Time spent transcribing Braile offers S.C. inmates a 'getaway'

GREENWOOD -- Melissa, who is serving a life sentence for murder at Leath Correctional Institution, sat behind a computer at the prison Tuesday morning, editing Braille copy for a sixth-grade science book.

The 34-year-old from Anderson is training to become certified by the Library of Congress in literary Braille transcribing, so she can produce Braille textbooks for blind students.

"I'm glad that I can help because education is the key and without it, you can't get any job," Melissa said.

Melissa is one of six inmates working at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind Braille Production Center at the maximum security prison.

Prison policy does not allow inmates to be identified by their full names. Three are certified in literary Braille transcribing, while the rest are in training.

The center, which was expanded in March, provides inmates with skills needed to get a job when they are released from prison and provides expensive Braille books to blind students, who are more likely to get jobs if they can read Braille.

The goal of such programs is to prevent recidivism for the 90 percent of inmates who will be released, prisons director Jon Ozmint said. "I wish we had more of it," he said.

The S.C. School for the Deaf and the Blind pays about $85,000 a year to run the program, which makes Braille textbooks from start to finish.

The Department of Corrections provides office space and workers, said Elizabeth McKown, director of the Vision Outreach, South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind.

Producing the most expensive math and science books at the center can reduce the price to $1 a page, compared with $5 a page if they were ordered elsewhere.

At least 39 of the 62 blind students in South Carolina who read Braille received at least one book produced by the center since it was expanded in March.

The books open doors for the blind, school officials said.

Seventy percent of blind people are underemployed or unemployed, said Sheila Breitweiser, president of the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind.

Eighty-five percent of people who can read Braille are employed, she said.

Cynthia, 45, of Spartanburg, is serving a 15-year drug sentence at Leath.

She became certified in literary Braille transcribing more than four years ago and is certified in textbook formatting.

Now she is training to be certified in a Braille code for math and science.

"This is a getaway for me," she said. "It's very therapeutic. I enjoy the work, and I enjoy that I'm able to give back to society."