Chad Latham was living a double life. During the day he ran his computer repair and business and at night he grew pot. 11 years ago him and his partner were moving their growing operation to a new location when the police pulled up behind their truck. He knew at that moment his life would never be the same.
He spent 10 years in prison. This conversation took place less than 1 year from his release and he was days away from starting his new life as a Full Stack Software Developer at Amazon.
This conversation weaves through his life before, his life spending 10 years in prison and him never giving up hope that he would have the opportunity to rebuild his life.
What would you do if you spent your entire 30s in prison? This is what Chad did.
Todd: Chad Latham thank you for joining me today on go Hunt Life.
Chad: You are welcome.
Todd: Where are you at right now and what is your view? What are you looking at?
Chad: I am in Tacoma, Washington and I am looking at a rainy and cloudy sky.
Todd: How old are you, are you married and do you have kids?
Chad: Yes so I am 41 years old. I am currently engaged, I was married and now I have a 22 year old son.
Todd: And what is your profession?
Chad: I am a software developer.
Todd: Alright, let’s go back in time to 2003 – 2004. Back in 2004 you were arrested in the middle of the night transporting growing equipment and over 2,000 marijuana plants. You were arrested, your case was handed over to the DEA and you took a plea deal for a 15 year sentence. Am I missing anything in that timeline or anything that happened?
Chad: Yea, yea that is very true. That is an accurate description of what happened that day. I guess the other side of that is that I was also a computer technician and was in some ways living two lives.
Todd: What were you doing as a computer technician? Where where you working?
Chad: Yes I worked at, at that time I had my own business and was a local business providing computer support to small businesses and to residents in the Tacoma area. Previous to that I was a technician with CompuCom Systems and worked at a lot of the big corporations doing IT support.
Todd: So describe a typical week for me back in 2004, early 2004. What did a normal week look like?
Chad: So let’s see, basically I would get up and go to work during the day. You know, answer phone calls, deal with business management issues, order parts, install computers at different businesses, provide support and then in the evening time I would sell weed and work on my growing operations.
Todd: And it didn’t conflict from one thing to another?
Chad: You know, I mean there is always bleed over and problems, you know I mean? It was definitely a hectic lifestyle that was unmanageable, so that’s for sure.
Todd: Describe the night that you were arrested. What led up to that and what transpired that evening?
Chad: Yea, so what led up to it? I was moving a bunch of grow equipment and plants from one location to another. We had had a problem at the other location and decided to move the operation. Then while I was, I had already moved all the plants into the building and at the last trip I had a UHaul truck and at the last trip I was moving a bunch of grow equipment into the building and one of the neighbors in the area called the police they thought a house was being broken into. So the police came to check it out and they caught me red handed unloading a bunch of grow equipment.
Todd: What did you think when the cops pulled up and you saw the police cars?
Chad: It was pretty much a moment – I was about – you know just basically an epiphany. I mean it was pretty much, I realized that this was an entirely different stage of my life from this day forward. You know that nothing in my life would be the same ever again.
Todd: When you were arrested, it was March of 2004 and you took the plea deal in January 2006…is that right?
Chad: Yes that’s right.
Todd: What transpired from March 2004 to January 2006? What happened?
Chad: Yes so I was on pre-trial, so that is a period of time where some people are released on pre-trial and other people are kept in prison. I was lucky to be given a pre-trial release. So I was out and I focused on building a quiet and peaceful life for my family. I started to work, one of the clients I had previously as a business owner was Emerald Appraisals and I started to work for Emerald Appraisals as a network administrator and also as a home appraiser and so I started, I worked with them and I focused on building a life.
Todd: For a year and half, but this was hanging over you. So you were you going to trial throughout that time or what led up to the plea deal in January of 2006?
Chad: So these processes take a long time, there was, you know there is no trial to go to at that point it was primarily my lawyer negotiating with the prosecutor. I received 3 different plea offers throughout that period of time. And I finally took the 3rd plea offer, I was scheduled to be sentenced in October, but I ended up processing a bankruptcy and they pushed the sentencing out for another 3 months so that I could finish the bankruptcy and be sentenced in January 2006.
Todd: What was the risk of going to trial? What could you potentially have been looking at?
Chad: I could have potentially gotten a life sentence. So with having two prior state offenses, a 3rd marijuana growing charge in the Federal System carries a potential life sentence. More commonly would be 30 years
Todd: You take the plea deal in January 2006. How soon did you walk into the prison on your first day?
Chad: Yes, so they took me into custody immediately from the sentencing hearing. Then I began a processes of being transported from Tacoma all the way down to Safford, Arizona and that took about three months and you know I really had no clue at all what prison was going to be like. I kind of envisioned it, I have been to county jail a few times and I kind of envisioned that I would be county jail for 15 years. That is definitely not a good thing, but walking into prison I think I got there in late April, walking into prison is a lot different. It is kind of like living in a small village, you know? Where you have got a park, which is like the rec area, where you can go exercise and walk, and play different games like basketball, or pickup ball or tennis sometimes racket ball. They’ve got baseball, you know things like that to keep people active and doing pursuing kind of healthy activities. And then there is also education departments and TV’s and things where you can go you know pursue interests.
Todd: So how soon before, you where 30 years old…is that right?
Chad: Yes I was 30 years old when I walked in.
Todd: What was your biggest fear going through your first day and your first few days there? What were you, how did you get acclimated and how did you learn the ropes?
Chad: Yea let’s see, so biggest fear? I don’t know. I mean biggest, my biggest concern at the time was that I was so far away from my family. In the Federal System they can send you anywhere around the country. They don’t keep you in the state where you are sentenced from. So I had been sent all the way from Washington down to Arizona and so I had no clue as to when I would be able to see my family again. When I walked in the living environment is in cubicles so there was 10 other people living in a cubicle with me and when I walked into the cubicle there were 8 Spanish speaking people and 1 Native American who spoke English. So, not a lot of people that even spoke English there with me. So really finding, finding you know how to exist in the environment and what people do really is the key to surviving there. So really what I did more than anything was just watch how other people behaved around me and attempted to emulate that behavior for the most part.
Todd: Once you got acclimated, describe a typical day like on your LinkedIn Profile it shows you earned an Associated in Applied Sciences in ‘09 from Eastern Arizona College and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Adams State University in 2015. So how does that work and how does that work into your typical day there?
Chad: Yea, so when you go to prison really what you do with your time is up to you. When I first walked in the door at that place I saw people who have been sitting in front of the same TV’s for 9 years or 10 years straight and were arguing with their neighbors about who gets to sit in what chair. You know, so really you can spend your entire 10 years sitting in front of a TV doing absolutely nothing or you can focus on being productive and I absolutely am horrified at wasting 10 years of my life. So I wanted to be as productive as I could possibly be with my time. So I chose to focus on education activities and recreation…getting fit. So you know the I started out by doing work called Ace Classes which are basically going and watching like documentary and educational videos about different things and then I found out that they had college offerings at the school…or at the prison where they had college teachers come in from the outside and teach college classes in the evening time. So that’s with the partnership with Eastern Arizona College. That you have to pay for those on our own and so I talked to my family and they were very supportive of paying for school for me while I was there. I am lucky that they were able to do that because a lot of people want to participate in college while they are there but they don’t have the funds to be able to do so. So I was definitely one of the lucky ones.
Todd: What was your access to computers and the internet back then?
Chad: Absolutely none. So I was a computer guy. I had been typing ever since I was a little kid and they didn’t have computers at all in the Bureau of Prisons. Any communication with the outside was hand written letters and if you needed to type anything they had electric typewriters. So when I did my college assignments I would type them out on an electric typewriter. I had to learn how to use an electric typewriter, which was lots of fun.
Todd: Wow. OK, a lot of questions. How do you get your degree if you don’t have even in 2015 you received your Bachelors in Business Administration…how do you do that without a computer?
Chad: Okay let me back up my old answer a little bit. So as far as outside communication goes there are no access to computers at Safford there was none. When I was transferred later to Sheridan they did have an email-like system. I say email-like because it does not get delivered to regular email. There is a computer and people have to log into a website and actually view the messages that way. So that was the only access to anything like the internet was that set up. The actual, they did have an isolated network at the prison of computers that taught people programs like Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel and those were not connected to the internet in any way. They were specifically locked down so you could only use those particular applications. And I was initially banned from using those from taking any classes on the computers at all because I had work history as a computer technician. And so the prison determined that I was too skilled as a computer technician to be able to touch their computers.
Todd: They thought you were going to hack into them or what?
Chad: That is their fear, you know and I didn’t have any crimes with computers or anything like that, but I was too skilled.
Todd: What time was this? How long ago?
Chad: That was 2006 until 2008. So two years I was banned and then I talked, after I took a bunch of college there, and I was working on getting my degree and the degree that I was taking required that I had a few computer classes from their program. Then I appealed to the administration and the administration reviewed my background and everything and then they approved me for working on computers.
Todd: So from 2009 on you were able to have access to computers?
Chad: Yes, yea but nothing with the internet though.
Todd: Okay right, so you not only took classes, but did you then begin teaching other inmates?
Chad: Yes yea so when I transferred to Sheridan, Oregon which was in May of 2009…the reason I transferred was because I was produced in custody level from a low to a minimum. So I was transferred and I was much closer to home then. I went to Sheridan and they had a computer lab there. Where there were inmate tutors at the computer lab so I became the lead tutor at the computer lab. I spent the next 7 years working heavily with computers and teaching probably 500 to 700 people Microsoft Applications, Google Sketch Up, QuickBooks and Auto Cad.
Todd: Amazing stuff, still no access to the internet correct?
Chad: Right, no access to the internet, just the programs that are installed on the machines and you know we did as much as you could do with those programs as possible. So we used them very heavily.
Todd: When did you first learn of the IPhone was released in June of 2007. When did you first learn of the IPhone?
Chad: I would say probably in 2008. So what I did to keep up with technology along the way is I, back in 2006 you could actually and probably through to 2010, magazines were still very popular. So I had probably 10 different computer magazines that would come in on a regular basis and I would read every single computer magazine that came in and then I also have my family send me book after book after book on computers. And I just read and read and read and read about them. Then I would also talk to all the inmates that would come in the door who had access to the most recent technology they would tell me about what you know what was going on the outside. You know being that I was a computer tech already had a lot of experience with them it was kind of like easy you know to understand what was going on and follow on.
Todd: How did they explain Facebook to you?
Chad: Well, I mean I definitely read a lot about it and my family you know every time I was on a phone call with my family they would they would tell me how things were going on Facebook or whatnot so I get the idea. So I was involved with message boards a long time ago before Facebook you know that’s just think kind of human nature to want to talk about what is going on in your life.
Todd: December 2015…you learned that President Obama was commuting your sentence. How did you learn of that?
Chad: Yea that was really shocking. So the first any indication I had at all, my case manager which is a staff member at the prison who you are assigned to, walked up to the computer room and pointed her finger through the window at me and you know gave me the come here sign. I didn’t know what that was but I figured I was in trouble because that had never happened before. So she walked me into the administration building and told me to take a seat in the lobby of the administration building and she walked into the admin building and disappeared for almost an hour and just left me sitting in the lobby. I had no clue what was going on. Then 20 minutes later the Unit manager came out oh I am sorry the Camp Administrator came out and told me that they had a very important phone call for me and they wanted me to come into an office and take a phone call. I said Okay and the Camp Administrator didn’t know what was going on either, which was the most interesting part. So they put me on one of their telephones, which is almost unheard of, you never use their telephones you always use the inmate phones. And my lawyer who was part of the clemency project was on the phone and he told me that he had just gotten off the phone with a representative from the White House and that my clemency order had just been signed and that they were going to be announcing it on CNN in about 45 minutes. That I had been granted clemency and that I would be released from prison as soon as possible which was just amazing. They did say on clemency orders there is 120 day period before the order before the actual release date and that period of time you are to spend in a halfway house preparing for your release and that I would be transferred to the halfway house as soon as possible. So that’s exactly what happened.
Todd: You got off the phone…what went through your head?
Chad: You know I was shocked! I didn’t really even know what to say. The Camp Administrator, as soon as I hung up the phone, he asked me what was going on…which I thought was awfully interesting. Yea so I was like, “They didn’t even tell you?!” And he was like, “Nope! So tell me what’s going on!” And I told him and he put a gag order on me and told me to be silent and not tell a soul.
Todd: Why is that?
Chad: Which was most interesting. You know I can only speculate. I think he was afraid that, I don’t know, I don’t know maybe he was afraid that people would be angry or it would cause an up stir at the prison. I don’t really know why, but it hadn’t been announced on CNN yet. I don’t know if he wanted to look into it himself or what the deal was, but he told me to go back to my work assignment and don’t say a word to anyone. So I had to go back to work, my hands were shaking, and sit then and pretend that nothing had happened.
Todd: So from that moment to the day that you walked out how many days was that?
Chad: Eleven days later.
Todd: You walked out 11 days later.
Chad: Yea I had been gone for 10 years almost to the day and I was able to walk out of prison. I was also able to watch the announcement on CNN before and know about it coming before it came on TV which was pretty nice.
Todd: So you walk out of prison. Who is there to greet you and what was that like?
Chad: So my mom and my son came down to pick me up which was just wonderful and drive me back. I was actually on what they consider a furlough transfer so I was being transferred from the prison to the halfway house but your family is able to do the transfer for you at that point which is really nice.
Todd: How far away was the halfway house from the prison? How long of a drive was it?
Chad: About 3 hours. So I had roughly, I think they gave me a four hour travel permit. So I have four hours to travel from the prison to the half way house and basically it is just a drive straight up I5 to go to Tacoma and be dropped off at a new facility.
Todd: What went through your mind? What were the things you recognized the most in that four hour period?
Chad: I mean you know I have driven up and down I5 probably hundreds of time in my life, but you know it had been over 10 years since I did it so that I think the most interesting part was just moving faster than 10 miles an hour again. I mean it has been roughly 10 years since I moved that fast and you get in the car and my mom is not a fast driver and immediately when I got into the car I was like, “Oh man, do you have to drive so quick?” We were most probably doing 50 – 55 in a 60 zone and it felt like we were doing 85 you know.
Todd: Wow. OK so you go to the halfway house. What is that? What does that mean?
Chad: Yea so the halfway house at least the one I was in basically it is very similar to a prison environment except you get a pass to get out and go into the community to take care of different things. So literally you are locked in behind the doors, but you can full out requests to travel and so you request to go to the grocery store, you request to go to a job interview, or you request to go clothes shopping whatever it is. Then they give you a time frame and you have got to go there and back. So you are allowed to be out in the community doing your thing, but then you have to come back to the halfway house when you pass is over. So it is more of a managed environment but you still have access to the community.
Todd: Did you have access to computers and the internet at that time?
Chad: I did yea. That was the first time. They actually have computers there hooked up to the internet where you can start doing job searching there and you could do online resumes and applications, which is great. In fact, they insist on it now. They don’t even let you go to a job to turn in applications anymore they want you to check them out online first to try and do online applications. I also had, which I was reach shocked about, you can have a smart phone in there now. So you could access the internet on the smart phone. I was able to get a phone a couple of days later and start making regular phone calls and talking with family and friends.
Todd: What did you think about…do you have an IPhone?
Chad: No I have an Android. I am an Android guy.
Todd: Android – What did you think about apps and all of that stuff.
Chad: I loved it. I loved it so much. I have been reading Android magazine and it is one of my favorite magazines I have been reading it for years leading up to getting out and so I immediately put a bunch of apps on my phone. I had never used a smart – touch phone before and I spent two days sitting in the halfway house digging through every menu and option on the smart phone and figuring out how they worked what exactly it was and you know within a week later I was helping out the other guys at the halfway house learning how to set up their phones. Which was pretty cool.
Todd: That’s very cool. So how long where you at the halfway house?
Chad: I was there from January until late February in actual halfway house custody and then I was placed on home confinement from February until April. April 15th is the day that my official prison sentence ended.
Todd: What did you do April 15th then?
Chad: On April 15th my mother and I hopped in her car or in my car and we drove straight to the ocean to one of our favorite spots and spent the entire day at the ocean walking around on the beach and walking on trails.
Todd: How was it?
Chad: It was heavenly. It was just wonderful. It was so nice to be out in nature again to be free of people looking over your shoulder, looking at you constantly. And just to be able to walk around and go where you want to go it was just awesome.
Todd: How was it your son is 22 – how was it hanging out with him now as an adult? He is an adult!
Chad: Yea, it is great! You know we both love computers, we both love to ride dirt bikes. I have been out riding with him several times this summer. You know he is working now and I don’t get to see him as much as I would like, but we are doing everything we can to work on that. It is just really, really nice to see him building his life and succeeding and doing well. It is great.
Todd: Awesome. One of the other reasons we are talking to day is that I am sitting in a conference room in Galvanize in Austin and you jumped into a Galvanize course up there in Seattle. How soon after April 15th did you find Galvanize and get started there?
Chad: Yea so I had actually, before I knew I was getting out I started researching boot camps because it was the new kind of trend in the computer industry. So I started researching those and I had learned about Galvanize about 9 months or so before I got the notification about being released. I had the concept that because really what I wanted to do when I got out I just set the goal that I wanted to get back into computers in some way. I wanted to be a computer guy. That is one of my passions and so I decided to just pursue it completely. So I had been studying programming for a long time before I got out. Because programming is just fascinating to me, I absolutely love it. That has been my life goal for a long time now. So I decided to get back into computers and then I had the option that if I couldn’t join a job in computers I would consider going to do a boot camp and try and kick start my career as a programmer that way. So I as soon as I got released December the 29th, I started the job hunt looking for a job in computers and I searched from place to place to place to place to place and just couldn’t find anything. I had several different companies accept me, go through the interview process, two of them even gave me offer letters, you know said they wanted to hire me and then they pulled my background check and they backed out of it. And these were for relatively low IT positions just like help desk jobs, so that was pretty frustrating. My family, they were pretty frustrated by it also and they decided that they wanted to pay for my school and they wanted to encourage me to do school and to chase my dreams and that was awesome. That was really, really great. I was really nervous about doing it. I asked everyone that I knew and I talked to probably 20 different people and got their opinion on it and I got just tons of positive feedback and encouragement and they said, “Go for it, go for it!” So I contacted Galvanize probably in late March…early April to let them know what my situation was. I was up front with them completely about what my situation was exactly and they did some research on it and they said as long as I passed their entry test they were fine with me coming to school with them. And that they thought it would be a good thing for me to do and I had a good chance of getting a job.
Todd: When did you start Day One at Galvanize?
Chad: So I started Dau One at Galvanize May 2nd, which was only two weeks after I was released from home confinement.
Todd: My gosh!
Chad: So I had about 2 weeks of time off where I could do a few hiking adventures and focus on getting my life together. I had to move a bunch of things into a storage unit and then I started school right away and it was riding the train back and forth from Tacoma to Seattle and going to school. Probably about 60 hours a week I spent there.
Todd: What was it like walking in Day One and you’re are a student again?
Chad: Well, first of all to be I was still a little bit not use to being out in the general public. You know it just I don’t know for some reason it takes you awhile to get use to just walking around in public and losing that feeling of ‘everyone knows I have been to prison for so long’. You know, so just a little bit uncomfortable in the beginning but on day one at Galvanize it’s kind of you getting used to everybody and they have a breakfast for you, you know you are basically being introduced to everybody. There is a lot of communication, but Day Two you start digging right into the hardcore computer topics and that’s where I am most comfortable and so I got used to as soon as we started digging into the actual study curriculum, I was loving it.
Todd: You were in your comfort zone.
Chad: Yea, because I mean while I was gone…you know I am very much still a computer guy and the first computer I was on was in 3rd Grade and you just don’t find many people in prison that are truly passionate about computers. You know over the whole time I spent in there, there were only a handful of people that I really connected with on a computer level. And so I was just starved for being around other people that were so interested in computers. And then all of a sudden I am just surrounded a room full of you know 20 people that are just completely passionate about computers and all they want to talk about is programming and so I was in heaven. It was just wonderful great environment.
Todd: When did the other students learn of your background and your story?
Chad: I don’t know the exact date, but let’s say it is roughly three weeks to a month after I started the program, I was contacted by our local News Station King 5 and King 5 wanted to do a story on me and they were excited to hear I was attending a Boot Camp in Seattle and they wanted to come to the school and film me at the school and do the interview right there. Which I though sounded like a great idea and so I ran it by the administration at school and they were completely supportive of it. And so at that time I had to let the class know what the situation was. So we kind of had a stand up meeting and I told everyone what was going on and what my history was and then we did a kind of question and answer session.
Todd: And what did they say?
Chad: Yes so there was some general questions about how long I was gone and what I had done exactly and how had it impacted my family. Did I have a wife before…what was the situation? And I told them everything and they were very supportive of it, which was really nice. Really nice. The school was also very supportive in that they told all the students you know that I wasn’t given any special pass to get into the program that I have taken all the same test that they had and that I had earned my way into the program on my own merit. So that was really good to be recognized in that way.
Todd: So you went through the program…it is a full stack developer program is that what you went through?
Chad: It is. Yes it is full stack web development, Java Script, HTMLSS. And then full stack just means you are working on both the client side and the server side. Server Side using no JS.
Todd: What was the most difficult, have you completed the program at this time?
Chad: Yes I completed it about 2 months ago.
Todd: And what was the most difficult part of it?
Chad: The most difficult part I would say is the service side programming. It can get very complicated and all of the interactions with the database and setting up database schemas and how to efficiently make requests and have it not tie up the server…I would say is the most complicated part. And it is fairly complex having the interaction between the client side application and the server side and code that operates on both sides. And I like that a lot and I think that is probably the most complicated and the best part about the program.
Todd: What will you remember the most about the program at Galvanize? What is the thing that you keep coming back to that you remember the most about it?
Chad: You know honestly the thing that I will remember most is the people that are in the program itself, the teachers and their passion for pushing the information at you as fast as you can possibly take it and the environment in general at Galvanize where it is a student learning environment mixed with a technology start up environment. And all of the buzz that is going on around the start ups and the people learning about technology. It is just really a fascinating and cool place to be.
Todd: You finished your program in October of 2016 and I know you have been working on a contract recently. What has happened since you have completed the program?
Chad: Yes, so since I completed the program I have had multiple interviews for very good jobs. I have been working a contract position as a software developer doing back end no JS work and now I have been hired to work at a large company and I will be starting there very soon.
Todd: Incredible. Tell me about your role. What are you going to be doing and what is your title?
Chad: So my role is I am now a software developer. My title is Front end Engineer and I will be developing web pages for clients.
Todd: Tell me about receiving the offer. How did you feel reading the offer letter?
Chad: The offer letter was pretty much a life changing offer. I felt like it was a second chance at getting back to a very productive life and a good life.
Todd: Congratulations. That is awesome. Last question… If you could go back in time and have a conversation with yourself the day that you walked into prison, what advice would you give yourself?
Chad: I would say, you know in the beginning I had a lot of hope that the law would change and was going to be you know law changes and things like this and you know over time that definitely got worn down and I became very pessimistic about it. I really I probably never would have applied for clemency had I not had all of the bullet points of the people that should apply. So I think I would definitely tell myself to not give up hope. I used to say people, well people used to ask me how long of a prison sentence I had, or they would say, “When are you getting out of prison?” And I would tell them, “I am not. I am going to die here.” I was being facetious, but you know I definitely felt like this was my new life and this was where I was going to live. I didn’t seem like it was ever going to end so I would definitely say to myself to that this is a short term situation and that I need to keep being positive all the time and to be as productive with my time as I can because there will be a time when these things are going to benefit you in the future.
Todd: You can find Chad’s story on his LinkedIn profile and I will have the link in the show notes. Chad Latham, thank you very much for joining me and congratulations on your new role.
Chad: You are very welcome. Thank you so much for having me on.