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Oklahoma prisoners learn braille – providing hope for thousands with visual impairments

Oklahoma prisoners learn braille – providing hope for thousands with visual impairments

GRANITE, OKLA. –  There isn’t much of a view behind the granite walls of Oklahoma State Reformatory. But some men at OSR have the talent to help others see.

“This is something you can do that really means something,” inmate Joseph Siford said.

This is like braille boot camp, designed to teach students to read and write braille code. It is not easy.

“The program I would say is the most rigorous program in all of DOC,” inmate Brandon Savage stated.

“It’s way too hard,” another inmate added. “It’s like looking at some Chinese Mandarin stuff. But now I’ve been here three weeks, and I’m writing letters, numbers and sentences.”

They are also learning to transcribe music for folks with visual impairments.

“This is pretty exciting,” class facilitator Roberta Benedict said. “It’s new to DOC. I’m really excited how the inmates have been taking it and receiving it. It makes me jazzed to see how excited they are. Hope for the future.”

Warden Chris Rankins came up with the braille program. For Rankins, assisting people with impairments is extremely personal.

“One of my daughters is actually hearing impaired,” Warden Rankin said. “Her mom and I, all the stuff we saw her struggle with in school, not having everything she needed, it puts a soft spot in my heart because it’s personal.”

Once they complete the course, the men can earn the prestigious Library of Congress certification.

“I enjoy it, especially knowing it’s something I can help others with,” one inmate told us.

When they do leave prison, they’ll have skills for a lucrative career as a braille translator.

“My abilities will be more valuable the more I know,” Siford said. “To be able to do this here and when I get out is very promising.”

ODOC is creating innovative learning opportunities so everyone can thrive.

‘The motto that we change lives, this is one way we do it,” Warden Rankin said. “They can change lives for the positive.”

There are talks underway to expand the braille program to other prisons across the state.

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