So, now I really want to open it up to you guys, specifically the inmates in the audience. Let’s now open it up for anyone that wants to ask Sir Richard Branson a question.
Richard Branson: I’ll tell you what the first prisoner to ask when they get out they can get a free ticket to London.
Scott Budnick: Boom, right there.
Richard Branson: All right, we’ve got over here.
Inmate1: Hello mister Richard. Thank you for coming. My question is what inspired you or gave you the heart to hire an ex-convict?
Richard Branson: I think – we were talking about this earlier and I think — What’s surprising is just that not more people are doing it. The people in this room could be my children. They could be myself. They could be my brothers, my sisters.
When somebody slips up in life, and I suspect quite a few people in here didn’t slip up, they wouldn’t be here incorrectly anyway. But when somebody slips up they should be given a chance. It’s not only the right thing to do but I think it’s the right thing for society as well.
And instead, in America when people come out of prison they continue to be punished. They can’t get food stamps or I think getting mortgages and other things are difficult. Which puts people on a path to re-offending again. And it works. Some of our best employees at Virgin are people who’ve been in prison, including myself.
Inmate2: Mister Branson, Mister Budnick thank you. I’m a parent. I have 3 children. I’ve been in prison for 19 years now. And the biggest difficulty that we face is communication between myself and my children.
This is 2014 and the world is changing technologically. Have you ever considered tying together social good with an entrepreneurial opportunity to bring modern day communications to prisoners to help between prisoners and their children?
Richard Branson: Well, I hadn’t considered it until you just mentioned it. A lot of the best ideas come from discussions like this. It must be incredibly tough for all of you in this prison. It’s so far from anywhere. For families to have to leave to come and live close to you is heart wrenching for them and the kids. And obviously a lot of families will not — will not leave wherever they are to come and live close to you. So it must be horrendous.
The burden on the families to stay close and the burden on you to lose your families from staying close. So I think that anything that can be done to enable fathers, mothers to stay close to their children is obviously really important.
I would urge the warden who’s very liberal minded thinking to maybe work with you in trying to come up with a program that maybe could be an example to other prisons in the years to come. If we can help a bit we would love to try to help a bit within whatever we’re allowed. I can see how important it is.
Be entrepreneurial. Maybe get a few of the other students together. Try to work up a plan. It may be too late for you, but it can help other people later. Good luck.
Scott Budnick: I think it’s important to note too that this prison is the first prison in the entire state to bring in technology and start an online college program. It’s now planning to be replicated to all the different yards of this prison and then throughout the department. So it’s the first time in the history of the California prison system where they let inmates touch a computer, especially a computer that’s connected to the Internet to take college classes.
I know there’s talks about having Skype visiting for families that can’t come here. There’s also a new program that Millicent Tidwell and Rodger Meier started where you can read a book to your child and send it home on disk. That’s being rolled out in the next couple of months. So I think the ball’s rolling slowly, but rolling as it relates to technology.
And I think with Mr Branson’s idea and his help I think we can really kind of push the system to move this quicker.
Richard Branson: The Skype idea just seems like a no-brainer. Because it doesn’t cost the prison anything. And for families that can’t travel is quite a strain on the families to travel hours and hours from other cities.
Inmate3: You mentioned the draconian sentencing that we have in this country. My question to you is, do you think our behavior while incarcerated should be considered in regards to our release date?
Richard Branson: Look, I’m certain that the behavior whilst you’re in prison, you should get benefits from it. Would you mind telling me what you think?