FOLSOM ( — Northern California prisoners are part of a nationwide effort to ensure blind students receive quality textbooks at school.

Inmates from Folsom State Prison are paid 30 to 95 cents an hour to transcribe print books into Braille as part of the prison’s Digital Services Enterprise Unit.

“Inmate Nguyen” from Hawthorne, sentenced to life in prison for attempted murder, said he has dedicated his time to learning how to transcribe the reading and writing system used by the blind and visually impaired.

“At first I was like, I don’t understand it. The rules are so hard. After a while, you get used to it. If I hit a dead-end, I’ll go ask one of the guys,” he said.

“Inmate Ray,” who works in the publishing department, said some of the prisoners transcribe, while others emboss.

“We either have files we created here or we get electronic files from other agencies…such as the biggest client is the California Department of Education. So they can email us the files and we’ll emboss it and ship it out to the schools,” he said.

Prisoners who participate in the Braille program receive many benefits.

“Despite whatever crime they’ve committed, they are really helping people who are in need. And that helps a lot with the rehabilitation process,” said Eric Reslock of the California Prison Industry Authority.

Reslock continued, “They know they’re here to be punished. They know society wants them to be punished. These inmates always follow the rules, they’re always respectful and they’re willing to learn.”

Nguyen said, “I can change. I don’t want to be the same person that came to prison. I can grow past that and become a better person.”

Leslie Fox, an instructor for the blind and visually impaired at Casimir Middle School in Torrance, said they had a shortage of Braille books.

“We really need anyone we can get to do that job,” she said. (The children need the books.) Without it, they would have to do everything (with audio), which would put them at a disadvantage at a general education class. They need it to be successful.”

Eighth-grade students Sha Shows and Edier Koh, who have been blind since birth, have been using Braille books practically all their lives.

They said things would be more difficult without a special-made text.

“It’d be hard,” said Koh.

Fox said she’s not bothered that the prisoners help with the books.

“I think it’s wonderful. I feel like both parties are getting almost the same benefit in a different way. They’re getting skills that are going to help them in the future,” she said.

The inmate’s next project in development is to transcribe for the Library of Congress.

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