By The Associated Press.
Monday, May 15, 2006.
BLACKMAN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - Forty-three killers and other convicts spend their days helping blind high school students to read. They work for the Braille Transcribing Service at the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility.
Most of the service's employees are serving life sentences for murder at the prison in Jackson County's Blackman Township, north of Jackson.
"I'd never heard of Braille," said Mujahiv Latif, 51, imprisoned since 1981 for second-degree murder. "There's a sense of pride, and it's a way to give back to the community, those who need it."
He works in a cubicle, translating shape measurements from a high school geometry text into Braille.
The Braille Transcribing Service, founded in 1962, is one of about 20 such prison programs nationwide.
Prisoners take a six-month correspondence course, followed by up to three months of additional training on how to handle textbooks.
The nonprofit organization's catalog has 1,778 books. They are used by school districts worldwide.
Prisoners are paid 16 cents per page for literature, 23 cents per page for math and up to 65 cents for each graphic.
The service averages 14,000 pages per day and 4 million per year.
The transcribing service charges 30 cents per literature page and 33 cents per math or music pages, compared with the several dollars a page from commercial services.
The service is run by Francelia Wonders, 70, a former librarian. Inmates call her Miss Wonders, Gram and Boss Lady.
"They look up to me, like a principal," she told the Detroit Free Press on April 10. "They're scared of me."
Wonders said about 125 prisoners have been trained since 1995. Prisoners must go through federally mandated training and must have a clean behavior record.
Saul Garza, 33, of Detroit specializes in math and Spanish textbooks.
"Positive things are going on here. They're doing good things here," he said. "We're not only working hard but doing something to better society."
He has been in prison since 1996 for drug possession and is scheduled for parole this year. He said he plans to continue to work for Wonders after his release.
"They work out of their homes," Wonders said. "They're not bothering anyone. They're not out on the streets. When you apply for a job and check off you were in prison, no one wants to hire you. No matter what you're in for."
On the Net:
Michigan Department of Corrections:
Information from: Detroit Free Press,
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