Normally prison is a punishment site, but for us this is also a place for re-education. 15 years ago, we began the first Cisco Networking Academy for those in prison to learn critical skills for when they are released. Yes, they are prisoners and have long punishments. But we’re hoping to empower them to make better choices when released.
From that first Cisco Networking Academy in a prison in Bollate, near Milan, to now 6 prisons working with Cisco Networking Academy in Italy alone, and around 50 in the world. That equals about 500 prisoners trained over the last 15 years to achieve some very difficult Cisco certifications. We accelerated our program recently here in Italy, and in the last year at least 100 prisoners have attended new classes.
How did we get involved? Through the universal language of music.
Here at Cisco Italy we have an employee rock band, and we play for charities and social events when asked. We were asked to give a “concert” for the prisoners in Bollate, which we enjoyed and they enjoyed (they even danced!)
Through that event, we got to know more about the Cisco Networking Academy trainer, Lorenzo Lento (an Information and Communications Technology professional who has worked with them for all 15 years.)
After our big rock concert, we started to have meetings with the students in Bollate. Then, thanks to the Country Digitization Acceleration project that Cisco financed in Italy, and thanks to the agreement that Italy’s Minister of Justice signed, we expanded our project to prisons in Florence and Naples and elsewhere.
For example, in the Nisida (Naples) prison, there is a Cisco Networking Academy class that focuses on young women under the age of 18 – they will be in prison for a long time, but we’re helping them to overcome prejudice and become women in tech when they are released.
The prisoners who have gone on from the program have proven to be very good examples of why we work with these prisons.
For example, Luigi, a former prisoner who was Cisco certified, is now an appreciated cyber security specialist in an important Italian multinational company, and has also written a successful book about his history before, during and after the prison called “Non sarà sempre così” (Which translates to “It’s not going to be like this all the time”).
Then there’s Abdel, also Cisco certified, now a networking and security specialist and teacher to other prisoners. Many of the foreign students, after the Cisco certification, and the end of punishment, went back to their countries of origin and now are well respected professionals there as well.
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Now we (who are colleagues, but now more friends than anything) spend some of our time volunteering thanks to the new initiative that gives employees five days off a year to volunteer. We meet with the prisoners, answer questions about our jobs and opportunities that they might have when released.
What do we tell them? Well, I, for example am a Government Affairs Manager and I’m working with my Italian colleagues for the digitization of our country that includes education on information and communications technologies for everybody, even where it could be impossible. Some of my colleagues attending the meetings with the students are system engineers or product support specialists and they can also answer to specific technical questions.
For those serving life terms, these Cisco certifications could represent an opportunity to have a job during the day and better society, while coming back to prison each night.
We get as much out of this program as the prisoners do. Even in the worst place, hope can add so much to a person’s day! It’s an emotional experience, but their passion and willingness to transform makes it very special.
We think that also for us, as a team, it is a very special experience: we are looking beyond the paradigms of our habits and prejudices and we are becoming better people.
The opportunities of living and learning like this is what makes Cisco unique in the world, and why we say: #LoveWhereYouWork.