LOS ANGELES — Learning how to code isn’t easy but self-described Yarima Cardoza managed to pick it up in one month. “I don’t know anything about the languages, programming, any of that, so I really had to take the time to learn that and be patient with myself and that it’s a whole new language,” Cardoza said

Five months ago, Cardoza never imagined she would be learning computer programming languages such as JavaScript and C++ because she was just getting out of jail in San Bernardino County. Cardoza was serving time for a DUI after she had too much to drink one night and rear-ended another car. “Going to jail was definitely, obviously my first time, it was not easy,” she recalled. “But I had to have the right mindset that I’m going to get through this, regardless of what it is.

Cardoza says she learned her lesson after six months behind bars but when she was released, she couldn’t return to her job as an elementary school teacher due to her criminal record. It wasn’t until her aunt told her about a free program called Reboot LA that she found a fresh start. The incubator program teaches formerly incarcerated prisoners tech, web development, and entrepreneurship skills. “It’s been very, very challenging but I mean, it’s a new opportunity right now. Obviously, my previous career has been put on hold,” she said

The program is a partnership between Sabio, an organization working to increase the number of women and people of color in the innovation economy, and the City of L.A. Liliana Aide Monge, CEO and co-founder of Sabio, designed the tech entrepreneurship program after working with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and noticed how many people served by the organization were tech savvy and entrepreneurial.

Cardoza is the first student in Reboot LA and she takes classes remotely six days a week. Claudia Diaz, program director for Reboot LA, says there are 27 additional open spots in the program to help former prisoners create their own job opportunities. “Having a criminal record still imposes significant barriers, from finding a license and finding different employments in different areas such as finance,” she said.

In 2018, California passed legislation called the Fair Chance Act, also known as Ban the Box, that makes it illegal for most employers to ask applicants about their criminal record. However, Diaz says job applicants with criminal records still face hiring discrimination and Reboot LA offers a way for former inmates to learn valuable skills. “Learning how to code is very much an in-demand skill,” said Diaz. “It can lend you a job anywhere in the tech spectrum from a start-up, to consulting, to a corporate job.”

With Reboot LA, the goal is for graduates to create their own book of business and find clients, allowing students like Cardoza to take control of their own destiny.

“I also want to eventually, if I can, incorporate teaching coding to kids and going back into education,” said Cardoza.

The program is currently accepting applications. For more information, go to www.reboot.la.