Arizona inmates working to help blind students learn - KMSP-TV

Arizona inmates working to help blind students learn

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PHOENIX (KSAZ) - They are prisoners who have committed terrible crimes, crimes that have left some of them behind bars for decades.

But, these convicts possess a special skill that very few others have and one that the Department of Corrections is allowing them to practice.

FOX 10 went behind prison walls to see how the work they do is changing the lives of blind students in Arizona and in their own lives.

Max Ashton has been blind since birth, but it hasn't slowed him down much. He's climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, swam the San Francisco bay from Alcatraz to the shore, and we even caught him on YouTube throwing out the first pitch at an Arizona Diamondbacks playoff game--and it was a nice toss too.

Just about the only thing that could get in the way of this straight-A Brophy High School senior was the lack of advanced math textbooks that had to be written for him in braille.

"We tried to get Max's calculus book done by a contractor, but they couldn't keep up with how fast Max was learning," said Marc Ashton.

Max and his father turned to an unlikely source for help. They looked to the Arizona State Prison Eyman Complex in Florence and the men behind bars convicted of serious crimes.
    
"I don't know if we can ever make amends for what we've done, but it's a way that we can do something positive for the community," said one of the inmates.
    
We aren't identifying the inmate out of respect to his victims, but he is part of a group of men at the Eyman Prison Complex. Despite their crimes, the inmates are using very advanced skills to turn complex math equations and symbols into braille for students like Max. He was surprised to learn about the program.

"I thought that was really weird, I didn't even know it was going on until recently," said Max.

The inmates work six to eight hours a day at their keyboards transcribing all sorts of textbooks, some have been doing it for more than 15 years and are considered experts at their craft.

A typical calculus book like the one Max used this semester can only be done by braille transcribers who are very advanced and can cost between $18,000 to $20,000 to produce. But at the prison, the inmates get rewards other than money.

"Very meaningful work and its very rare thing to be able to find in a place like this to do something meaningful and challenging at the same time," said Corrections Officer IV Wendy Ecckes.
 
How does Max feel about getting help in math this year from men who went down the wrong path?

"I would say thanks for this. At least as long as you can affect something positively you're doing something good," he said.

"All I can do is be the best that I can and try to be the best person I can in this place, and this program certainly helps us do that," said the inmate.
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