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A Shot at a Second Chance: One woman's journey from prison to working for the Pacers

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Posted at 7:02 PM, May 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-15 19:29:57-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Each morning, Billie Edison drives to work at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

"I pull into the parking lot and I still get emotional," said Edison.

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It's a route she's taken for almost nine months now for her job with the Indiana Pacers.

"I cannot believe I'm coming to work for this organization," said Edison.

Edison is the help desk technician.

"Usually, when I come in, we do a morning meeting every day and then I always make sure I check the tickets because that's like my main position," said Edison.

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Edison says working for the Pacers is a place she could have never imagined.

In 2016, Edison was on a much different path in life.

"That took me into a world I knew nothing about, that I thought only existed in the movies and it was pretty scary," said Edison.

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Edison says she was struggling with depression and anxiety. She needed money and turned to selling drugs.

"I was arrested for murder, felony murder and robbery, looking at 65 years in prison," said Edison. "I was scared to death but at the same time, it was like that was finally over. I know that seems weird, when I tell you that world was so scary."

Sitting in county jail is where Edison says she found hope. She knew she had to make a change, not only for herself but her seven boys.

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"A bunch of the girls kept telling me I needed to read the Bible, and I was like what’s that Bible going to do for me? I’m going to die in prison, but I finally did," said Edison.

Edison served almost seven years in prison. She ended up being charged with robbery resulting in bodily injury where someone other than the defendant gets hurt.

It was while she was serving time at Rockville Correctional Facility and Indiana Women's Prison that she found out about The Last Mile Program.

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The Last Mile Program is a year-long training course to teach people in prison about web development and software engineering.

"Let's invest in those people, who perhaps never had a first chance in life. Everyone talks about a second chance, I say fair chance because many never had a first chance," said Beverly Parenti, the co-founder of The Last Mile.

Parenti and her husband started the program in California 14-years-ago. The idea sparked after her husband's visit to San Quentin Rehabilitation Center.

"Our mission from day one was to provide marketable skills that result in gainful employment," said Parenti.

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Indiana was the first state outside of California to introduce the coding program in 2018. Parenti says Indiana Pacers owner Steve Simon helped fund it.

"It's a chance for us to think differently about how we get people onto our campus and into our company," said Danny Lopez, with Pacers Sports and Entertainment.

TLM is now in 10 different states across the country. People who go through the program have a 75% success rate of getting a job afterwards, and the recidivism rate is 4.5%.

"We truly believe that having a job is the key to successful re-entry and breaking the generational cycle of incarceration," said Parenti.

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Edison decided to participate and ended up staying an extra year in prison. She says it was a tough conversation with her kids.

"I called my children and I was like, I know that this is probably going to seem really selfish, I told them I really want to stay in prison and do this program. I feel like it’s really gonna help me overcome a lot of barriers job wise. I was blown away by the level of support I got from my children," said Edison.

Edison says the program was tough after spending more than 20 years in healthcare.

"The first day I looked at the curriculum and the code and I was like, there's no way I'm going to be able to do this, but I also knew I had given up a whole lot to sit in that seat," she said.

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Edison left prison a year ago.

She says the job search was tough, first landing a position at Goodwill before getting a call that the Pacers were hiring.

"Prison is a really dark place. You don't feel like you're going to be blessed like that and never in a million years when I was sitting that classroom did I think, 'Oh I'm going to finish this class, I'm gonna get out and work for my favorite team in the entire universe,'" said Edison.

Now in her dream job, she's on a path much brighter.

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Edison says she's rebuilt her relationship with her kids and is proof people can actually change.

"I want people to know that there is light on the other side of that darkness, to not give up. I had post-its on the computer in my class saying 'quitting is not an option' and it can't be because you are worth it, you are loved and there are people who truly care about you."