Prisoners work to help those with disabilities

By: Don Chaddock/The Telegraph
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Folsom Prison is more than a collection of criminals, stone walls and the guards who walk those walls -- and the new warden wants the community to know. “I think the department in general, especially Folsom Prison, is geared to giving back to the community,” Warden Michael Evans said, standing outside the prison’s east gate on Monday. The warden was attending a ceremonial check presentation of $5,000 to be given to the Folsom Project for the Visually Impaired. The donation was made on behalf of the California Prison Industry Authority to the project that is administered by the Folsom City Host Lions Club. “The men on the line serve as coaches and head up youth programs (in the community),” Evans said. The warden said the project is a way for the inmates, as well as the prison employees, to benefit society. “(Giving back) is one aspect of the prison that is often overlooked,” he said. For Corrections Officer Bob Schmitz, the day held special meaning. “Today, at the stroke of midnight, I’m officially retired,” he said. “After this presentation, I’m done.” Schmitz oversaw the prison side of the Folsom Project for the Visually Impaired, a program that allows inmates to transcribe textbooks, graphic images and other material into Braille. “History is being made today,” Schmitz said. “You’re having a nonprofit organization partnering with the prison industries. These guys have a handle on rehabilitation. They’re the ‘r’ in California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.” Schmitz works with civilians Don Ring, a Lions Club member and president of the project, and Dick Merz, chief financial officer of the project. “I love what I’ve done,” Schmitz said. “The inmates in the prison are considered the best transcribers in the state. The winners of this are the blind children in California.” According to Paul Baum, public information officer for the Prison Industry Authority, one of the hallmarks of the program is that of 19 people in the program who have been paroled, none have returned to prison. Most of the inmates in the program have become certified in at least one type of Braille, and many hold multiple certifications. Prison Industry Authority General Manager Charles Pattillo presented the check to the project. “I am proud to support the Folsom Project for the Visually Impaired and thrilled to see its continuing success,” Pattillo said. According to Baum, there are five people in the U.S. who hold every certification in Braille and three of them are inmates at Folsom Prison. Their talents aren’t limited to Braille transcribing, according to Schmitz. “The inmates also close caption films for the hearing impaired,” he said. Schmitz said he was proud that a civilian organization was working with the prison. “Here you have the public and prison industries working together,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re going to get real rehabilitation (of prisoners), by working together.” Don Chaddock may be reached at