Digital Divide: New initiative allows formerly incarcerated who missed out on tech boom to catch up
For Laron Rodgers, reintegrating into society after a long incarceration has been difficult. Despite using a computer to get his master’s degree behind bars, he compares his decades long stay in prison to a time warp in which the digital world passed him by.
“Two-way pagers, Sidekicks, MP3 players, I missed all of that – all kinds of technology,” Rodgers told News 12 New York.
He remembers the moment in the early 2000s when he saw the iPhone on TV for the first time.
"It was like a book...[the person] ran their hands across the screen and the book opened. That blew my mind. I turned around, I’m yelling at everybody like 'Yo, come here' - It was at that moment that I was like, 'We’re being left behind in here.'"
Upon Rodgers' release, his first smartphone eluded him.
“It was still in the box...so I’m looking at it, like how you turn it on, cause I’m looking for a little round button – I'm pushing the button, but it’s a volume button,” he said.
Rodgers has come a long way in the past few years and has two phones now. He’s participating in the Fortune Society’s Digital Equity Initiative – specifically meant to help the formerly incarcerated adapt to new technology. But program facilitator Jacob Schwartz says a more effective solution is to teach people these skills before they’re released.
“We would love to get more into the prisons themselves and to be more hands-on with people before they’re coming out,” Schwartz told News 12 New York. “You have to find employment, even working in construction you have to log in with a tablet. So being comfortable using technology is unavoidable at this point.”
According to a study by the National Skills Coalition – 92% of jobs now rely on digital skills. Rodgers has put in the time to learn his iPhone, but says the tech divide is a barrier to entering the job market upon release.
“I wouldn’t say the system failed me or anybody because I don’t think the system is designed to help anyone, I think the system is doing exactly what it’s designed to do, is to keep people in a position to keep prisons running,” he said. Besides iPhone support, Fortune’s Digital Equity Initiative also hosts computer skills classes and they have an upcoming robotics workshop to help people get more hands-on with technology.