VACAVILLE — Michael Wallace will be behind bars until 2016. That hasn’t stopped him from becoming a productive member of society – from the inside.
Wallace and more than a dozen other inmates are involved in the internationally known nonprofit work program The Volunteers of Vacaville Blind Project, located within the fortified perimeter of the California Medical Facility in Vacaville.
Thursday, the inmate workers in the program – the oldest in the state of its kind – were recognized during the program’s 52nd annual awards banquet, with a handful receiving awards for excelling in their jobs.
“It feels great,” Wallace said of the recognition he received and of his ability to give back to the community.
The Blind Project is a multifaceted program designed to help the blind community. Inmates chosen for the program are trained to make audio recordings, fix Braille machines, clean tape machines, repair eyeglasses and do Braille transcription for the blind community. The project’s impact reaches out to 45 states and multiple countries. Most of the recipients are children.
It’s that impact that touches the inmates. While the internal recognition is important to Wallace, it’s the cards and letters of thanks from those they help that mean the most to him, he said.
Wallace, who has worked in The Blind Project for five years, earned three of the five awards. Robert Breshears, Mathew Ferguson and Darren Sewell also earned awards.
“I just like being helpful,” Sewell said. “I wasn’t looking for a return. You know that old saying about doing a good deed is its own reward.”
Patrick Sahota, a correctional officer and director of the program, said the awards banquet gives the inmates some positive recognition.
“You don’t get a lot of ‘atta-boys’ in the prison system,” he said.
Garylee McCoy, representing the inmates in the program, turned the tables on Sahota at the end of the banquet by presenting him with his own award. McCoy commended Sahota for bringing a “human atmosphere” to The Blind Project.
“I’m not an inmate, I’m Garylee McCoy,” McCoy said about the feeling he gets when he’s at work within the walls of The Blind Project.
For Sahota, who has a visually impaired 13-year-old, it’s difficult to restrain his belief and enthusiasm for the program, which gives inmates a viable skill set upon release. The recidivism rate for those who work in The Blind Project is less than 1 percent, compared to 60 percent for the rest of California’s prison population, he said in an earlier interview.
“I love this program,” he said Thursday. “They’re going to have to drag me out of here kicking and screaming.”
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.