But–but there are CRIMINALS in prison!
It’s true enough. Some of the JavaGuys may well be murderers or rapists or even child molesters. I could look them up on the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction’s website and find out, but I choose not to.
This objection has been raised frequently. Of course the people who raise it are entitled–and welcome!–to their own opinions, and I certainly don’t arrogate to myself the right to sit in judgment of them. But here are a few points that drive me to the decisions I make.
There’s no need for me or anyone else connected with the JavaGuys to be in the least concerned for our safety around them. The program is seen by the prisoners as a very good thing, and any attack on it–possibly even something as small as a wolf whistle at a female volunteer–could get the whole program ejected from the prison. If that happened, life would immediately become very dangerous for the offending prisoner. Everybody knows this. As a matter of fact, there’s such a taboo against anything even remotely in that vein that in some cases the normal give-and-take of pairing can be hamstrung when a volunteer and a prisoner pair together because the prisoner strains to be pathologically accommodating.
The JavaGuys program doesn’t address crimes or victims or sentences or any other issues of “deserve.” Once a prisoner is released from prison, events immediately begin conspiring against him to put him back in prison just as quickly as possible–even if he is determined to do the right thing. (I had heard this, but had no idea how true it was until I began volunteering with ex-offenders.) The program is intended not to minimize his crime, further injure his victim, or affect his sentence in any way, but simply to give him a better opportunity to find a decent job when he’s released.
Released prisoners who find that they can’t make it on the outside go back to prison–frequently for committing another crime against somebody. I would rather see a released prisoner getting a job as a software developer than waiting in the shadows near an ATM as somebody–me? my wife? my daughter?–approaches rummaging for a card.
Smart, passionate developers who know what employers need them to know are getting thinner and thinner on the ground. They are certainly not coming in large numbers out of our colleges and universities. If it turns out that they’re available from prison…so be it.
And finally…anyone who can experience the passion and desperation of these guys to learn something that he can teach them, and then simply turn and walk away from them–whether because they’re prisoners or for any other reason–is just flat made of different stuff than I am.