What it's like learning to program in prison

The Stack Overflow Podcast

Today's guest is Garry Becks, a programmer and entrepreneur who taught himself to code while serving time in prison. Recently, he has spoken out against a trend in which prison systems in states across the US have been banning books that teach software development, citing them as a "material that threatens." When Becks was incarcerated, his wife would hide programming material inside the cover of gangster fiction novels in order to get them through security screenings.

Here is the Reddit comment that inspired us to reach out to Garry.

This is the Vice news article that started the thread. As you can see, the ban has affected a lot of books that would seem to have little bearing on cybersecurity. "Rejected books that are geared towards hacking, such as Justin Seitz’s Black Hat Python, may represent a clearer threat to the Department of Corrections, which fears that prisoners could use those tools to compromise their systems. But how did books such as Windows 10 for Dummies, Microsoft Excel 2016 for Dummies, and Google Adsense for Dummies (marked as posing "clear and present danger"), fail the prison’s security test?"

If you want to read about programs helping prisoners learn to code, check out this story on the Bard Prison Initiative.

We also did a podcast episode back in January of this year that focused on The Code Cooperative, an organization dedicated to teaching software skills to formerly incarcerated individuals.

Audio Player