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Our Story

Unlocked Labs has evolved from a project within a prison in Potosi, Missouri, to a nationwide movement.

Since 2022, Unlocked Labs has been dedicated to enhancing education in prisons and employing returning citizens upon release, encouraging a collective re-imagining of a more equitable justice system. This is how we got to where we are today.

Young Beginnings

Co-Founders Jessica Hicklin and Chris Santillian met at Potosi Correction Center before both of their 18th birthdays. They were sentenced to life without parole and told they would die behind bars.
Jessica Hicklin in focus in background and Chris Santillian out of focus in foreground.

Education Against the Odds

They both maximized their circumstances, spending years tutoring others to pass their GED/Hi-Set exams and organizing victim empathy and anger management courses for the community. Despite residing in a facility without access to formal education for over 25 years, they were determined to make a positive impact.
Chris Santillian coding with computer on bed in cell.

Coding for Change

With limited resources, Jessica and Chris both taught themselves how to code without the internet. They dreamed of a day when they could create a solution for ways to track rehabilitation and educational programs on the inside.
Jessica Hicklin laughing holding stack of 15 computer science textbooks.

Establishing Unlocked Labs

Their lives took a turn when a Supreme Court declared life sentences for juveniles unconstitutional. Released in early 2022, Jessica and Chris teamed up with Haley Shoaf, who shared and helped them expand upon their vision, to form Unlocked Labs, a non-profit dedicated to consulting and developing products addressing challenges within the justice system.
Left to right: Chris Santillian, Haley Shoaf, and Jessica Hicklin smile wearing matching Unlocked Labs logoed shirts.

UnlockED: A Vision Realized

Teaming up with external partners, they developed UnlockEd, a non-profit, open source education access and program management system providing free education to incarcerated individuals across the country, fulfilling a long time dream, and bringing the project full circle.
Jessica Hicklin and Haley Shoaf look at computers during computer lab deployment.

The Birth of a Movement

Now, over 70% of our team consists of individuals with justice-impacted backgrounds, including seasoned coders who have thrived at Unlocked Labs upon their release. Since 2022, Unlocked Labs has excelled in expanding access to education nationwide, providing access to training and building public infrastructure in numerous facilities across multiple states.

Learn more about how we're building better justice system from the inside, out.