How one Pathstream student came out of prison and leveled up to become a manager with the Asana Project Management Certificate. 

When Carrie was twenty-three, she began working for Xerox. She ran copiers in the mailroom, moved up to performing maintenance on copy machines, and then eventually into client services. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, Carrie was laid off after ten years of working for Xerox. By this time, she had three kids and found it difficult to find employment. She managed to get customer service jobs here and there, but she wasn’t making ends meet. Without the time, money, or resources for educational or professional growth opportunities, she struggled for years, feeling increasingly desperate until her eventual incarceration.

Long story short, before I went to prison I found myself a single mother of three kids, and I wasn’t able to pay the rent. I was working full time but it wasn’t cutting it. All I could think of was making it one more day. I ended up doing things that I am not proud of to try to turn things around for us. I was arrested and given a 5-year prison sentence.

When Carrie got to prison, she knew she had to take advantage of any educational programs offered and opportunities to gain new skills to support her family.

While I was in prison, I kept thinking, “No matter what it takes I’m going to educate myself. I have to do whatever it takes.”

Finding a new path

Despite the difficulties of pursuing education in prison, Carrie learned about and applied for The Last Mile (TLM). TLM is an organization that provides opportunities for personal and professional growth for justice-impacted individuals through education and technology training. (Pathstream and TLM work in partnership to provide digital skills courses to TLM participants who have left prison and are looking to restart their careers.)

Carrie excelled in the software development curriculum at TLM. Following her release, she committed to continuing her technical and nontechnical education. Due to her commitment to the TLM community and familiarity with the program, Carrie was offered a job as a returned citizen advocate. As an advocate, Carrie worked directly with TLM participants post-release to support their reentry journeys.

Carrie had big ideas for the Reentry Department and aspired to lead others to their potential. She went after the opportunity when TLM’s Reentry Department needed a manager.

I wanted to grow and become a person that could manage the department that I loved so much. I knew I needed to grow in my knowledge and skills, which is why I took advantage of the Pathstream certificate: to learn about project management and become the manager I envisioned.

After successfully completing the Pathstream certificate, Carrie was promoted to reentry manager, overseeing TLM’s Reentry Department and leading a team of returned citizen advocates.

Tips from Carrie on leveling up your career

Carrie’s key to success is her focus on “leveling up.” One of the ways she managed to level up was to reach out to people. She explained that people tend to look at people in positions where they want to be as “different” or “other.” This is especially true of people who have been in prison, as the effects can be dehumanizing. Carrie explains that it’s hard to reach out to people, but believing someone is “other” or “better” than you limits your ability to connect with them. She advises looking for similarities between the people you are reaching out to and not focusing on the differences.

(Note: If you want help reaching out to people, check out Pathstream’s Networking and Informational Interviews workshop.)

The more I reached out and talked to people, I found out how open and willing, and enthusiastic people are to help. The more you do it, the more comfortable you will be with reaching out to others.

Carrie’s advice on leveling up is to ask questions and solicit honest feedback from people you know who have your best interests at heart.

In my position with The Last Mile, I found myself surrounded by amazing human beings who were at the level that I wanted to be at. And I would just ask questions and solicit honest feedback from people. I love feedback, and I seek it out. It’s made me a better person.

Carrie overcame significant obstacles in learning digital skills to get where she is today. Although she learned to code in prison, because there was no internet access, she couldn’t learn common digital skills or communication tools.

I was really insecure about digital tools altogether. I realized these are skills that everyone just expects you to know. My advice would be to take your time and find what works for you.

Carrie embraced learning digital skills by setting up a good work environment and setting aside time to tackle learning new skills.

What’s next for Carrie?

While Carrie describes her career path as twisty and unconventional, the future looks bright. She’s studying for the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) exam, continuing to hone her project management skills, and developing and overseeing new reentry initiatives and programs. She’s taken what she learned in Pathstream and implemented it with her team.

I know that the information from Pathstream has been instrumental in helping me conceptualize a project from beginning to end and for helping me organize and delegate tasks and responsibilities. My team does daily standups using Slack every morning, something I learned in the Pathstream course.

Carrie says she still feels good when she can buy food for her family. Her kids are proud of her. They see that opportunity and hard work can pay off and that she can now provide a safe and comfortable home, working a job that she loves.

I still get this feeling, when I go grocery shopping and I’m putting things in the cupboard and putting things in the fridge. It’s so satisfying to know that I’m taking care of business.

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