Suzanne Hayden's children were young when she went to prison, and they will be adults before she leaves.
A visit from Hayden's youngest daughter had a lasting impact on the inmate at the state-run Topeka Correctional Facility.
"Daddy said you were a bad person and that you committed a crime, and you're going to be here forever, you're not coming out," the child said.
Convicted five years ago in a series of Johnson County thefts, Hayden's earliest possible release date is Nov. 18, 2027.
"After I got over the shock of what she had just told me, I explained to her there's not a lot of bad people in prison," Hayden said. "You made a bad choice, and as a consequence of that choice, that is why you are here. And at any moment in time, you can make a different choice with a different outcome."
When Hayden is released, she hopes to get a job as a software developer, using skills she is learning now as part of a fledgling program that offers intense training in computer coding.
The course was developed by The Last Mile, a nonprofit founded in 2010 at San Quentin, the state prison near San Francisco. The coding class launched in 2014 and expanded three years later to Indiana. Kansas is the third state to implement the class, which began at the women's prison in January.
The goal is to instill skills that are lacking in the workforce and connect students with employers — a critical component of putting inmates on a path that keeps them from returning to incarceration.
"I hope after all of this," Hayden said, "when I get home and when I'm with my family again, I really hope to be somebody that my kids can look up to, that they can be proud of."
For some, the class has consumed their lives. They discuss their work through lunch and in the yard, and take books back to their dorm.
"It is very complex, but it is very worthwhile," said Brittany Leija, an inmate who hopes to provide for her family after completing the yearlong course. "I think that the opportunities are endless once we get up and going, and that there's a lot of good jobs as far as web design goes and the way that technology is developing outside of here. It's just something that's always going to be in demand."
Jack and Mary Cochran, expansion managers with The Last Mile, were in Topeka this week to assess implementation of the class. They said there are at least 1 million unfilled jobs for software developers in the United States.
They are looking for Kansas businesses who are willing to partner with the nonprofit to mentor inmates after they finish the program and utilize their newfound skills.
"We want the employer to know they are qualified," Jack Cochran said. "This isn't a charity type thing."
The Kansas Department of Corrections is planning a celebration of the class in June with hopes of attracting more business partners. Already, Kansas City Women in Technology has expressed interest.
Students are still in the process of learning basic skills before tackling more advanced programming in the second half of the year.
Hayden and Leija were among 70 women who applied for the class and 15 who were selected to participate.
Working on an internal server without access to the internet, Leija has crafted a website that chronicles the experience of "The First 15." The site features slideshows, examples of the coders' work and tips for future classes.
Showing off her work, Leija rattles off lingo — div tags, class style, an accordion, animations — that was foreign to her before the class. She said she was excited "to see where this all goes."
"I don't believe I would have gotten this opportunity anywhere else — especially being free," Leija said. "People pay thousands of dollars to take computer science, so it's just a blessing."
Brett Young, the course instructor at the prison, said the students' appetite for knowledge is voracious.
"Big picture wise, this is exactly what this population needs," Young said. "They're leaving here with skills that really help with survival and ensure success."
Shannon Meyer, the prison's warden, said lack of employment is a huge contributor to recidivism.
"Having an actual skill set where they can go find a meaningful and livable wage, to have strong employment, support their family — that has a huge impact on them being successful in the community," Meyer said.