have value and meaning in their lives.

If you can take away anything that I’ve said, please know that education is power. (Tweet-worthy!) Giving up on education is like giving up on yourself. So do the right thing, stay in school, keep educating yourself, and never give up. God bless.


All communications between inmates and external channels are facilitated by approved volunteers since inmates do not have access to the internet. This program is part of The Last Mile San Quentin. Twitter: @TLM

TLM on CBC Radio with Nora Young

Posted on Apr 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

Kenyatta Leal spent nearly 19 years in San Quentin prison. Along with venture capitalist Chris Redlitz, he’s a founding member of The Last Mile, a program that trains prisoners about to be released in paid internships at Silicon Valley tech startups.


CBC – Nora Young:

CNN Covers TLM

Posted on Apr 1, 2014 in Champions

Launched in 2011, The Last Mile is a six-month technology course taught at San Quentin State Prison.

The inmates are taught by tech entrepreneurs from LinkedIn (LNKD), Quora and other Silicon Valley companies that operate just an hour away from the prison.

Each year, at the conclusion of the program, the inmates create ideas for apps and startups. On “demo day,” they pitch their concepts to venture capitalists and program supporters like M.C. Hammer.

The Last Mile is aimed at helping inmates find their voice and — for those who do leave — a job.

Full story:

Launch Podium Partners with The Last Mile

Posted on Mar 15, 2014 in Featured

We are very excited to announce that Launch Podium has partnered with the Last Mile to provide opportunities for formerly incarcerated people in the technology business sector. Here is a preview video:

There are some similarities between returning veterans and “returning citizens” (formerly incarcerated). What is your view?

Posted on Mar 11, 2014 in Featured


By James Dillard

LA County (Twin Towers)

I suppose that there are some similarities between returning veterans and returning citizens, especially considering that both have been separated from the ones they love and can’t wait to get back home, but that’s some surface stuff. If we look a bit closer, dig a little deeper into the idea of it, I think it’s more about the feelings―having fought conflicts and returning with battle scars, not knowing whether or not they’ll even make it back…

Then if they’re blessed to make it all the way back to the ones they love, chances are they aren’t the same person they were when they left, and their lives have been irrevocably altered. I can only imagine some of the feelings they’ve brought home with them; mentally challenged to function in a society that doesn’t understand the damage a war can do to the human spirit.

I am a Marine―I’ll forever be a Marine―but I didn’t see any combat, so my hat’s off to the men and women who have made those tremendous sacrifices to protect the honor, integrity, and interests of this great country we live in. They’ve put the safety of this country ahead of their families, their education, and their careers. They have endured criticism; they’ve been devalued and often forgotten…and yet, they haven’t given up.

They’ve given their blood, sweat, and tears, stepped right up beside their fears, lost their limbs, minds, and their lives―literally and willingly for the very freedom we sometimes take for granted.

I am also an inmate soon reenter society, and returning from a very different kind of conflict, however it does have some similarities. I’m away from people I care very much about and can’t wait to see, embrace, walk with, talk to… I also can identify with the emotions of a returning veteran, feeling blessed to make it back, yet realizing that society will never understand the damage that being incarcerated can do to a person’s mind.

I’ve been blessed to have a faith that keeps me strengthened and hopeful and won’t allow me to give up, I thank God for that.

Do You Believe That Prison Has Become Part of Your Identity?

Posted on Mar 3, 2014 in Champions


By Harry Hemphill

Identity according to Webster – the sameness in all that constitutes the objective reality of 1 thing; oneness.

After spending almost 10 years incarcerated, and forced to function daily with men who have embraced the title of convict, and are institutionalized, I aggressively fight to ensure I maintain my individuality and self awareness.

I often find myself frustrated at the ludicrousness that surrounds me, and resentment builds. What the hell is wrong with these people, I don’t belong here, I think, as I see men continuing in their manipulative, self serving, deceptive ways.

One would think that having your freedom and the liberties associated with it stripped from you, would demand change in ones life.

I am not inmate #F16064, I am Harry Hemphill, a person who made mistakes, but has learned from those mistakes. Despite being behind concrete walls, having to wear CDC blues, and considered property of the State, my essence is greater than my circumstances.

How do I identify myself; first and foremost, I am a man of faith; many nights my faith is all I have to cling to. Today, I am also a man of integrity, strength, empathy, grit, and passion.

However, as you read this response, you probably identify me as an inmate at San Quentin participating in The Last Mile, others may have stronger negative perspective of me based on the stereo-typical ideology of a person in prison.

Unfortunately, prison has become part of my identity; some will always identify me as a felon, and despite my extreme efforts not to allow this environment to infect me, it may be impossible to leave this place untainted.

However, I pray daily that I will continue to grow in areas that will allow me to become a better human being.

What Drives Me To Stay Positive Every Day?

Posted on Feb 23, 2014 in Featured


By James Dillard
The Last Mile
LA County Jail (Twin Towers)


I think back to the way I was living my life prior to being arrested, and remembering that most of my days merely blended into one another because more often than not my drug addiction kept me awake around the clock. I can remember always being in a state of anxiety, worrying and wondering how I was going to make it from one moment to the next – not to mention one day to the next.

Its thoughts such as these that motivate me to remain positive and upbeat in the midst of so much negativity, understanding that my reality would most likely be much worse had I not been “rescued” from myself.

For 32 years I’d lived a self-destructive lifestyle, selfish in my mannerisms and demeanor, reaching brief levels of simulated success only to self-sabotage and bottom out in in drug induced haze. I guess it would stand to reason that I didn’t like myself very much, and that’s probably a pretty accurate assumption, since most of my principles were motivated by outside elements (vanity).

You see, it wasn’t until I had been in jail long enough for the “fog” to lift from my brain that I was able to receive some information that allowed me to begin to understand that unless I became active in restructuring my life and redefining myself, ultimately changing my whole belief system, I was doomed to repeat the very same patterns of an addictive life.

So what drives me to stay positive every day?

My motivation comes from my desire not to relive all of the negative experiences I’ve had. I wake up thanking God for another opportunity to “re-do” life, and every day that I’m able to learn something new, I know I’m being empowered with resources that will allow me to make more responsible decisions.

So what drives me to stay positive every day?

I realize that my attitude has an effect on those around me, and maybe I can impact someone else in a positive way to develop a desire for something different, or inspire someone to reflect back upon their life and get honest with themselves, or motivate someone to make a life-altering decision of their own to change their life for the better.

So what drives me to stay positive every day?

Understanding that I am blessed to be a blessing to others. It is my duty to step up and be accountable.

What drives me to stay positive every day?

The alternative is unthinkable, besides, it’s a very strenuous job maintaining a negative attitude when the pay-off of a positive attitude are phenomenal in so many ways.

Yes, I am driven to stay positive every day.

All communications between inmates and external channels are facilitated by approved volunteers since inmates do not have access to the internet. This program with Quora is part of The Last Mile LA. Twitter: @TLM

How have you changed your life behind bars?

Posted on Feb 5, 2014 in Background


By Tommy Winfrey

I remember that moment all too vividly. I had just turned 20 years old and there really was no doubt in my mind that I was going to be found guilty. I remember being numb to what was happening. A few weeks later, when I went back to the sentencing phase of my trial the judge gave me a 25 years to life sentence.

Many people would think that a 20 year old with his whole life ahead of him would be crushed by the sentence. But I wasn’t. The bailiff took me back to the holding cage and asked me if I would be okay. I said I was fine, but he didn’t want to believe me. He hold me he was going to put me in a cage by myself so I could have something alone. I told him that if he wanted to help me, he could get me extra sandwich. I don’t think he understood that I didn’t care. I didn’t value my life, and a life sentence didn’t mean anything to me. Up to that point in my life, I didn’t understand what life really meant. Mine had been miserable and I didn’t see much point to it. Looking back now, I see that I overlooked a lot of goods things in life. I let my emotions affect me in some pretty bad ways. I did this because I didn’t understand them. I couldn’t see that me isolating myself was just making me feel lonelier and lonelier. I couldn’t see that the feelings of unworthiness was driving me to do things that made me see myself as unworthy. I was hurting everyone around me because I was hurt. The worst part of the whole situation is that I believed nothing mattered.

I kept that attitude for a long time after coming to prison. I perpetrated a huge lie on myself and others. The truth is that everything mattered to me. The reason I said I felt numb is because I was hiding from myself. I didn’t want to deal with the pain that I felt I was causing others. Today things are much different.

I have really started to understand my emotions and feelings. This had led me to some amazing breakthroughs in life. I appreciate life and value what I have been given now. I really understand my actions and how they affect others. I feel sad for that 20 year old boy who stood before that judge and didn’t care that he was going to prison with a 25 years to life sentence. But I feel even worse for the people I hurt to get that sentence. So much has changed for me with my time behind bars. I am happy with where I am at in life, even if it is behind razor wire. Recently I have met someone who has made me happy to wake up in the morning once again. I see life should not be all about what you don’t have or lost. It should be about finding peace with what you do have. Whether it is millions of dollars or a 6’ by 9’ cell there is beauty to still be found in life. Prison taught me to appreciate these things. A hard lesson for sure, but one I much needed.

All communications between inmates and external channels are facilitated by approved volunteers since inmates do not have access to the Internet. This program with Quora is part of The Last Mile San Quentin. Twitter: @TLM

Answering My Calling

Posted on Jan 17, 2014 in Featured

By Damon Cooke

Twenty years ago I ignored my entire upbringing and fell into a world of madness. I was always taught give of myself and the fulfillment I sought would be greater than any other challenge I would ever face.

Now I sit here in this cage full of shame, sadness, and regret all because I decided to ignore my conscience and embraced my once inflated ego. I’m reminded that my soul is not hungry for fame anymore, or wealth, but more importantly it seeks meaning to my existence. It’s taken me a long time to hear my inner voice, to feel my heart again and to allow myself an opportunity to “answer my calling.”

There are times in life when people go the wrong way. This doesn’t mean those people and inherently bad, it only means they probably made a bad choice. What I’ve discovered is the meaning of life each person seeks is not acquiring, amassing storing, accumulating or stock piling possessions, but rather that true meaning comes from serving and giving.

I’m now in a place in my life where I’m bringing honor back to my family and community with a purpose in my actions. I’ve experienced what its like to be an indentured servant. My life is no longer focused on only me, but my family and my community, because I’ve “answered the calling.”

My Prison Identity

Posted on Jan 3, 2014 in Champions


By Chris Schuhmacher

I believe that being in prison has definitely become part of my identity. Not in the stereotypical fashion that would leave me cold, hardened, and covered with tattoos, but in the way I’ve worked to transform my life over the past 14 years. Before coming to prison, my life was on a hell-bent path of debauchery and destruction. I did everything in my power to make sure that the party never had to end. I somehow thought that if I could escape into a world of alcohol and drugs that I could avoid my feelings of being lost, lonely, and insecure.

My fatal mistake was in not realizing that by disconnecting from emotions, I was actually lighting the fuse to a bomb that would eventually explode and cause catastrophic results. I am saddened by the tragic irony that it took coming to prison for murder to wake up to just how far off the path of living like a healthy human being my life had gone. I was guilt-ridden and ashamed of who I had become and made the conscious decision to turn around and begin the journey back to my authentic self.

For me, there is no doubt that coming to prison saved my life. It separated me from the reckless and chaotic world that I had created for myself. It allowed me the time and the space to rediscover how to live with a clean body and a sober mind. It has given me the opportunity to analyze and evaluate the morals and ideals that had brought me to this point and reconnect with the emotions that I tried so hard to run from. These have been extremely hard lessons to learn in what is a harsh and depressing environment, but this experience has been vital in shaping the way I think and believe.

In this day and age, it seems virtually impossible to hide the fact that I’ve been to prison. That is why I’m so thankful to The Last Mile for providing the opportunity to be open and honest about my past, while at the same time giving me the chance to show who I’ve become. The transformation that has taken place in my life is nothing short of a miracle from God. As I go forward,I plan to continue to embrace my identity as someone who understands and appreciates the power of change.

I know that it is my responsibility to pay these gifts forward by passing my knowledge and experience onto others. My ultimate goal is to become a health and fitness expert with an emphasis on treating and preventing substance abuse and addiction. If my life can be used to enhance the lives of others, then prison or not, this is an identity I can be proud of.


All communications between inmates and external channels are facilitated by approved volunteers since inmates do not have access to the internet. This program is part of The Last Mile San Quentin. Twitter: @TLM