When Zachary Moore was 16 years old, he stabbed his younger brother to death in his hometown of Redlands, United States.
Tried as an adult in 1997 for the killing, Moore was convicted of murder and sentenced to a life sentence, or 26 years.
In 2014, a state bill passed allowing under-18s who had been tried as adults to be entitled to parole hearings for early release, and in 2018 Moore was granted a hearing.
In November 2018, Moore walked free. In May, he got a job at AI-based background check firm Checkr in Silicon Valley earning a “mid-six figure” salary as an engineer, he told The Hustle.
“Things about me I needed to address”
Moore told The Hustle that while he initially found himself in trouble in prison, he found a group of inmates who were trying to better themselves and joined them.
“Millions of kids in the world grow up like me and find other ways to work through things,” he said. “The reality was that I was the difference in that situation. There were things about me that I needed to address and fix.”
When he found himself in a medium-security facility in Riverside County, he enrolled in an online college program at Palo Verde College.
There, he earned two associate’s degrees, and graduated with a 3.89 grade point average.
The Last Mile
Moore found a flier for a prison program called The Last Mile, which prepares incarcerated individuals for “successful reentry through business and technology training”.
The program founders Chris and Beverly Redlitz wanted to provide inmates with “hireable skills” to find employment upon release, like coding.
The founders converted an on-site printing factory into a tech centre with off-line computers to circumvent the prison’s strict no-internet policy, and taught inmates how to code.
The program has screening process: the inmate must have not committed any infractions in the two years prior to applying; must have a track record of seeking out self-improvement behind bars; and must pass a logic test.
And, though the program favours inmates with less than three years left on their sentences, it reserves a 10 per cent space for those with a life sentence, like Moore.
“A conviction shouldn’t be a life sentence to unemployment”
In 2015, Moore was accepted to the program and embarked on the two six-month programs, which involved meeting four times a week from 7am to 2pm to learn front-end code like HTML and CSS.
Once his parole was cleared, he threw himself into code and completed the last of his course work through the program.
Armed with clothes and a laptop from The Last Mile, Moore set himself up in a halfway-house and worked part-time for six months as an engineer for the program.
Then, he started applying for engineering internships at Silicon Valley tech companies.
“I knew there was no way in hell some of these companies would hire me,” he said. “I just wanted some practice interviews.”
He addressed the stigmas in his cover letters, and used that space to explain to the prospective employees what he learned about himself.
And Checkr liked it.
“A conviction shouldn’t be a life sentence to unemployment,” a Checkr spokesperson told The Hustle.
“If someone is motivated to make a change in their lives, their past shouldn’t define their future.”
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