Inmates and Library for the Blind Working Together

Inmates and Library for the Blind Working Together

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Shelley Osterloh Reporting The Utah State Library for the Blind is the largest of its kind in the country. Its goal is to help the visually impaired and learning disabled, but it is also helping -- and getting help from -- inmates at the Utah State Prison.

All the materials are sent out free of charge to those who qualify, and there is a huge selection of materials --- from Braille to large print to tens of thousands of audio cassettes. What most people don't know is some of the readers who make these recordings are in prison.

It may be articles from the St. George Magazine or a new LDS Reference book. Biographies, textbooks, cookbooks, or books in Spanish -- inmates at the state prison, read, record and edit cassette tapes for the blind.

Randall Law, Inmate Team Leader: "There's over 25,000 cassettes that went out last year from this facility, so it’s a big operation.”

Thirty inmates from the South Point wing of the Utah State Prison work eight hours a day preparing the cassettes. They check each recording for accuracy, label the tapes, even clean and repair the special recorders and radios that the Library sends outs. Some inmates have learned Braille so they can print and read the labels.

The pay is some of the lowest in the prison at 40-cents an hour, but they say it’s rewarding in many ways.

Tom Black, Inmate: "It brings a little light to a life outside and gives us a chance to contribute in here, which is a nice thing."

The inmates who work on it are highly supervised, but in many ways operate the program themselves, learning valuable skills-work skills, people skills problem solving-that may help them when they get out.

David Hilfiker, Inmate: "It’s really helping me like I said in my self esteem, it’s helping me to become what I want to become. I have a goal and I'm learning how to reach that goal."

Willie Harris, Inmate Project Tracker: "It’s helped me focus on just helping others, just being an intricate part of the process of helping others, learn."

Inmates record many LDS books that are distributed to Libraries for the Blind in the US, Canada, and Great Britain. Library Officials say the inmates work 50,000 hours each year, but their contribution is immeasurable.

Scott Brooks, Utah State Library for the Blind: “It can be hundreds of thousands of hours of listening pleasure to these folks. So it’s just priceless.”

The inmates are imprisoned for a variety of different crimes, but by reading for the visually impaired, they have found a way to begin to repay the community through service to others.

Richard Mason, Inmate: “I want to make right the things that I’ve done wrong in my life, and this is the best way I know how.”

The Prison pays the wages, but the Library supplies all the equipment. It’s a partnership that benefits about 16,000 people who use the Library services.

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