By Shelby Mullis
INDIANAPOLIS — With a 25-years-to-life prison sentence ahead of him in 1994, Kenyatta Leal didn’t think he’d ever be free again.
“Up until about four and a half years ago, I was commonly referred to as Inmate H10983,” Leal said. “When I initially entered the prison system, I was in deep denial about the role that I played in getting myself there. Once I realized that I was the problem, I also realized that I was the solution.”
Leal was charged with possession of a firearm under California’s Three Strike Law, which required Leal be sentenced to at least 25 years due to prior convictions.
Kenyatta Leal, the first member of The Last Mile, speaks at a press conference. Photo by Dionte Coleman, TheStatehouseFile.com
But nearly 19 years later, in 2012, Leal discovered hope when he became the first student of The Last Mile, a program that prepares incarcerated individuals for the workforce through business and technology training.
Now, Gov. Eric Holcomb is working to ensure Indiana’s incarcerated population can receive similar education and training to reenter the workforce and shrink the state’s recidivism rate, which currently stands at 37 percent.
Holcomb, The Last Mile founder Chris Redlitz and Leal introduced Indiana’s plans to pilot the program Tuesday as a part of Holcomb’s 2018 agenda. The program currently exists in eight California prisons, and now it will expand to the Indiana Women’s Prison this spring.
“We’re just south of 40 percent [recidivism rate], which is unacceptable,” Holcomb said. “We want it to be zero. And we’re learning that it can be. That’s the goal. We want folks to have that second chance, and this is the means for that second chance.”
How it began
In 2010, Redlitz, owner of Transmedia Capital, was invited California’s San Quentin State Prison to speak to a group of 50 inmates about a career in business and investments. Initially, Redlitz declined the invitation.
“What are guys in San Quentin going to know about business and why do they care?” he asked. “She was persistent that I went in with the idea that I go in and talk to the guys for 30 minutes, then I leave and check my social impact box for my life.”
The Last Mile founder, Chris Redlitz, presents Gov. Eric Holcomb with a t-shirt. Photo by Dionte Coleman, TheStatehouseFile.com
But the 30 minutes turned into three hours and an idea that would change lives.
Redlitz and his wife, Beverly, researched the incarceration issues that the country was facing. With a little motivation, the couple initiated a two-day-a-week entrepreneurship program for inmates at San Quentin.
“The whole basis of that was to teach guys, find a passion project, develop a business plan and pitch it in a demo day, just like you would out in the world,” he said.
“We had our first demo day in 2012 and about 300 people in the chapel. These guys absolutely nailed it. They were some of the best presentations you’d ever see because it was coming from the heart. That’s what got us going.”
‘It’s the last mile that matters’
When Leal first heard about The Last Mile, he immediately jumped on the opportunity. Having previously earned his GED and an associate degree, Leal proved to those around him that he was motivated to turn his life around.
“I saw this as a great opportunity for me to learn how to transform my hustle and do things the right way,” Leal said.
Leal graduated from the program in 2012 when he met Duncan Logan, founder and CEO of RocketSpace, a San Francisco-based technology firm.
“After our demo day, I hit him up, straight up, ‘Man, if I get out of here tomorrow, would you give me a job?’ Leal said. “He said yes.”
In 2013, Leal was eligible for resentencing and released from prison. He joined RocketSpace as an intern, eventually earning himself a managerial role with the company and serving on the Board of Directors for The Last Mile.
Holcomb said the goal is for The Last Mile to take flight in the Indiana Women’s Prison this spring. From there, the state will decide how the program will move forward.
“We’re a state that enjoys a good race,” Holcomb said. “As important as it is to obviously start in a pole position, it’s that last mile that really matters. And it really can change not just a driver’s life, but a family’s life, a community’s life.”
Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.