SEATTLE — Jackie Fletcher broke out in a sweat when she couldn't find the flush handle in the public bathroom.
She stood up — puzzled when the toilet flushed on its own. It was especially strange when water sprayed as soon as she put her hands in the sink.
There is a lot this 58-year-old has never seen.
When Fletcher first stepped into prison nearly 23 years ago, Google didn't exist. Pay phones were on every corner. "Beepers" were all the rage, and cell phones were not so smart.
"I get really intimated by the phones," said Fletcher, who panicked the other day when she couldn't work a flip phone to check in with the supervisor of her work release program in Beacon Hill. "Helpless, vulnerable. It triggered a lot of things."
There are thousands of former Washington prisoners like her who find themselves intimidated by the technology they didn't have access to behind bars.
Jessica Rosales, for example, is still surprised that a stranger pulled up lifelike turn-by-turn directions of her bus route using Google Street View. Amber Floyd is "clueless" about how to keep her children safe from the mobile apps, like Snapchat, that she doesn't understand. And Karmen Battle doesn't know how to send an e-mail to one person, instead of replying all to an entire message thread.
"Gosh, I still can't even put it into words," said Fletcher, just weeks after being released from the Washington Corrections Center for Women on Feb. 14. "I feel very inadequate. I'm far from a victim, but people are looking at you like, 'Where have you been?' I don't feel connected."
So Fletcher and five other women in Beacon Hill's Helen B. Ratcliff work release program were encouraged this week— and kind of surprised — when they met three high school sophomores who are on a mission to help formerly incarcerated people learn basic technology skills.
"This (technology) is what they've grown up on. It's kind of cool that they are in a position to give back and they are willing," Fletcher said. "You just don't find young kids that interested in us."
Lakeside High School twins Josie and Russell Barton and their friend Isabella Fonseca, a Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences student, have been hosting focus groups with local women who spent time in prison.
"I think it's easy to think of these people as kind of scary people because they've been to prison, and there's a lot of stigma around that," Russell Barton, 15, said. "It's one mistake that they made, and if you've done your time, you've been rehabilitated. You don't deserve to get punished your entire life."
The teens are learning about the large and small barriers these women face when they come home — and they're jotting down a list of technology-related topics they're qualified to teach.
It's the first step of their goal to launch a YouTube channel with a series of technology 101 videos — geared towards people, like Fletcher, who are transitioning back into society.
"Teenagers know technology...probably better than 25-year-olds. We're the ones that technology is made for," Josie Barton,15, said.
The students are partnering with the If Project, a Seattle-based program that focuses on helping incarcerated men and women turn their life around in prison and after they're released. The kids are earning community service hours for their time, but also gaining a unique understanding of how the criminal justice system works.
"These kids started going, 'Why are we doing the things that we are doing in the system? Why did somebody have to do that much time?' said Kim Bogucki, co-founder of the If Project. "These are going to be the people who will also — hopefully — change the system as we move forward."
From Cell Phone Basics To Memes
The trio said they have a lot of progress to make before they're ready to launch their YouTube channel. But they've already started making videos and sharing them with recently released inmates for feedback.
Their latest video is about how to use Google Sheets, the company's open-source word processor and spreadsheet tool. But after the teens shared that video with the six former prisoners in their focus group, they realized they'll need to slow things down.
It's why their next videos will cover the very basics — like how to attach a resume to an e-mail or send a text.
"A video might be, for example, us showing, 'This is how you turn on your cell phone. You use this button, and then you swipe left to get into the app section," Fonseca, 16, said.
"This might seem really simple but it's actually a huge deal that we can make these two-minute videos that could save someone three days of time," the teenager added.
Fonseca and her friends expect to create some light-hearted videos, too — like how to find a meme on the Internet and how to find cheap things to do in Seattle.
"We want them to have fun in their lives. They should get to start over and be treated as every other person," she said.
Bogucki, who's supervising their project, has reminded the compassionate teens that it's important not to minimize the experiences of crime victims in this process.
But Josie Barton is hopeful their efforts to help Fletcher and other former prisoners fit back into society will prevent more people from being victimized in the future.
"The majority of people who get out of prison for the first time go back in the next couple of months," Josie Barton said. "I think that's awful and I want to contribute to changing that."