‘Hammer time’ for teens at Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility

MADISON COUNTY, Ind.– The baggy pants are a thing of the past but the sunglasses were firmly in place as hip hop legend MC Hammer addressed more than a dozen burgundy jersey-clad offenders in the front row of the gymnasium at the Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility.

“Your goal when you get out of here is to be employed so that you can take care of yourself, be self- sufficient, help your family, this is a real opportunity, embrace it,” said Hammer, whose legal name is Stanley Kirk Burrell. “This is not about entertainment. This is really about an opportunity for your lives.”

Hammer sits on the board of The Last Mile, a California-based non-profit dedicated to teaching technology and business skills training to men, women and juveniles behind bars, and Indiana is the first state the program has expanded to.

“We are all oriented in the same direction, moving toward the same goal of getting folks skilled up so that when they get out they go up and they have a new reality. It’s not just hope that they carry with them. It’s a new day,” said Gov. Eric Holcomb. “Over a two year period we’re gonna be able to help over 500, probably 525 men and women. This is a win win win. It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Backed by a $2 million grant from Google.org, The Last Mile will teach coding to young offenders in the hope of rolling back Indiana’s juvenile recidivism rate, which finds one in three offenders back in jail within three years of release.

“It’s pretty cool doing all the different languages and doing something new and interesting, something I can feel like, this would be a great opportunity to help me in the long run,” said Calvin McCaster, 19, a Chicago-native at Pendleton. “Being locked up is not a good thing at all but being in this predicament while being locked up, this is great.”

Brian Ward managed to attend his sophomore year at Ben Davis High School before being locked up.

“I’m real excited about the opportunity. This should be a real game changer. It’s gonna open up a lot of doors that were closed to me,” said the 16-year-old. “I definitely didn’t expect this opportunity being locked up but it makes you a better person really doing your time really focusing on yourself trying to make a better person of yourself so you don’t get locked up again.”

Last year, Marion County sent 102 young people to state correctional facilities and welcomed 101 back home.

The Marion County Juvenile Facility houses a maximum of 96 young offenders in a site built to hold 144 beds.

“I just wanna say stay away from guns, stay away from the streets as much as possible because that just doesn’t lead to nothing by being away from your family and nothing but pain,” said Ward.

“Living that life is not always the best thing to live,” said McCaster. “Especially when they put you in a predicament like dead on jail so if they can take every opportunity they can get and run with it be the best you can be.”

Following the Pendleton ceremony, Hammer was on his way to the Indiana Women’s Prison where the first nine students enrolled in the coding program there were set to graduate.