My life pre-prison began with a decently happy military childhood that led to a successful and active teenage life that included being a straight A student, employed, active in multiple recreational sports and active in church. After graduation, I began to look into the world and I did not see happiness. So, I vowed to “be happy and have fun” to the detriment of my morals and being. Needing to get by, I began stealing, gambling and using drugs as I continued seeking happiness and fun anywhere I could—eventually robbing a store to buy more drugs.
When incarcerated, the Integrity Project at Scott State Prison taught me what integrity was and wasn’t, and how to be more whole. American Sign Language at the facility was, admirably, taught by a fellow who was a certified interpreter before incarceration. I entered the program in September 2006, because I do not hear well and to supplement my braille studies. I was also involved in a vibrant and active Christian program called Apprenticeship.
The Braille vocational/educational program, Georgia Braille Transcribers (GBT), afforded several areas of education in which I am proud to say I received certifications in: Literary Braille Transcriber, Braille Textbook Formatter, Nemeth (Math) Transcriber, and Literary Proofreader. I almost quit the Braille program due to being overly busy with other classes, exercising and softball; however the encouraging way I was treated by the program administrator, Marie Amerson, motivated me to stay in the program and from that point on, it was all braille all the time. I was further motivated by the realization that I, too, was making a positive difference in another’s life. To that end, I quickly began desiring to produce a better braille product and then accepted the Training Coordinator position. Many other participants, after a bit of coaxing, came on board to help advance the program even more as we became a well-oiled team striving to produce the highest quality braille possible, in a professional manner. To help with this, I authored and facilitated a braille formats course, edited and proofread a tactile graphics course (the wise Charles Mize authored), co-hosted a Professional Development Conference with Mr. Mize, conducted multiple workshops, penned a skeleton Standards Operating Procedure (SOP), while promoting others to help with various aspects of braille training. In June 2013, I was released from prison. I am honored to say that my current position is the Braille Specialist at AMAC, which is a division of the Georgia Institute of Technology. I officially began March 19, 2014, nine months after my release. The invaluable skills I learned in the braille program equipped me with the skills necessary to be a highly sought after transcriber immediately upon release--receiving contract work within two days. The beginning of my contract braille business, Aloha Braille, was greatly aided by the Georgia Instructional Materials Center, in particular Kathy Segers and Jim Downs, by giving me several projects to work on, all the while being courted by AMAC for the position I am currently in.
I am grateful that my boss, Guy Toles, and his boss Dr. Christopher Lee, gave me this opportunity. I honestly have goose bumps as I contemplate the wonderful impact the braille program has had in my life. Purpose, meaning, direction, a great sense of fulfillment knowing that I was/am helping a visually-impaired individual with their education. The things we accomplished as a team garnered a sense of belonging within me.
To the gentlemen currently in the program, I would advise them to make this moment count. If you are ready when opportunity comes, you will be successful. But to be ready then, you must work hard now. The success of several former Georgia Braille Transcriber participants such as Carey Jackson, Guy Toles, myself, and now Rickey Alexander, all have one thing in common—hard work. To the gentlemen who are deciding if they want to participate in a program, I advise doing whatever it takes to help ensure your success upon release. Otherwise your actions would say that you love prison. Your time doesn’t have to be wasted time … unless you choose to waste it. Make this moment count!!