For many inmates with developmental disabilities the California Medical Facility (CMF) in Vacaville, is simply another stop in a very difficult life — but thanks to the hard work of some very dedicated staff at that institution, it can also be the first real opportunity they have to turn their lives around.

In September, staff at CMF in Vacaville was awarded the prestigious “Programs of Excellence” designation as one of the best adult literacy programs in the state for an innovative system that assists developmentally disabled inmates in learning to read.

Called the Disabled Placement Program, the CMF curriculum provides individualized instruction and accommodation to inmates with physical disabilities by offering instruction in American Sign Language, Braille and the use of assistive technology to overcome barriers. To date hundreds of inmates have graduated from the program since it began in 1999.

“This recognition is a result of hard work, not only by the teacher who works with the inmates, but also for the inmates who work so hard to learn these essential life skills,” CMF Warden Theresa A. Schwartz said. “Specifically, I would like to acknowledge the commitment and dedication of instructor Dave Hudson, who literally put his heart and soul into making the program the success it has become.”

Hudson leads a team of five adjunct inmate teacher aides who work with the approximately 100 inmates currently enrolled in the program. According to CMF Education Administrator Carolyn Gueffroy, Hudson immersed himself in the subject matter – becoming conversant in both American Sign Language and Braille before initiating this program in March 1999.

Hudson said the program started small, but as the need was identified, he saw enrollment balloon to the present number. Instructors and students alike use computers, reading machines, and special software that can scan text and read it aloud via computer-generated voicing to assist in learning to read.

“This is the great thing about the program, we have seen inmates like Sam Windham learn to read Braille,” Hudson said. “His life was just changed massively by his participation in the program. He is now an instructor and he passes that on to the students he teaches. They (the inmates) really believe in this program and are passionate about it.”

“The designation of Programs of Excellence is a great honor,” said Mary Ann Corley, Director of the California Adult Literacy Professional Development Project (CALPRO). “It says that behind the designation, there stands an exemplary program that provides outstanding services to adult learners.”

CALPRO manages the Programs of Excellence review and award process, on behalf of the California Department of Education. CMF was one of three programs statewide out of 246 applicants who vied for the Programs of Excellence honor. The other recipients were Foothills Adult Education Center within the Grossmont Union High School District (El Cajon), and Santa Clara Adult Education Center.