Python at Rikers

Posted on December 11, 2016 by emisshula


Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them to become what they are capable of becoming.
Victor Frankl paraphrasing Johann Wolfangang von Goethe

Teaching Python to Rikers Detainees

On Saturday, December 10th, I had the privilege of joining students from the Columbia School of Social Work to teach the Python computer language to a class of 20 young detainees at Rikers python. The course is part of digital storytelling class concieved of and pioneered by the brilliant and compasionate Dennis Tennen. The project seeks as a promary goal to teach detainees the power and techniques of digital storytelling by engaging them with familiar elements such as social media and unfamiliar technology such as Python and computational thinking.

As a secondary goal, the program seeks to inform young men trapped in the some of the darkest and most disfunctional aspects of our Criminal Justice system (money bail, indeterminate pre-trial detention, poverty, violence, inadequate food and constant uncomfortable accomodations) that mastery of digital storytelling or Python programming may be a viable path out of poverty either with or without a college degree.

The picture above was taken on Rikers Island in the last place we were allowed to keep our phones. It is the parking lot outside the infamous Robert N. Davoren complex where prisoners as young as sixteen are detained. For those interested in learning more about these fascinating young men and their struggle to survive inside and make sense of their brutal surroundings, please follow [@RikersBot](

If you can spare four minutes to hear why this work is so important, please watch the video below from Holocaust survivor and intellectual Victor Frankl.