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How one man went from a life prison sentence to a $100k+ engineering job

For 22 years, Zachary Moore sat in a 6×9 foot prison cell. Today, he sits in an open-plan office in San Francisco, surveying code.

At 15, he was sentenced to life for murder. Now 38, he has a full-time job as a software engineer, working alongside Stanford-educated colleagues. His six-figure salary places him in the 85th percentile of American workers.

Moore’s story is one of perseverance, hard work, and redemption — but it raises a controversial question: Should a convicted killer be given a second chance?

A terrible crime

Moore grew up middle-class in a quiet neighborhood in Redlands, California.

He led the typical life of a suburban Inland Empire kid — video games, sports, hanging out with friends. But at home, life was wildly dysfunctional.

His parents, both alcoholics, went on frequent drinking binges, sometimes leaving their children without food. Domestic abuse was common, and sharing feelings was discouraged. As Moore entered his teenage years, he had trouble managing his emotions and self-medicated with alcohol and drugs.

“I was ignoring the problems in my life, numbing them,” Moore told The Hustle in a series of recent interviews. “Alcohol and drugs made my emotions more extreme… and everything compounded.”

On the night of November 8, 1996, a distressing argument with family members pushed Moore over the edge. As years of “misplaced anger, jealousy, and pain” rushed through his mind, he made a choice that would upend his life.

Shortly after 11:30pm, he picked up a knife, approached the couch where his younger brother slept, and stabbed his sibling to death.

At trial, Moore’s defense attorney placed blame on an environment rife with drug use, alcoholism, and domestic abuse. The crime, he posited, was some kind of psychotic break — a reaction to years of neglect. The jury didn’t take pity.

Under a then-newly passed California law, Moore was tried as an adult; in September of 1997, he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 26 years to life.

“The juvenile system is geared toward rehabilitation,” a prosecutor on the case later told the San Bernardino County Sun. “It would appear highly unlikely that could happen due to the nature of this offense.”

Three days before his 17th birthday, Moore was shipped from juvenile hall to a high-security prison…..[ ]

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