Tech program helps people released from prison learn computer skills

Tech program helps people released from prison learn computer skills

The internet was still in its infancy when John F. Coburn went to prison in 1991.

Video cassette recorders or VCRs were still popular. CDs were just beginning to replace cassette tapes and movies were still rented at brick-and-mortar stores like Blockbuster.

A lot changed in the 32 years Coburn spent in various Wisconsin state prisons. Released this May, Coburn came back to a world vastly different from when he left. Video streaming services replaced Blockbuster. And with a few clicks on a keyboard people can now take pictures, watch a movie, buy clothes, and even a car — all on a smartphone.

That fast-paced change of technology many come to expect overwhelmed Coburn.

“When I got my phone, I didn’t know what to do” Coburn, 57, said with a chuckle. “I didn’t even know how to turn it on.”

When a friend told Coburn about a program that helps returning citizens learn basic computers and internet skills, he quickly signed up.

“I just want to become effective in using my laptop and phone, because the smartphone is basically used for everything,” Coburn said.

Advances in technology have left behind many returning citizens, like Coburn, who’ve served long stints in prison.

Learning how to use the internet — or even basic computer skills — is key to successfully reintegrating into a society and a work environment that has become more tech-driven.

Without it, the chances of recidivism increase; those recently released from prison can have a hard time finding employment, reconnecting with family or even filling out a job application.

Tech program helps people released from prison learn computer skills

The Bridging the Tech Gap for Returning Citizens program teaches basic computer skills and how to set up email, secure personal data, use social media and navigate smartphones.

Ruben Gaona and Eli Rivera created the program with the help of Nadiyah Johnson of the Milky Way Tech Hub to develop a computer literacy curriculum for people who were incarcerated. Gaona and Rivera co-founded The Way Out, a justice and technology organization supporting returning citizens with employment assistance and technology training.

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