Expecting former prison inmates to navigate a smartphone world without a decent smartphone is a cruel obstacle that makes reintegrating into society and creating a normal life much more difficult.

A Manhattan high school student has been providing former prison inmates with a fresh start by gifting them smartphones and teaching them how to use the newest technology.

According to Jake Greenberg, a 16-year technology assistant at a prisoner re-entry program and a senior at Millennium High School in Manhattan, “Expecting former prison inmates to navigate a smartphone world without a decent smartphone is a cruel obstacle that makes reintegrating into society and creating a normal life much more difficult.”

While teaching technology on a volunteer basis at a prisoner re-entry program in New York City, Jake was dismayed to discover that his clients – those newly released from prison – were being given antiquated flip-phone style cellphones. Jake understood that finding a way to provide smartphone technology to these clients could make a huge difference in their lives.

“Couldn’t I repurpose some of my old smartphones and give them to some of our clients?” Jake thought. So Jake reached out to family and friends and asked them to donate their old devices as well. As the circle of donations continued to expand Freshstart Phones was born.

Via FreshStartPhones.Com, the online portal for the Freshstart Phones non-profit, Jake has been receiving used smartphones from generous donors throughout the United States. Jake loves telling stories about how excited his clients get when receiving a new smartphone.

One of Jake’s clients, an older gentleman named ‘Joe,’ suffers from Parkinson’s disease.

Jakes explains, “His hands shake so badly that typing on anything, much less a flip phone, is extremely challenging. When I received a donation of a smartphone programmed with a virtual assistant, I immediately reached out to Joe. I showed him how the Siri feature works, specifically its vocal directions functionality. He couldn’t believe that he no longer needed to rely on steady fingers to operate his smartphone. I had to remind him that Siri doesn’t recognize slang: when Joe asked Siri to call his ‘Baby Mama’, Siri connected him to his 84-year old mother. We spent the rest of our session organizing and entering his contacts. At the end of our session, Joe silently looked at me with a grateful smile. He didn’t need to say anything. His eyes said it all.”

Many clients at the prisoner re-entry program where Jake volunteers were incarcerated before smartphones were part of daily life. Jake tells the story of a client named Juan, who had been incarcerated multiple times for filching CDs and then selling bootleg copies on the street, recognizing the irony that the music for which he spent years risking arrest is now available for free on any smartphone via the music streaming app Pandora.

“My clients are wonderful people who got lost for a while,” Jake says. “I feel gratified that I’m able to give them a fresh start.”

Those interested in donating a used smartphone to Jake’s organization can contact him directly through FreshStartPhones.Com.

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