, 46 tweets, 16 min read Read on Twitter
Keynote 1: Shadeed Wallace-Stepter (Sha), starting off with a question. “How many people here are on probation or parole?” There are no hands. #pycon2019

Sha is an entrepreneur and OSS enthusiast who’s learned through Python.
A year ago, Sha was in San Quentin State Prison for assault with a firearm.

How did he get there, and how did he get here afterward?

“I definitely wasn’t born [a violent high schooler].” #pycon2019
Born in SF in a neighborhood populated mostly by more Black people, Sha found out that his dad wasn’t his biological father at 6 and struggled with feeling powerless and helpless as a kid growing up in a poor, drug-using household. #pycon2019
A few years later, Sha’s mom was arrested and imprisoned for fraud-related charges, and he moved in with his dad again. He started acting out in school and got sent home almost every day. #pycon2019
Soon after her release, Sha’s mom ended up back in prison, and this time he was separated from his older brother when he was re-homed with a relative. His behavior got even worse and he began committing minor crimes outside the home. #pycon2019
“I remember how good it felt to be in control of something, and I felt empowered. I started to chase this feeling.”

[This story is immensely powerful. The room is completely silent.]
When Sha was reunited with his older brother, he joined in on a life involving larger crimes. “I saw younger people making money and taking care of each other. That felt like power to me.” #pycon2019
Just when Sha started getting a handle on this new life, his older brother was arrested after holding up a gas station and getting involved in a high-speed chase. “[I saw] my older brother on the ground, with a cop on top of him, slamming his head into the ground.” #pycon2019
The reaction at school to this event was that Sha’s brother became legendary. So Sha wanted to create a legend for himself like that. The next summer he got involved with making and dealing crack, and got his first gun. #pycon2019
The power and acceptance Sha got from the community in the streets wiped out his old feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. “That summer, I made my first thousand dollars. I was 13 years old.” #pycon2019
When did this all change?

One night, while walking through SF, Sha’s friend was shot and died; his brother took him home and said “don’t ever let someone do something like that to you.”

The feelings of powerlessness and shame came rushing back in. #pycon2019
Sha decided he would never let anyone hurt him and that he was prepared to kill them if they tried.

“I felt like the only place where I was wanted or where I belonged was in the streets.” #pycon2019
During junior year of high school, Sha shot and robbed a man during a marijuana transaction, and got arrested for it. Until he got to trial, he was in denial about his actions. #pycon2019
“Going through trial was the most traumatic event in my life.”

Watching the prosecutor lay out the case against him, that he should be taken away from society, and realizing that this case was going to work on the jury, brought Sha crashing back to reality. #pycon2019
The man Sha shot testified about what the gunshot injuries did to him — took away his career as a roofer and forever impaired his ability to provide for his family. #pycon2019
“I forever changed his life. After listening to him, I couldn’t avoid or ignore what I did. I had to face it.”

Sha was overcome by shame and realized he had to accept the result of the trial as the consequences of his actions.

Due to his age at the time, Sha was held in a separate cell from the other prisoners at the courthouse. #pycon2019
The holding cell Sha was in was adjacent to the holding cell for women. One day, while waiting for trial, Sha’s mom walked into the women’s cell. The first time he’d seen her in about a year. #pycon2019
“I could see how she felt completely responsible for my situation.” Sha tells us his mom thought he was innocent and that it was wrong for all this to be happening to him; he had to own up and tell the truth to her. #pycon2019
After that, the two sat in silence until Sha was escorted out for the trial. He didn’t see her for ten years after that. #pycon2019
Sha: “If I were to die right here, the only thing I would be remembered for would be shooting that man. I did not want that to be my legacy.” #pycon2019
Sha committed to changing his life, and at the age of 18 was sentenced to 27 years to life. “When I got to prison, it was like prison-prison. Everything you see on TV.” #pycon2019
While watching a knife fight in prison, Sha’s only thought was “This is what I get. I was solely responsible for putting myself in that situation.” #pycon2019
Sha spent his time hanging back and learning the system of how things worked in prison. First lesson: “the value of human life was very cheap”. #pycon2019
Next lesson: prison was designed to keep you there.

“Stabbings were a frequent occurrence. To protect yourself, you needed to carry a knife. But if you had a knife, it was inevitable you’d get caught.” #pycon2019
And if you carried a knife and got caught with it, you’d ruin your chances of getting transferred somewhere safer.

Sha discovered nobody ever went home from that prison. One inmate who’d been in for 20 years said he’d never seen anyone paroled. #pycon2019
So in this environment of hopelessness, Sha had to come up with a plan to avoid staying there forever.

Step one: don’t carry a knife.
Step two: minimize the time spent on the recreation floor, where most violence occurred. #pycon2019
Step three: hang around other people who still had hope that they could get out of the prison.

This plan had a strong risk of making Sha be perceived as a coward, so he needed a good reason to do it. He developed an obsession with learning the law that convicted him. #pycon2019
Sha read all of the documents from his court case. And then discovered that every prison is legally required to have a law library for prisoners. This was crucial to his survival. #pycon2019
In the social code governing life in prison, there were three spaces carved out as places where it was agreed that everyone would refrain from the violent behavior everywhere else: the visiting rooms for family, the chapel, and the law library. #pycon2019
Sha tells us many other men who’ve gone through the prison system have built careers as paralegals and in other services related to the legal system. And the library was also the safest place in the prison. #pycon2019
When Sha told other prisoners where he was spending all of his time, they reacted in a way he didn’t expect: they asked if he’d learned anything that could help *them* get out. Most prisoners don’t know the law, and “everyone was looking for hope.” #pycon2019
After five years in this plan, Sha succeeded in getting transferred to a medium-security prison, and then from there to San Quentin. #pycon2019
San Quentin is the “Mecca” for self-help and paths back into society after prison. Most prisons have one or two programs, usually just an AA or NA. SQ has more than 70. #pycon2019
Sha saw a lot of young men come into San Quentin, do a few months and get out, and then come back out. This was troubling, and he spent time with them to figure out why.

Just like Sha, these men thought the street life was where they belonged. #pycon2019
“I saw so much potential being wasted.” Sha looked for ways to find a legitimate alternative to the street life, and eventually found out about entrepreneurship during a business class. Seeing parallels with the prisoners’ self-made lives on the street, he got excited. #pycon2019
Sha applied to the college program at San Quentin and got an associates degree; he started doing things that got the attention of prison system.

Chair of the first chapter of the society of professional journalists in a prison. #pycon2019
Sha recorded podcasts, spoke on NPR, and organized speaking events in the prison.

And then a couple of Silicon Valley VCs started an entrepreneurship program at San Quentin. #pycon2019
“I had no idea that the biggest ballers were in tech.”

Sha got inspired. And when he started learning about programming, he discovered that he wanted to do tech, and he wanted to write code. #pycon2019
During a 2017 Society of Professional Journalists workshop, Sha met @jessicamckellar. Who is not a journalist, but is a successful entrepreneur. #pycon2019
Jessica told Sha about Python, and about the set of Python tutorials she’d recorded for O’Reilly. But they were online, and prisoners did not have access to the web. #pycon2019
But Tim O’Reilly had just given a set of tablets to the prison, and Sha got access, and started taking @jessicamckellar’s course. And then she told Sha about the OSS community. “I couldn’t fathom why someone would make such a piece of software, then give it away.” #pycon2019
Hearing about the OSS ethos of working together to build software, Sha discovered that the mutual support and respect were really his definition of love.

And then, in August 2018, the governor’s office called to tell Sha his sentence was being commuted. #pycon2019
Sha got out after 19 years in prison.

Here’s why he thinks Python and programming are so important: he’s 37, Black, and has virtually no work experience. Very few communities will look past this background to give him a chance. #pycon2019
But the Python community and its dedication to diversity and inclusion are different, and give Sha hope that he and others like him will have a chance.

Sha’s challenge: “expand your thinking about inclusion”. #pycon2019
Be open, be thoughtful, and welcome people. “Because a lot of us are actually pretty dope. Thank you.” #pycon2019
Missing some Tweet in this thread?
You can try to force a refresh.

Like this thread? Get email updates or save it to PDF!

Subscribe to 🏳️‍🌈 Sam Kimbrel
Profile picture

Get real-time email alerts when new unrolls are available from this author!

This content may be removed anytime!

Twitter may remove this content at anytime, convert it as a PDF, save and print for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video

1) Follow Thread Reader App on Twitter so you can easily mention us!

2) Go to a Twitter thread (series of Tweets by the same owner) and mention us with a keyword "unroll" @threadreaderapp unroll

You can practice here first or read more on our help page!

Follow Us on Twitter!

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just three indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3.00/month or $30.00/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!