Oct 31 2006

IT Offers a Second Chance

Last fall, EdTech received a letter that none of us at the magazine will ever forget. The letter wasn’t from a subscriber or an educator, but a technologist in Seattle by the name of Dwaine Casmey. Casmey later told me that he came across www.edtechmag.com during a casual Web search one day on his high school alma mater — MacLaren School For Boys.

Earlier in the year, EdTech published a special supplement on integrating technology into the curriculum. An article by Wylie Wong, “Giving Youth a Second Chance,” discussed the technology job training that some youths receive behind bars. Unfortunately, Casmey wasn’t one of them.

A perpetual troublemaker and petty thief, Casmey ended up being sent to MacLaren in 1976. By his own account, when he was released at 18, he lacked both job skills and the common sense to stay out of trouble.

But he did receive a high school diploma from MacLaren, a feat for which he’s incredibly and rightfully proud. Yet it wasn’t until he began serving a five-year sentence for armed robbery that he lucked out and learned to program a computer. At Monroe Correctional Complex, an adult prison in Washington state, Casmey was assigned to track inmates’ grades in an adult education class. To do this, he gained access to a Tandy Radio Shack TRS-80, a machine known by computer enthusiasts as the “Trash 80.” That’s where he learned the basics of computer programming and skills that would transform his life.

After receiving Casmey’s letter, we decided to tell his story. You’ll find it on our Web site at www.edtechmag.com. It’s interesting and inspirational for several reasons. First, his story is a tale of redemption: a man who faced down the twin demons of drug addiction and low self-esteem to turn his life around. Casmey never went back to prison. Instead, he found sanctuary in religion and a career path in technology. Today, he’s the CIO for Fast Water Heater in Seattle.

But Casmey’s story also shows the importance of teaching technology and ensuring that students leave high school with portable skills. Some kids, like Casmey in his youth, are too determined to follow the wrong path in life to care about technology or the skills they will need as adults. But many more kids by far want and
need an extra push.

And lastly, the next time you’re frustrated with the training component of your technology rollout, consider Casmey’s story. Think your job of squeezing in technology training for teachers during 30-minute in-service meetings is tough? Try doing it behind bars.

Editor in Chief, leecop@cdw.com

Rehabilitated Behind Bars

A novel rehabilitation strategy provides state prison system and juvenile detention center inmates with computer repair training while helping public schools stretch their technology budgets at the same time.

Modeled on a program that ran for 10 years in California from 1994 to 2004, the Computer Refurbishing Program teaches inmates to fix surplus computers donated by large businesses. After updating operating systems and refurbishing hardware, the recycled machines are donated to local public schools.

Businesses such as Abbott Laboratories, Agilent Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and SanDisk have donated equipment. As much as 40,000 pounds (48 pallets) of electronics can be processed per week by the program, which pays inmates for their time and sets them up to continue in the technology repair industry after they’re released. Other states around the country that have adopted this program include Colorado, New York, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

I graduated from MacLaren School for Boys in Woodburn, Ore., in 1977. I was there for one year, the last four months in D2, the special detention center.

I have many memories of finishing my core classes at MacLaren in addition to taking classes at Marion County Juvenile Detention Center.

Eventually, in 1981, I was incarcerated at Monroe State Reformatory in Washington state for five years and two months for armed robbery. Computers arrived in 1982 while I was assisting others getting their GEDs and basic education.

Today, I make more than a six-figure income developing software — a career I’ve had since 1987. I am the director of drama ministries at my church and recently took a drama team to the Balkans.

That’s the past and present — I’ve never forgotten the help I received while at MacLaren and the detention center. It allowed me at least a small amount of self-esteem that probably kept me alive more than once.

I’ve often thought of giving back directly to a juvenile institution since I love to teach software programming.

Dwaine Casmey, Puyallup, Wash.