Code Tenderloin founder Del Seymour helps ex-offenders learn job skills and discover how to reclaim their dignity

Code Tenderloin

Del Seymour founded Code Tenderloin to help people gain some of the opportunities that tech companies were bringing to the area.

Reclaiming your dignity after being incarcerated can be a difficult task. But it doesn’t have to be.

Often people are hampered by a self-defeating attitude. But you can turn that attitude around and break the mental chains that are holding you back.

Just ask Del Seymour. A former drug dealer who lived in a dumpster in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood for 18 years, Seymour turned his life around and now helps those who are in reentry, who live on the streets and who face other challenges. He focuses on the Tenderloin, an area adjacent to the city’s mid-Market, where tech companies like Twitter, Square and Uber have set up shop.

Questioning why the people in the Tenderloin weren’t getting a share of the opportunities that tech companies have brought to the city, Seymour founded Code Tenderloin five years ago. During the time it has been in existence, the organization has trained more than 2,000 people, at least 35% of whom were formerly incarcerated.

Code Tenderloin conducts both job training and programming classes

It offers Job Readiness and Code Ramp programs. Job Readiness is the first step, a program in which participants – and anyone can be a participant they just have to walk in the door – learn the basics. These include how to set goals and create a resume, as well as how to make a good impression and succeed in the workplace.

Code Ramp teaches beginning JavaScript programming, with advanced classes for those who wish to go further. The classes take place at Uber headquarters, LinkedIn headquarters and PianoFight, an independent arts venue. They are taught by volunteer instructors who are employed in the tech industry. Other volunteers serve as teaching assistants, who work with the instructors. Still others act as tutors who help students one-on-one. Some of these students are studying on their own and need help.

“We have volunteers from major tech companies to small start-ups and many boot camp graduates from the Bay Area,” says Donna Hilliard, the organization’s executive director.

“Some people volunteer because they come from an untraditional background and want to support others to help them break into tech. Other people have heard about the work we do from other volunteers and want to make an impact.”

Although Code Tenderloin is about helping people get jobs, at its heart it is much more than that. Seymour says the most important subject to deal with is dignity – or lack thereof.

Code Tenderloin helps people regain their dignity

“The main thing we do at Code Tenderloin is we give you your dignity what you already got,” he says. “I tell people I can’t really give you your dignity. You already have it. It’s just a matter of claiming it and not guilt tripping yourself every day you get up. It’s done it’s over. It’s not a life sentence. Don’t make it a life sentence.”

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of help out there for those who take the initiative to reclaim their dignity. And there’s one way to help ensure that you won’t lose hope when making your way back into society.

“Reach out for support. Stay around people who are positive,” Seymour says.

It’s essential, however, that you look for help as soon as you can after getting out of jail or prison, according to Seymour.

“Time is of the essence. The longer you don’t get hooked up and connected with organizations that can help you, the more chance that you will not be successful,” he says. Quit guilt tripping about what happened years ago.

“There’re reasons why there’s a referee in a boxing ring. When a boxer gets beaten down, the referee has to stand there and help them get back up,” he says. “You can’t get up when people are beating on you. And sometimes the person beating on you is yourself.”

Uber CEO offers second chance to those with criminal records

Uber CEOIt’s not often that executives of well-known companies come out publicly in favor of giving those with criminal records a chance in the hiring process. But that’s what Travis Kalanick, co-founder and CEO of Uber, did earlier this month in an Op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle.

According to him, the impetus was California’s Proposition 47, which was passed in November 2014 and reclassified some nonviolent crimes that had previously been felonies as misdemeanors. Uber aligned its hiring practices accordingly.

“As a result, 3,300 people have signed up to drive with Uber to earn a living and stand on their own two feet — in one state (California) alone,” he wrote. “Imagine how many more life-changing opportunities we could create if other states followed suit.”

Kalanick’s attitude toward criminal justice evolves

Running Uber has changed Kalanick’s ideas about criminal justice reform.

“I’d never really thought deeply about criminal justice reform before starting Uber. Now I realize reform is desperately needed. For example, the FBI records many companies use to do background checks don’t include up-to-date data on whether an arrest resulted in a charge or conviction. So if someone is arrested and subsequently acquitted, their “record” may not show that they’re innocent,” he went on to state in the S.F. Chronicle piece.

No matter how you may feel about Uber or working in the so-called “sharing economy,” signing up as an Uber driver may give people in reentry or those having trouble finding work a chance to earn a little extra money or even gain self employment. Those who can’t find full-time work may choose to drive for Uber part time as a second gig – especially during the busy hours when they’re likely to make more money by picking up more riders or the late hours when rates are increased.

Uber driver pay scales

According to press reports – and drivers themselves – the pay for being an Uber driver is far less than Uber claims. In a May 27, 2014 blog posting in the Uber online newsroom, the company claims that the potential income for its UberX drivers is as much as $90,766 per year in New York City and $74,191 in San Francisco.

One Uber driver and blogger at the site I Drive With Uber says he makes between $20 and $25 per hour (in Los Angeles), and the average Uber Driver makes $19 per hour natioinwide. He also says that the average Uber driver in the U.S. can make about $40,000 after expenses and taxes but doesn’t mention whether car wear and tear is included in expenses.

Gary Campbell, a former aerospace engineer who used to drive for Uber and Lyft part time while working at Boeing, left his full-time job to be a blogger known as The Rideshare Guy.

He publishes a free Uber Driver Training Guide on his site for those who might be considering driving for Uber but want to know more about what that experience might be like. The guide covers all the basics, from pay scales and sign-up bonuses to driver and car requirements.

Those with criminal records who decide they might like to be Uber drivers may be happy to know that the company has banned the box on its application form.

And CEO Kalanick has created an opportunity for those with ambitions and willing to work hard to get back on their feet.

“Crime is wrong,” he says. “But once a person has served their time, we need to give them a second chance. Consigning millions of Americans to a life of unemployment — with all the costs that entails — may be the easier option. It’s certainly not the best one for our country.”