CO at CMF runs Braille program

Editor’s note: This is the third in an occasional series of articles that look at the various jobs within CDCR and the dedicated people who perform them. CDCR employees have some of the toughest jobs in state service. If you have a job you would like profiled in this series, send your idea to dana.simas@cdcr.ca.gov.

Dana Simas, Public Information Officer

When Correctional Officer Patrick Sahota arrives for work at the California Medical Facility (CMF) in Vacaville, he takes charge of running a small business, hoping that no disturbances disrupt his workforce. Officer Sahota supervises a select group of inmates who produce a product that has helped hundreds of visually impaired children and adults.

One day several years ago, Officer Sahota was discussing his son, who has been visually impaired since birth, with another CDCR employee. The discussion was overheard by the program director for the Blind Project at that time who approached Officer Sahota about heading up the program down the road.

Three and a half years ago, that day came and Officer Sahota took over supervising inmates who produce Braille transcriptions and audio book recordings. Having only limited training in administrative work, Officer Sahota had 30 days to learn how to effectively run this small business inside a prison setting.

After reporting for work, Officer Sahota ranks and assigns product requests from the community. He also reviews dozens applications from inmates wanting to be hired for the program and oversees the program’s day-to-day operations. The latter duties include handling the finances and maintaining the program’s website. (The program’s website is www.volunteersofvacaville.org The website may not be accessible from a CDCR computer.)

Blind Project award

Correctional Officer Patrick Sahota, Blind Project director, hands out an award to one of the inmates in the program.

“The job is a hybrid of custody, operations, and running a small business,” Officer Sahota said. “I have inmates working, so we have to do pat-downs and searches.” Sahota also said he makes sure the inmates are “acting like employees.”

On a recent Sunday, Officer Sahota gave a presentation about the Blind Project to the local Lions Club, educating the members about the program and the benefits it offers not only to the visually impaired community but the rehabilitative benefits to the inmates.

Officer Sahota has visited dozens of schools, both mainstream and for the visually impaired, to give presentations and even give donated products to the children.

“The cards and letters we get from the students who receive our products are great. When the inmates receive them, they’re reaffirmed that what they’re doing is for a greater purpose,” Officer Sahota said.

The Blind Project at CMF was started in 1960 by a correctional officer who partnered with the Lions Club to hire inmates and train them as certified Braille transcribers and to repair Braille machines. The program creates thousands of Braille pages a year with customers as varied as the Oakland Unified School District and the Xavier Society for the Blind.

The program has been providing cost-free services to the California Braille and Talking Book Library for 12 years, saving taxpayers thousands of dollars a year. Last year, inmates repaired more than 400 Braille machines.

To be a part of the Blind Project, an inmate must receive official certification from the Library of Congress by submitting a 70-page manuscript, which is inspected by a professional Braillist for accuracy.

New inmate employees receive training by other inmates and Auburn-based “Transcribing Mariners,” which checks the transcription progress, corrects the inmate’s work, and answers any questions. The group also helps set up jobs for inmates when they are paroled.

One former CDCR inmate updated his skills after being released and even has Braille transcription contracts with the state of California.