From prison to software engineer

Man sits on couch with laptop computer.
Thanks to job-skill training programs, former inmate Sumit Lal is now a software engineer.

At the age of 18, Sumit Lal was a self-described knucklehead running with the wrong crowd in South Sacramento. His sentence to prison for credit card fraud, burglary and arson, he said, wasn’t a surprise.

“All our role models growing up were drug dealers and gang members, so you needed this tough guy attitude to survive,” Lal said. “In my neighborhood, if you go to prison, you’re respected.”

Today, the 23-year-old is a software engineer, thanks to a computer coding program called Code.7370 offered at San Quentin State Prison in partnership with CALPIA, CDCR, and The Last Mile. The opportunity to take part in CDCR’s Youthful Offender Program (YOP) came in 2015.

“I heard that the YOP gave youthful offenders a chance to not end up at a level three or four yard, but rather a level two where there are so many more programs and rehabilitation opportunities,” he said.

Man works on a computer while sitting at a desk.
Sumit Lal works on a project using skills he learned while incarcerated at San Quentin.

The YOP was established through Assembly Bill 1276 in 2014 and provided CDCR with the authority to afford special classification consideration for youthful offenders received into CDCR on or after July 1, 2015, who are under the age of 22.

The program allows these youthful offenders the opportunity to enter into lower custody levels. The intent is to allow them greater access to programs with the goal of increasing the likelihood of rehabilitation during a critical development stage of their lives.

Lal was first housed at Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI).  Always on the honor roll in high school, Lal said his counselor at DVI saw his potential and recommended YOP as well as a transfer to San Quentin’s level-two yard.

While inside from 2015 to June 2019, his family visited him three or four times. He says that made him focus even more on his rehabilitation. He was originally scheduled to be released in August 2020, but because of hard work and taking advantage of the opportunities YOP afforded him, he was home 14 months sooner.

“I probably needed to be incarcerated. I was just being a knucklehead, and had no real direction or discipline,” Lal explained

He learned his trade while an inmate at San Quentin, having honed his computer and coding skills through Code.7370 which simulates a live coding environment without internet access.

“Hard to code without the internet,” Lal said.

Today, he’s coding, building software and databases for companies. He’s also going back to school, working on a biochemistry degree that he’ll eventually be pursuing at Sac State.

Lal has spoken to several youth groups and various high schools about his journey, the mistakes he’s made, and the promise of a better future.

When he’s not working or going to school, he likes to work with young Taekwondo students. He’s a third-degree black belt who has practiced the discipline since he was 7.

“I found joy in helping other people, that’s why I’m here today.”

By Joe Orlando, Office of Public and Employee Communications