In 1997, when Zhuo “Simon” Liu was 16 years old, he was arrested for a variety of offenses, including “home invasion robbery”, “rape in concert with force or violence” and “assault with intent to commit a specified sex offense.” Confused by the legal system and speaking little English, Liu, who had immigrated to Oakland, Calif., about a year before from China with his family, pleaded no contest. He was tried as an adult and sentenced to 26 years in prison in 1999.
Only, according to Liu and others, he wasn’t guilty of the sexual assault charges. Even so, after being released in 2017 for good behavior, he still is listed as a sex offender on California’s sex offender registry system. (He also was detained by ICE for nine months after his release and is living under a deportation order, according to Liu. He has asked Governor Gavin Newsom for a pardon).
Now, despite all odds, however, Liu is gainfully employed as a software engineer at a startup that does bookkeeping for businesses. That’s in part because, while in prison, he not only got his GED, but he also took a one-year-long class in computer programming offered by The Last Mile, a social enterprise that teaches incarcerated individuals how to code. “Prison teaches you to be resilient,” he says.
Coding Classes and Programming Gigs
Launched 10 years ago by venture capitalist Chris Redlitz and his wife and business partner Beverly Parenti, The Last Mile aims