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Inmates Go High-Tech as Startup Mania Hits San Quentin (nytimes.com)
55 points by danso 1697 days ago | hide | past | web | 23 comments | favorite

Wow, this is extremely cool. I thought the article was a little fluffy but the end really made me think:

"What's frustrating is that all these companies in the Valley, they're ideas for the 1 or 10 percent," Collison said. "You have startups like Uber or Taskrabbit, that's like, ‘Oh, here's something to help you find a driver or find someone to clean your house.' Are they solving real problems?"

The San Quentin inmates "were talking about urban obesity, or PTSD", Collison said. "It's a completely different perspective. We actually really need that."

That couldn't be more true. There might be an excess of startups, but there are too few solving really important problems. It might take the viewpoint of someone who has been through very hard times to understand what we should really be working on. It's not another GMail replacement app (although that's cool too), it's actually changing the physical world we live in.

That couldn't be more stupid. There's a very simple reason why startups target rich consumers - it's because they have money, and without it, resource constrained startups die.

Important problems are for NGOs, national governements, hundred billion dollar universities and international organizations to solve. The very reason problems so important still exist is for the fundamental reason that they require huge amounts of resources over many years at little to no return on investment to the business.

Going after "important problems" as a startup is a very fast way of becoming bankrupt.

Rich consumers can have serious problems too. There is definitely a middle ground between Uber and fighting disease.

They're only in there for drug possession? These people are clearly productive members of society, let them out...

This was my first thought. The amount of money we waste on these types of criminals (the non-violent drug offenders) is simply horrible to stomach.

Well that and the lives destroyed.

In addition to letting them out they should never have to put drug convictions on a job application. At least in the software world I see no reason this is relevant. One could argue it demonstrates poor potential for a nurse/doctor/etc, which could be exceptions.

While I am in the middle of the road regarding the "war on drugs". I don't think one can simply say "putting a conviction on an application" shouldn't be required, there are gray areas.

When I first moved to the town I live in pot (and other recreational substances) were considered not a big deal. A university town, a liberal town, keep it loose and free.

Funny thing has happened in the last 20+ years. Meth and heroin have taken over, property crimes have gone through the roof, violent crimes are also on the uptick -- a friend was recently woken up to two meth heads turning on the light in his bedroom while his wife and two daughters were at home. He managed to detain one and one ran off.

Drug crimes aren't as benign as they once were. You have gangs often running the local sales, dealers and users are now commiting additional crimes to feed their habits. When you look into things at the street level, it's a bit ugly.

When you consider places like Amsterdam with their cafes. Even there, they are considering closing off the cafes to the tourists, though for differing reasons than the local issues I sited.

All I am saying, I guess, is that the shades of grey need to be accounted for. If I were an employer who was wanting to give a full time position (and access to my workplace) to an individual, I would want to know their background. If they had run-ins with the law it wouldn't be a disqualifier, but it would be an avenue for additional consideration.

This article is a contrarian indicator. Startups have jumped the shark.

While many people reading HN find the "fake it 'til you make it" narrative appealing, anything worth doing in this life take some smarts and years of slavish devotion (choose your own definition of what's worth doing). Taking shortcuts, as these people have done and were punished for, is not how it's done. I'm all for second chances, but teach them useful skills that will get them a job when they hit the street again.

Since Y Combinator is too competitive to get into, can someone recommend a suitable crime that I can commit in order to be sent to San Quentin? Preferably a felony whose prison sentence matches the length of the program. Given that the incubator program in San Quentin accepts 1 in 5 applicants from the general prison population, as a developer I think I'm a shoe-in for being accepted.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions and I look forward to submitting a "Show HN" article once my SQ W2013 startup launches. Goodbye, ramen noodles and sleeping on my buddy's floor... hello, three hots and a cot!

ha ha!

Did you read the article?

How in any sense of the phrase are these people taking shortcuts? The one inmate cited in the story acknowledges that he has a lot to learn and that he's not actually going to start a startup after being released.

The one investor who is cited talks about being there to educate, not invest. The program itself is trying to get internships for these inmates when they're released. Internships are pretty much the bottom rung when it comes to jobs - starting with an internship and then working your way up is the complete antithesis of taking shortcuts.

I was referring to the shortcut that got them into prison in the first place. These inmates should be learning how to fix cars, not how to be a VC. And, if they are ambitious enough, they can be an entrepreneurial car mechanics -- nothing wrong with that. An intern, that's ridiculous.

> Taking shortcuts, as these people have done and were punished for, is not how it's done.

The guy interviewed was Griffin and was in there for drug possession—not exactly taking shortcuts. There are many people who work hard and go to prison for other reasons. Saying "Taking shortcuts" and insinuating that all people in prison lack the job skills (ignoring the fact that being in prison makes it extremely difficult to find employment even with skills) implies laziness, but saying "these people" is a tricky way to reduce an entire population into a single characterization. Some would consider this classist or racist given the the classes and races which make up much of the population of prisons. I'm emphatically not accusing you of this, given that I would imagine people on HN would be above that, but A) you should be sensitive to it, not only for those in prison but also for all the people who have people in their lives who are in prison, and they may find this painful or offensive. But also B) remember that directly going after people with money is sometimes shortsighted. We share the same culture regardless of income, including (importantly) much of the internet, so taste and internet traffic may be dictated by people who come from literally anywhere—Cristal was built from a nothing brand into a billion dollar industry by being name dropped in hip-hop music, and lost business after racist/classist comments leading to Jay-Z boycotting them. Not everyone in prison is going to have what it takes to do a startup, but they should also not be ignored. Some of the richest people in America were born to poverty, so don't discount them immediately.

I say this as a member of the target audience of pretty much everyone on HN and an immense fan of Trailer Park Boys.

You've watched "Shawshank Redemption" too many times. Most people live their lives without winding up in SQ. Odds are the inmates deserved to be there. And, if it's classist to say this, then I'm guilty as charged.

You're probably right about targeting other groups, though. I saw an ad for the rushcard from Russell Simmons the other day. It looks like it solves a real problem for some people.

Yeah, those terrible people who invent accounts to create a false level of activity for visitors are terrible people. I mean lying to users is probably one of the worst things we can do.

Get off your high horse.

> anything worth doing in this life take some smarts and years of slavish devotion

Sounds like prison life is well suited to catch up.

"Taking shortcuts" is a pretty common theme behind successful startups. Sometimes even illegal shortcuts (look at Uber), or ethically questionable ones (look at Oracle)...

Everyone in life deserves a second chance. Creating products to help the society progress and move forward is one of the more practical ways to atone for one's sins.

Interesting that this article comes up along the same time as the Penny Arcade / Surface article does.

Both are examples of "out side the echo chamber" tech stories. Personally, while the article was a little light, I like the idea of encouraging a segment outside the normal tech bubble to embrace entrepreneurial ideas. As much as it pains me to say it, any Tom, Dick, Harry, or Mary can learn the basics of developing sites (or basic mobile apps). We saw this in Bubble 1 and we are seeing a plethora of platforms and classes today to help in this regard.

What is hard? Interesting ideas and delivering on them -- the drive, the development, and sticking with it. The themes that come up in the article are an interesting different take on what people find relevant

One area I've been hoping to see more from are ideas from aging baby boomers and the problems or challenges they see. We are talking ideas from people in their late 50s and 60s. One area ripe for the picking -- due in part to many suffering because of the housing mess -- how to leverage some of their existing expertise and have an ondemand / skilled work force. Unfortunately, a lot of them (and this is relevant to the prison population as well), face a tough time in finding a regular 9-5 job for a variety of reasons.

Tulio, a graduate of Last Mile, is a really great guy that was funded via Kiva Zip: https://zip.kiva.org/loans/376 Not only is he working towards other inmates, but he's learning programming.

Hopefully, we'll get some more borrowers from Last Mile.

>"Live stream has gone mainstream. Mobile video usage went up and is expected to increase by 28 percent over the next five years," said Eddie Griffin, who was pitching a music streaming concept called "At the Club" and happens to be finishing a third stint for drug possession at San Quentin State Prison, near San Francisco, after spending the last 15 years behind bars."

Sounds a lot like http://clubchannel.tv/

I think this is really great, not only for bringing opportunities to those who are less fortunate, but also their perspective on what's important and what needs to be fixed. Refreshing to see them tackling real, hard problems.

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