From the Ventura County Star:
By Cindy Von Quednow
BLYTHE — When Casey Tuley leaves Ironwood State Prison in January after nine years of incarceration, he will be the first of 21 inmates in a training program to walk out as a certified Braille transcriber.
Tuley, 26, works at the Blythe prison as a contractor for a Camarillo-based production center that specializes in making Braille and electronic books for blind and disabled students in California.
“It seems like everybody is struggling out there and it’s really hard, so for me to be able to leave here and actually take away something from all of this — it’s huge,” said Tuley, serving time for assault with a deadly weapon. “This is the only program I’ve ever heard of where you can actually get something out of it and use out there.”
The Alternate Text Production Center Braille program, considered the cream of the jobs crop at Ironwood, is in a row of bungalows near the main prison yard. Sheltered from the sweltering desert heat, which can reach 120 degrees in the summer, the center resembles a computer lab.
On a recent weekday morning, inmates worked on three rows of computers that displayed an image of the neighboring Colorado River and read “Inmate Access Approved.” The work stations had software that allowed inmates to transcribe, format and proofread Braille. They wore uniforms of blue chambray shirts and sweats. Some wore beanies and jean jackets and had tattoos covering their arms.
Through a grant, the production center pays the inmates 55 cents to $1.35 an hour, depending on their level of expertise.
During the five-year program, inmates can eventually be certified by the Library of Congress in literary Braille and learn specialized Braille texts like math and science.
The center, based in Camarillo but run under the auspices of the San Bernardino Community College District, has worked with Ironwood inmates since 2008. The center previously was at Ventura College and overseen by the Ventura County Community College District.
Seven inmates have been certified in literary Braille so far, and 13 Braille and 148 electronic books for the disabled have been produced, according to the prison. Those materials go to community colleges across the state and other institutions nationwide. The center also works with Avenal State Prison in Kings County.
If the inmates are paroled, like Tuley, they can do the work as independent contractors from wherever they live. The center will lend Tuley hardware and software so he can do the work from his planned home in Hemet.
Model inmates must take a test to get into the program. Many said it has helped transform their lives and taught them a trade they can use in a work world that often shuns ex-convicts.
Earl Pride, Ironwood’s Braille coordinator, said the program helps in the rehabilitation process and can mean a job in a rough economy and reduce recidivism. Finishing the tedious program in a prison environment shows tenacity and dedication, he said.
“The program has been a beacon of light in a storm. It has created hope within an institutional setting,” Pride said.
HELPING INMATES HELP OTHERS
The men in the back row of the bungalow worked on a project: Each was in charge of a section of “The Little, Brown Handbook,” a fixture in college English courses. Those in the middle row had finished a Braille lesson plan and were waiting to be certified. Sitting in a circle toward the front of the classroom, near a whiteboard, were inmates going through the Braille curriculum.
Among these imposing tattooed men was a petite woman with glasses who read from “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” an 1841 short story by Edgar Allan Poe. Saralyn Borboa, a Braille instructor based in San Diego who visits the prison twice a month, said a story involving a murder is more likely to keep the inmates focused and intrigued.
She helps inmates understand the nuances of Braille translation and how to convey an author’s message without changing the words. On this day, Borboa, a literary specialist with the National Braille Association, discussed how to deal with foreign words that are italicized and what to do if a word cannot be found in the dictionary.
Marlene Nord, a proofreader for the production center, visited the prison for the first time last month. She showed the inmates the newest technology for blind or visually impaired people.
“I think it has made them more aware of how to make things easier to navigate because they were asking a lot of questions related to those things,” said Nord, who has been blind since birth. “Everybody was so kind and so welcoming, and I was really glad I came.”
Glen Kuck, an administrator for the San Bernardino college district, said he was impressed by the inmates’ professionalism and dedication.
“Seeing the level of work, the education, the training and the red tape that they have to commit themselves to get through — that’s huge. … The amount they are able to do is overwhelming,” Kuck said.
“It’s one thing to produce Braille, but there are stories behind the people who do it as well as the people it goes to. This is an awesome project that really touches everybody.”
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