At the end of 2017, Emile DeWeaver was 20 years into a life sentence in San Quentin for murdering a man when he was 19. Right now, he’s sitting at a desk in San Francisco in the offices of Pilot, a startup that manages bookkeeping for businesses, working as a product specialist and communicating with clients. How DeWeaver moved from San Quentin to the midst of the Bay Area tech scene is, almost needless to say, quite the story.
When DeWeaver entered San Quentin in 1998, he started to work on himself. Through conversations with older men incarcerated at the facility, he began to consider how growing up amid violence and poverty in Oakland set him on the path to incarceration himself. So while in prison—which is a system, he says, designed to perpetuate that same isolation and alienation he experienced as a young person—he began to figure out how to transcend it using a talent he knew he possessed: writing. With two other incarcerated men at San Quentin, DeWeaver founded Prison Renaissance, a nonprofit that highlights works of art and writing made by people inside prisons.
He also launched the first in-prison chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists to bring more voices of incarcerated people into the public discourse. Through that work, he met Pilot founder and CTO Jessica McKellar, who eventually led DeWeaver to land a job at Pilot.
DeWeaver’s move from San Quentin to the midst of the Bay Area tech scene is quite the story, one that shows the tech industry how valuable former inmates can be for companies.