Overcoming Barriers: Meeting Transcribers Wherever They Are
Pre-conference gathering of some of the presenters and prison personnel.
"Overcoming Barriers: Meeting Transcribers Wherever They Are" was the theme for the first-ever in-person braille conference which took place on June 12-13, 2023 held within the confines of prison walls at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, Texas—a part of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. This unique prison braille program, a collaboration between the Manufacturing, Agribusiness, and Logistics Division of TDCJ and the Windham School District, is currently the only one of its kind in Texas. The program aims to provide incarcerated individuals with educational opportunities, including academic, career, and technical programs, fostering valuable skills, work ethics, and reducing recidivism rates while saving tax dollars.
Approximately 80 women offenders actively participate in the braille facility at the Mountain View Unit, diligently working from 5 am to 2 pm daily, and attending instructional classes afterward. Through this program, these women acquire essential job skills, demonstrate strong work ethics, and produce high-quality braille and tactile graphics. Their efforts involve transcribing textbooks and educational materials, benefiting blind and visually impaired students across Texas and the nation. After their release, these individuals continue enriching their lives by attending braille conferences and establishing businesses, further enhancing their skill sets.
This conference represented the realization of a dream, a testament to hard work, faith, and determination. It brought together various entities, including the prison system, braille agencies, braille professionals, former offenders, and current offenders. Over two days, the event fostered learning, sharing, and offered a conference experience to the incarcerated women at Mountain View Unit. The celebration began with warm reunions and heartfelt emotions as participants gathered the evening before the conference commenced.
The conference commenced with an opening ceremony in the chapel, resembling other professional braille conferences with flag ceremonies, prayers, music, speeches, and a keynote address. Attendees received registration packets with essential materials, and the two-day program included multiple sessions, workshops, and panel discussions, providing ample opportunities for learning, fellowship, and networking.
The conference successfully achieved its goal of offering something valuable to every participant involved, igniting a passion for braille and its importance. The event highlighted the success stories of former inmates who excelled after their release, inspiring others to overcome challenges and reach their potential. The collective effort of everyone involved showcased the significance of prison braille programs, empowering individuals with necessary training and experience while providing essential educational materials to those in need. This transformative event is a true testament to the prison's commitment to rehabilitation and reduced recidivism.
As the positive impacts of this conference continue to resonate, it is hoped that it will inspire hope and create lasting change in the lives of all those involved, strengthening the bonds formed through shared challenges and a passion for braille. The accomplishments of these individuals stand as a shining example of dedication and hard work, proving that a brighter future is possible for anyone willing to seize opportunities and believe in their dreams.
Warden Lozada, Mrs. Delores Billman, and the "Braille Squad." (Photo courtesy of TDCJ)