Offenders manufacture lenses for those in need through CALPIA
By Monique Tooson, Intern
Office of Public and Employee Communications
Millions of Americans suffer from impaired vision, and many cannot afford the costs of corrective eye wear. Fortunately, the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) operates two optical labs where offenders manufacture ophthalmic lenses for thousands of Californians in need: one at California State Prison, Solano (SOL), and the other at Valley State Prison (VSP) in Chowchilla.
The labs operate per agreement between the California Department of Health Care Services and CALPIA. Under the agreement, CALPIA oversees the manufacture of eyeglass lenses for Medi-Cal patients, specifically those under the age of 18 and the elderly in convalescent care.
To receive a pair of eyeglasses, Medi-Cal patients visit an eye-care professional to get a prescription for lenses and pick out a pair of frames. The doctor then logs onto the CALPIA Online Optical System, enters the patient’s prescription and sends the selected frames along with the order form to either one of CALPIA’s optical labs.
CALPIA Industrial Supervisor Keith Archibald helps to oversee the daily production of approximately 1,600 prescription eyewear at VSP’s optical lab. There are 108 offenders working at VSP Optical, and Archibald oversees 20 of them.
To effectively manage day-to-day labor, material and equipment maintenance, Archibald relies on not only his own expertise, but the expertise of the offenders – some of whom are excelling in the optical field.
“The majority of offenders are experienced with making lenses, and they take great pride in what they do,” said Archibald. ”They produce high quality work and are eager to be helping others.”
On working at a lab inside prison walls, Archibald is very enthusiastic. “It’s actually a more organized and regulated process because it’s an optical lab within an institution,” he said. “I love it (at VSP). Everything operates smoothly, and the staff and offenders work diligently because we honestly enjoy what we do.”
Archibald worked as a lens specialist at a major eyeglass company for five years before transitioning to work for CALPIA 23 years ago. Besides working at VSP and SOL, Archibald also worked at optical labs formerly at Calipatria State Prison, R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility and Pelican Bay State Prison.
Archibald and other staff members strive to create an environment that allows offenders to obtain job skills and apply those skills and experience in a real work environment. He helps participants develop a work portfolio which they can use for job preparation and placement.
“I have been granted the opportunity to positively impact the lives of offenders who are employed at the lab,” said Archibald.
When Archibald recognizes a participant who demonstrates an exemplary work ethic and is set to parole in the near future, he refers them to CALPIA’s Industry Employment Program (IEP). IEP prepares offenders for life when they parole by helping them obtain required documents for employment and provides transitional services needed to find employment once they parole. The preparation is vital to their successful re-entry into the community and reduces their chances of returning to prison.
“It’s a wonderful feeling, to meet offenders that come to work at the lab and hear them express the realization that the hard work they do here can benefit others and themselves, beyond this lab,” said Archibald. “Watching them take advantage of that is the most rewarding part of my job.”