Reentry and Technology: Bridging the Digital Divide After Incarceration

When I went to prison there were no cell phones. The closest thing you got to a cell phone in the early 1990s was a car phone. You could only use it in the car and it was as big as a house phone, if not bigger.

Texting was a futuristic novelty that some geek may have been toying with in his mind, but it didn’t exist for the rest of the world. In fact, there was no Internet in my world either, but we were using Apple Computers and typewriters in junior high school when I graduated.

It wasn’t until I became incarcerated that I began to learn about Microsoft and Lotus. This was 1993. Over the years I learned about Office XP and Windows, but the Internet was still a figment of my imagination. People in prison are not allowed to surf the web looking at You Tube Videos or researching various topics.

The day I was released I went to visit one of my dearest friends at her place of business and she pulled out her phone and took a picture of the two of us. I was astounded when I spoke to my daughter ten minutes later and she told me that she just saw that very picture on Facebook. She was miles away in another city. I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around that.

Thankfully for me I had an opportunity to take a program known as Byte Back. They are a group that attempts to close the digital divide here in the District of Columbia, teaching computer skills to individuals who are computer illiterate.

One of my most exciting moments in that class was learning to upload my resume on a flash drive and into an online application. It was a bit overwhelming but exciting as well. Today I am so attached to removable disks that I have started to fill up a second drive. I have everything on those drives.

I surf the web now like an all-time pro, and I absolutely love Facebook. It allows me to keep in contact with friends who I served time with who are currently living in various states throughout America. A few of my friends live outside of the USA. I served years with these women, and being able to stay connected to them even remotely is rewarding indeed.

Initially, the advances in technology were intimidating. Learning to use a cell phone, send emails, and complete job applications online was frustrating. Everyone takes for granted that people have computer skills. Everyone, from the Department of Motor Vehicles to your College or University, requires knowledge of the computer in order for you to stay on point, be in compliance and be successful.

Related: What does the digital divide mean to you?

Lucky for me, I was driven and determined to learn the skills I needed to learn. I never gave up even when I had those fleeting moments when I wanted to.

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About Lashonia Etheridge-Bey

Lashonia Etheridge-Bey is a Public Speaker who can candidly and articulately speak to the consequences of youth violence, the effects of incarceration and the challenges of reentry into society. Read Lashonia's Full BIO Here 


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