Solution Overview

Solution Name:

The Last Mile

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One-line solution summary:

To provide opportunities for personal and professional growth for justice-involved individuals through education and technology training

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Pitch your solution.

TLM is disrupting the system of mass incarceration in America by providing opportunities to justice impacted individuals to gain training and marketable skills. 

TLM offers a comprehensive vocational training program and wraparound reentry support to people who are incarcerated, providing a scalable model for change in a criminal justice system that is difficult to impact. Men, women, and youth are receiving technology training to become software engineers, achieving success that seemed impossible only a few years ago. TLM’s vocational training for high-demand jobs has proven to increase social mobility, open career pathways, and reduce recidivism.

The Last Mile has demonstrated through years of education and job placement that public-private partnerships and strong relationships with Departments of Correction can dismantle deep-rooted systems of oppression and counteract prejudice across entire industries. As a result, TLM has become the most requested prison education program in the country.

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What specific problem are you solving?

Today, over 3,400 correctional facilities across the US incarcerate 2.3 million people. People of color account for approximately 37% of the US population, yet they represent 67% of the prison population. Post-incarceration, recidivism plagues our communities and poses an indomitable fiscal burden on the US society at large. 60% of people who are released return to prison within three years. 

A crucial factor that informs a sustained, successful reentry is gainful employment, and yet roughly 27% of the formerly incarcerated population is unemployed and an average of 19% are underemployed; about five times higher than that of the general population. The exclusion of formerly incarcerated job-seekers from the workforce costs the US an estimated $87 billion in lost GDP. (PPI)

While the unemployment rate is nearly five times that of the general public, formerly incarcerated individuals are more active in the labor market, with 93.3% of the incarcerated population working or looking for work compared to 83.8%. In short, this underserved population wants to work but less than 4% have a college education and only 25% have a high school diploma or GED, making the job application process extremely difficult especially for higher-paying jobs. (PBS)

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What is your solution?

TLM offers a technical training program to people who are incarcerated, creating a scalable model for change. TLM’s program provides people with skills necessary to secure high-demand jobs and has proven to increase social mobility, open career pathways, and reduce recidivism. 

TLM has created a platform as a service (PaaS), which leverages several applications to deliver an in-prison web development program, all within an environment created by TLM specifically for incarcerated students without access to the internet.

TLM students across the country are taught remotely by instructors who video conference into in-prison classrooms to engage with students in real-time. Our platform includes a learning management system (LMS), asynchronous support via our Student Help Desk, and real-world software development tools such as GitLab and DevDocs. The TLM platform adheres to security requirements while serving as a central location for TLM instructors and staff to remotely interact with students, grade coursework, and track progress. 

After completing TLM’s program, individuals are qualified to apply for employment as full-stack programmers upon their release from prison. TLM is committed to solving the problem of recidivism in America through increasing access to education for incarcerated individuals and preparing professional industries to embrace fair chance hiring.

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Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

TLM serves America’s incarcerated population, in turn also serving the marginalized communities from which most incarcerated individuals come from. Of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in the US, over 60% are from African American and Latino communities. The median pre-prison income among incarcerated adults is $20,800 -- over 50% less than the average US adult’s annual income.

TLM provides vocational training and post-release mentorship to individuals as a means of supporting successful reentry and ultimately preventing recidivism. By equipping those who are incarcerated with the hard and soft skills necessary for gainful employment after release, TLM offers individuals new career pathways that would not have otherwise been available to them. This has proven to prevent recidivism, as 0% of TLM graduates have returned to prison after their release. 

 Founded at San Quentin in 2010, TLM has grown and evolved based on input from current and formerly incarcerated people since its inception. The justice-impacted population is directly represented in our organization; roughly half of TLM staff are formerly incarcerated and contribute an active voice within TLM management and leadership teams. Additionally, TLM has launched an internal Web Development Education Apprenticeship. TLM hires former program participants post-release to provide academic support to current program participants, contribute to the curriculum, and continue their education and professional development. Apprentices are full-time TLM employees and earn a market wage salary while creating a portfolio of work and continuing to learn marketable skills. Further, TLM’s curriculum continues to be refined and expanded according to the feedback and performance of program students and graduates. 

Post-release, The Last Mile’s Reentry Department, a team of former program participants, supports the successful reintegration of returned citizens back into society, the workforce, and their families. We accomplish this by providing business and technology resources, as well as employment opportunities through our network of fair chance employers and referrals to community resources. We believe that lives are transformed through education, opportunity, and meaningful employment. Our goal is to create pathways for every TLM returning citizen to maximize their success. 

TLM understands that the successful reentry of returning citizens requires a holistic approach. Our participants have the technical skills to launch a fulfilling career. We provide workshops pre- and post-release to ensure returned citizens have the tools and resources to help them overcome the challenges that lie ahead. 

To better assist TLM alumni in their next journey, we conduct a reentry assessment which helps us support them in creating a tailored pathway for success. The reentry assessment is an evaluation of the participants’ desires, skills, and passion. This process includes a technical component that evaluates the participants' projects and technical abilities. This helps us to create learning pathways for those who would like to continue their education. 

The reentry assessment also includes a one-on-one interview, during which participants can share their continued learning goals and desired employment path. The assessment helps the reentry team provide each participant with appropriate resources. Based on the results of the assessment, the Reentry Department may offer a combination of the following resources:

  • Laptops and essential equipment for productivity

  • Continuing education opportunities 

  • Apprenticeship and internship opportunities

  • Referrals to a network of reentry referral organizations (eg. housing, transportation, benefits) 

To date, 85.14% of TLM returned citizens are employed full-time. In general, about 73% of the formerly incarcerated population is employed, with 19% working just part-time or seasonally. Our success in delivering our program remotely across men’s, women’s, and juvenile facilities and states underscores the potential impact we could have on individual lives and on the criminal justice system at large.

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Which dimension of the Digital Workforce Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Reduce inequalities in the digital workforce for historically underserved groups through improved hiring and retention practices, skills assessments, training, and employer education and engagement
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Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.

To mitigate recidivism, TLM empowers incarcerated populations with modern skills, along with post-release mentorship, helping individuals secure gainful employment upon re-entering the workforce. TLM offers training in full-stack software engineering, in accordance with the market’s growing need for coders. As TLM evolves, the program will encompass job preparation for more high-demand fields, such as audio and video production, while also addressing reentry planning, a critical post-release component. Further, TLM will always include women’s, and men’s, youth facilities to create equitable access to training and skills.

Our solution will generate opportunities for a population that is underrepresented, underserved, and consistently underemployed.

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In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

San Francisco, CA, USA
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Is your solution already being implemented in one or more of the following ServiceNow locations (Australia/New Zealand, Canada, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, the United Kingdom, United States), or are you planning to expand your solution to one or more of these countries?

My solution is already being implemented in one or more of these ServiceNow locations

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What is your solution’s stage of development?

Scale: A sustainable enterprise working in several communities or countries that is looking to scale significantly, focusing on increased efficiency.
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Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.

Our innovative approach to instruction and support post-release is tailored to fit the constraints of carceral environments and provide best-in-class education remotely and at scale. We implement continuous and iterative feedback from current and former students, ensuring that our programs and organization continue to best meet the needs of the communities we serve. TLM students across the country are taught remotely by instructors who video conference into in-prison classrooms, and TLM staff asynchronously provide support via our Student Help Desk.

With America’s incarceration rate being the world’s highest, TLM is prioritizing domestic scaling, including actively obtaining new funding and expanding to new states. Additionally, we are branching into new curriculum verticals, such as music and video production, in order to serve a broader audience of students.

If scaled globally, TLM could reduce recidivism internationally by teaching incarcerated populations in other countries the skills necessary for post-release success.

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Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Sydney Heller - Chief Program Officer

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the ServiceNow US Racial Equity Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if ServiceNow is specifically interested in my solution/I do not qualify for this prize

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More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology
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What makes your solution innovative?

TLM’s program is unique because it encompasses a custom-built technology platform, a comprehensive curriculum, reentry support, and an alumni network, all of which are tailored to the needs of justice-impacted individuals. Other entities that address similar problems (recidivism reduction, access to in-prison education, reentry support) lack either the technological component or comprehensiveness that TLM offers.

TLM has created a platform as a service (PaaS), which leverages several applications to deliver an in-prison web development program, all within an environment created by TLM specifically for incarcerated students without access to the internet. This includes live remote instruction, a learning management system (LMS), a thoughtfully custom-built curriculum, and real-world tools such as GitLab. TLM “brings” volunteers and industry experts into our classrooms virtually, allowing us to leverage resources around the globe. Ours is the only platform in the country that delivers this volume of material and services to incarcerated individuals.

Further, TLM’s Reentry Department cultivates our alumni network, providing post-release support and mentorship to returned citizens. This includes connecting TLM alumni with job opportunities through our employment partners like Slack and Fandom, supporting their pursuit of higher education through our partners like Udemy and Pathstream, as well as offering additional resources and guidance from other TLM returned citizens who can relate to their experiences.

 

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Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

TLM has created a network stack and software suite that we utilize to deliver an educational program to our students. TLM leverages a handful of industry software and hardware to support our infrastructure, including Google Cloud Services, Palo Alto Networks equipment, Apple computers, Canvas LMS, GitLab, and various open-source applications. The core of our technological offering is the dozens of customizations we have made to the hardware and applications we deploy, many revolving around security and monitoring to ensure the safe, private, and controlled environment in our classrooms. 

There are many security concerns in a correctional setting with accessing cloud-hosted resources. We have created an entire platform that compartmentalizes student activity and access by facility-based sandboxes, allowing secure access to resources.

Participating in our program includes: a coding curriculum, live video calls, a help desk, an image repository, a personal git repository, a messaging platform, cloud file storage, HTTPS API endpoints, and a stack overflow and Wikipedia clone. All of this is done within a tried and tested infrastructure in correctional facilities across six states, which has earned the trust of half a dozen Departments of Corrections.

 We have worked to implement existing technology to create a scalable, next-generation model where students across our classrooms can access “internet-like” resources while still under the secure and safe umbrella required by the correctional environment. Additionally, we are currently piloting a Chromebook laptop program for our incarcerated students, which greatly increases access to technology and curriculum.

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Provide evidence that this technology works. Please cite your sources.

Since the program’s founding in 2010, there has been 0% recidivism among the many TLM graduates who have reentered society, demonstrating that TLM’s solution for combating recidivism works. These individuals are now either pursuing higher education or full-time employment with companies like Slack, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, VMware, Fandom, and Adobe, among other major entities. 

TLM’s technology has also proven to be scalable; since beginning at San Quentin State Prison, the program has expanded to operate in 14 facilities across five states: California, Indiana, Michigan, North Dakota, and Oklahoma. With a waiting list of over a dozen facilities, TLM continues to be among the most highly demanded prison programs in the US due to its proven success. 

TLM has recently launched a laptop program in Pelican Bay State Prison wherein our students are provided with personal Chromebook laptops to take back to their housing units where they can continue to interact with our course materials and write code even when not inside the classroom.

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Audiovisual Media
  • Software and Mobile Applications
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Does this technology introduce any risks? How are you addressing or mitigating these risks in your solution?

Technology solutions in the carceral setting come with very strict and nuanced security requirements, revolving around communication, access, and exposure. TLM’s platform is centrally managed, monitored, and audited. We are able to continue to implement new applications and tools for our students while maintaining control and version solidarity system-wide. Additionally, our curriculum is built in-house, by our developers, and all content is curated, hosted, and controlled by TLM resources.

TLM’s Engineering Department has developed custom network infrastructure and user identity management to control access across all systems and visibility into all activity. Our multiple levels of security on equipment in our classrooms ensure the safety and security of our students and our program. Our infrastructure has built trust and undergone exhaustive testing by multiple Departments of Corrections. 

Having constructed an entire platform, we have created a methodology and topology that allows our program to continue to evolve, technologically, while still falling within the bounds and parameters of our security perimeter. New curriculum, languages, and software can all be implemented, provisioned, and monitored securely and at scale, allowing our staff to continue to innovate, without compromising the integrity or wellbeing of our program.

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Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • Peri-Urban
  • Urban
  • Poor
  • Low-Income
  • Minorities & Previously Excluded Populations
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In which countries do you currently operate?

  • United States
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How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

Current: 812 participants (since 2010)

One year: 1,500

Five years: 5,000

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What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and -- importantly -- how will you achieve them?

Within the last year, TLM has expanded our existing in-prison offering beyond computer coding to include a course that holistically prepares participants for reentry, as well as an alternative vocational program for music and video production. Like TLM’s computer coding program, both of these new offerings are designed for scaled implementation. 

As 95% of America’s 2.3 million incarcerated individuals will return to society, TLM’s reentry preparation course, at scale, has the potential to positively impact the vast majority of our prison population. Vocationally, the demand for audio and visual production jobs is expected by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to grow at an above-average rate of 8% through 2028. As such, TLM’s new Music and Video Program (MVP) offers incarcerated students the training and certifications needed to qualify for jobs in the growing field. 

Within five years, our goal is to further scale TLM’s coding program to operate in 50 classrooms across 14 geographically diverse states; by 2024 we anticipate having 5,000 coding students and 1,200 alumni pursuing higher education or gainful employment post-incarceration.

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How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

At The Last Mile, we believe that success is defined by what our students and alumni have achieved. We developed our TLM Impact Index in 2019 to shift the conversation from using recidivism as the limited post-incarceration success metric to providing a more nuanced and holistic view of success, including employment, income, education, community service, and housing, among others.  Each data point was assigned a weighted value.

This year, TLM refined and reevaluated the Impact Index to ensure alignment with programming. In contrast to recidivism rates, the Impact Index gives a holistic view of success and incorporates strength-based, individually-driven goals.  

TLM solicits ongoing feedback regarding community needs and efficacy of programming and has implemented a survey to track updates in key impact indicators.

In 2020, 85 students were released from men’s, women’s, and youth facilities where our program operates. A sample set of 43 returned citizens, measured by TLM’s Impact Index, demonstrated:

  • 87% employment

  • 98% employed and/or continuing their education

  • Examples of companies hiring: TLM, Code Black Indy, Canning Electric Inc, Indiana State Government, Pattern 89, Next Chapter, Slack, Dropbox, Square, Plaid, Lob, VMWare

TLM’s Impact Index was created to provide funders and state partners a broader spectrum of success metrics resulting from an intense career-focused technology education program.

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About Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Nonprofit

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How many people work on your solution team?

Full-time: 27

Contractor: 2

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How long have you been working on your solution?

11 years

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How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

The diversity among our team makes us uniquely positioned to deliver The Last Mile’s solution. TLM was co-founded by Beverly Parenti, a serial entrepreneur, and Chris Redlitz, a founding partner of venture investing firm Transmedia Capital, both of whom have leveraged their network of business and technology experts to elevate the program. We employ TLM alumni who were formerly incarcerated at every level of the organization, enabling our decisions to be informed through lived experience. Further, as TLM’s solution encompasses both education and computer coding, our team includes professionals with expertise in both of these areas. Overall, our team has experience in planning, managing, and evaluating rehabilitative programs; we have a demonstrated record of success in overseeing innovative programming within facilities while also adhering to their safety and security protocols.

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What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership team?

We encourage justice-impacted people to have a voice in TLM and the work we do. Three individuals with lived experience currently hold leadership/management positions. Our apprenticeship program is an opportunity for qualified returned citizens to join TLM and provide students technical feedback. Employees with lived experience work as remote instructors, leading live coding lessons with each classroom, and members of our Reentry Department, supporting alumni when they return home. 

Currently, TLM is in 14 correctional facilities across the US with 40% of our participant population being 40% female and 60% male. We also actively solicit and incorporate feedback from our students and returned citizens about TLM’s program as part of our dedication to inclusivity.

 As TLM expands, we are committed to providing equal access to our curriculum across lines of race, socioeconomic class, sexuality, and gender identity. Our non-discriminatory practices apply to both our hiring and student application processes. We strive to be accepting and inclusive in both the workplace and our classrooms and do not tolerate any type of hatred or discrimination. Further, our expectations internally are that our staff will use humanizing language and those on our team who are not justice-impacted nor former TLM program participants, will continue to work to understand the lived experiences of our current students and returned citizens. We work to educate our external partners on the appropriate language to use, as well as more generally, the cycles of incarceration and the “people first” mentality we believe is necessary.

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Your Business Model & Partnerships

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Organizations (B2B)
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Partnership & Prize Funding Opportunities

Why are you applying to the 2021 Digital Workforce Challenge?

With a hybrid, public-private funding model, larger pieces of funding are used to supplement public funds to support launching our program in new states and supporting operations there. Many state governments and Departments of Correction are not the sole sources of funding for TLM programs in their states, and we strive to keep a balance of funding sources to ensure equal representation in decision making. Prize funding, such as an award from the 2021 Digital Workforce Challenge, could provide a significant portion of a program expansion budget and have a direct, measurable impact on individuals in a new, untapped geographical region.

Moreover, media opportunities and exposure are paramount to TLM’s mission of dismantling prejudices in today’s workforce and educating organizations on fair chance hiring practices. The more interested parties at the table to participate in the discussion and the more awareness we can garner, the larger of an impact we can have across sectors.

Lastly, TLM practices what we preach, with an in-house apprenticeship program for returned citizens in our community and a rapidly expanding team. Skill-based mentorship for both our permanent and temporary staff is a crucial component to level up our employees both to create a cutting edge organization internally, but also to best prepare our apprentices for entering the workforce more broadly.

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In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development, etc.)
  • Public Relations (e.g. branding/marketing strategy, social and global media)
  • Product / Service Distribution (e.g. expanding client base)
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Please provide an overview of your current activities in those locations.

We currently operate in 15 facilities across 5 states, with a total of 22 classrooms in men's, women's, and youth facilities. Below is a breakdown of the number of facilities in each state.

California - 7 facilities 

Indiana - 4 facilities

Michigan - 1 facility

Oklahoma - 1 facility

North Dakota - 1 facility

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Please explain in more detail here.

Our primary partnership goals revolve around creating fair chance apprenticeship opportunities for returned citizens in our community. This includes sourcing hiring partners to create concrete opportunities, networking and increasing awareness and education across business sectors about fair chance hiring practices, and building out support systems and resources for hiring partners engaging in fair chance hiring. Multiple barriers exist in a large percentage of the US business community, preventing widespread fair chance hiring adoption, including a lack of exposure, understanding, and commitment. Leveraging the network, mentorship, and resources from the Digital Workforce Challenge could help us create bridges and make more connections to create these fair chance foundations for the creation of apprenticeship opportunities for people coming home post-incarceration.

Skill and content-based partnerships are also key to TLM’s success, ranging from content-specific curriculum support and development for our classroom to mentorship and support within our organization. TLM is actively expanding to new curriculum verticals, which require industry research, curriculum knowledge and development, and workforce reentry preparation. The Digital Workforce Challenge’s network of business leaders would support our continued growth horizontally, to increase our reach and diversity of opportunities for the constituents we serve. 

Expansion to new jurisdictions is a continuing goal for TLM as it broadens our reach and increases the number of opportunities we create. The more students we are able to touch, the larger an impact we have on the US criminal justice system as well as workforce preparation and adoption of fair chance hiring practices.

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What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?

Successful partnerships for TLM from the 2021 Digital Workforce Challenge would likely fall into one, or more, of the following categories:

Government or DOC partners: expanding our program into new jurisdictions has a direct and quantifiable impact on our mission as it increases the number of classrooms, and thus students we serve.

Media partners: using media exposure as a tool to educate businesses, donors, and partners about our mission, goals, and methodology is increasingly important as we expand across the US and as an increasing number of DOCs shift focus onto implementing more in-prison education programs.

Hiring partners: concrete apprenticeship and direct hiring opportunities are always in demand to keep pace with the steady stream of our graduates being released from prison. While enthusiasm may be high at many companies, the ability or willingness to commit to the creation of real opportunities and truly embracing fair chance hiring practices often leads to hurdles that test commitment. Referrals and networking opportunities to connect with organizations with leadership buy-in and support would greatly reduce the amount of time and false starts TLM, as a criminal justice reform-focused program, faces.

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Solution Team

  • Sydney Heller Chief Program Officer, The Last Mile
  • Erin Palumbo Reentry Project Manager, The Last Mile
 
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