The Blind Project at CMF is overseen by Sherry Dovichi (center).

By Alyssa Spoon, Office Technician
California Medical Facility

In 1960, a non-profit organization known as the Volunteers of Vacaville (VOV) set out to make groundbreaking advancements in the lives of the visually impaired on a global scale. Through the VOV’s Blind Project, located within California Medical Facility (CMF) in Vacaville, to date over 250 local schools and instructors have been supplied with newly repaired Braille writers.

Additionally, thousands of pages of transcribed textbooks have been provided to schools across the nation to aid visually impaired students in a classroom setting.  In the past year alone, The Blind Project has completed 9,308 pages worth of Nemeth Braille, with 2,053 of those pages comprising tactile graphics. Books transcribed cover topics from Algebra to Faith Pathways Bible studies. What makes The Blind Project unique is the opportunity for personal development provided to its staff – the inmate workers of CMF.

An inmate works on a Braille writer.

Within The Blind Project’s walls, 20 inmate workers are diligently operating in one of four departments: Perkins Braille Writer Repair, Braille Transcription, Eyeglass Gauging and Repair, and Cassette Machine Cleaning. Over the past year, 557 Braille writers have been refurbished, five of which were donated to Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts.

Since the beginning of the program, VOV has provided 23,356 pairs of cleaned and repaired eyeglasses, and donated 1,099 Braille writers through The Blind Project.

Under the leadership of Program Director Sherry Dovichi, the project reflects a recidivism rate of less than 3 percent in comparison with the general population at CMF.

One of The Blind Project’s former workers has continued in the trade of Braille transcription as a direct result of his time in the program.

Robert Roldan, formerly an inmate worker for The Blind Project, now owns a transcription business known as Amanuensis Braille, located in Browns Valley.

Other Blind Project workers have expressed their gratitude for the program and their own dreams of continuing this trade outside of prison walls.

“It is rare to be able to contribute such a valuable service from within the prison, and I am grateful to be a part of it all,” said current Blind Project worker inmate Matthew Ferguson. He said there are a variety of ways to give back to society through The Blind Project, and the reaction of grateful clients makes all of their hard work worthwhile. The success of VOV’s Blind Project not only demonstrates its value to the visually impaired community, but its significance in the lives of the inmates invested in its success.

Today, VOV’s Blind Project continues to progress by leaps and bounds, repairing and refurbishing over 400 Braille writers annually to be sent out to those in need around the world.  In addition to the unparalleled progress made in Braille writer and eyeglass repair, Volunteers of Vacaville has donated money to other non-profit organizations, including Toys for Tots, Mission Solano-Homeless Shelter and the Special Olympics.

VOV has fostered ongoing partnerships with several Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs, and local organizations in support of the Blind Project.

For more information about The Blind Project, contact Program Director Sherry Dovichi by phone at (707) 448-6841 ext. 2044, or by email at Sherry.Dovichi@cdcr.ca.gov

An inmate worker gauges a pair of eyeglasses.