By Joseph Erbentraut
When San Francisco-based venture capitalists Chris Redlitz and Beverly Parenti walked into San Quentin State Prison in 2010 to speak with a group of inmates that a friend was mentoring, they didn’t know what exactly to expect.
But the men behind bars, whom Redlitz described as “the most engaged audience I’ve ever spoken to,” blew him away with their enthusiasm — and business plans. That means a lot given Redlitz’s extensive background advising and investing in digital media and tech startups such as LevelUp, Wish, and Bottlenose through his work with Transmedia Capital.
The experience at San Quentin, Redlitz said, started him thinking: What if they created something to engage those men, sitting idle for years upon years in California’s oldest prison, and help them turn their ideas into reality? Parenti was “not enamored” with the idea, he recalled.
Putting skepticism aside, they began to research prison programs in the United States, and that same year their passion project was born: The Last Mile. TLM is an intensive tech entrepreneurship program for San Quentin inmates that Redlitz and Parenti hope can be a model for prison education.
“[The inmates] have no sort of attachment or information or exposure to the people from the outside. They don’t have a conduit to it,” Redlitz said. “I figured we could leverage the relationships we have in Silicon Valley and be that conduit to others, for them to be educated and get involved.”
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