This blog post is written by Josh who is a prisoner at HMP Hatfield working at Yoomee on day release as part of the Code4000 project, Europe's first prison coding workshop helping to break the cycle of crime.
Yesterday was three years to the day since I was arrested and also the day my first piece of client work went live at offaxisnetwork.com. It's also three and a bit months before I am to be released from prison.
On 22 May 2017 I was sentenced to four years and four months in prison. After a couple of weeks in HMP Hull, I was transferred to HMP Humber for the foreseeable future. Shortly after arriving at Humber I enrolled on an 'iMedia' course; a basic Adobe suite course identical to part of the GCSE ICT course I'd completed 10 years previously. Below is a photo of HMP Humber's 'N wing', my old house is 3rd from the end on the right, 2–49:
After about six weeks of boredom in 'iMedia', I saw a poster about a new workshop that was to start in prison: 'Code4000'. I knew immediately that I was going to sign up, having enjoyed making websites and online content during my early teens using PHP, HTML and CSS. I started in Code4000 on 2 August 2017 and got stuck right in. I was thrilled to be doing something in prison which I genuinely enjoyed and relished my time there.
Just before Christmas, we had some visitors to the workshop, volunteers from the HMPPS Digital Studio in Sheffield. As I was destined for an open prison in Doncaster, I asked our visitors if they knew of any agencies in Sheffield who might be willing to give an opportunity to a serving prison. One of the volunteers, Shaun, told me that he'd seen a social media post from an agency about working with young offenders and that he would pass the details to my workshop manager.
By February 2018 Andy Mayer from Yoomee Digital in Sheffield had been to see me at the workshop and offered me the chance to work with him as a volunteer, to continue learning and hopefully progress on to commercial projects.
Unfortunately, everything in prison moves at a snail's pace, and even though I moved to HMP Hatfield (the promised land of open prison) on 2 March, I wasn't able to join Andy at Yoomee until 1 October 2018. What was even more unfortunate; I wasn't able to do any coding in this in-between period.
After a conversation with Andy, I started learning Ruby on Rails (while I was in the prison workshop. Rails wasn't working on the machines, but now is). I started by following the 'Getting Started with Rails' tutorial and building on this by installing and implementing various RubyGems and building a couple of other 'mini apps' using the same formula. A little while later Andy decided I might be ready to start a real client project.
To upgrade an old web application from Rails version 3 to version 5 for a charity. This involves moving the application from an old to a new server on Heroku. I was to rebuild the application in Rails 5, but exclude obsolete features and code. I would also need to rebuild the database, models, views, controllers and methods in a new Rails 5 application, using the original site's HTML and CSS for frontend prettiness.
Once the backend was done, I'd need to import the old data from a MySQL database to a new PostgreSQL database and deploy to Heroku staging (with CircleCI testing along the way) before moving up the pipeline to production.
How it went
I was in a fortunate position with this project, as there was no deadline to deliver it to, which meant I could take my time while learning on the job. Having a prototype with mostly working code meant I had somewhere I could look if I was struggling on writing something myself. Andy was very supportive as a boss and would volunteer his time to help me whenever I needed (which naturally got less and less as I learnt) and I have a mentor (big up Ryan Brooks!) who's a Rails whizz, and comes in once a week to help me with anything and everything; he also introduced me to RSpec to write tests for the project.
I started the project on 7 November and was able to deliver by 15 February, with some minor tweaks made just before yesterday's go live.
Below are some screenshots from the live website at www.offaxisnetwork.com
So we're now:
- 36 months after my arrest
- 23 months after sentencing
- 20 months since joining Code 4000
- 6 months after starting at Yoomee
- 3 months until release
And I'm absolutely buzzing with the progress and the opportunities that others have granted me and I have seized. I can't thank everyone enough because none of this would have happened in the way it has without the key players from Code 4000, Yoomee and the wider community who've been engaging with the scheme. Big ups to everyone involved! Keep up the good work, it's paying off.
Bigger things to come!