NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Three prisoners at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution earned the highest braille certification Friday joining two other offenders in their class in the Tennessee Rehabilitative Initiative in Correction (TRICOR) braille program where they transcribe textbooks for students at the Tennessee School for the Blind.
"It's it's a rare job that I hadn't heard about, but it's it's fulfilling," said 31-year-old, Riverbend Maximum Security Institution prisoner Adrian Gregory.
Gregory joined about 65 others in the United States Friday who have also earned the highest braille achievement, the National Braille Association Braille Textbook Formatting Certification.
Gregory has been incarcerated for 11.5 years and has 14 months to go.
"It's been a long road," he said with tears in his eyes. "Since I was 19, I'm 31. I've done 11 and a half. I’ve got 14 months but and so I'm ready to go. It's, it's been a long way. It's gonna be emotional walking out that gate."
When he does leave the prison, not only will he be a free man, he will have skills for a lucrative career as a braille translator.
"We've got 15 guys out here who can transcribe," said TRICOR Braille Instructor and Program Director Deb Krise. "You may have a list of only three contractors that you can reach on the street–they can't do it all. We've got 15 guys who can work on your work to make sure you get it done, you get it done timely. So that they they're very happy with it. And now that we've moved into the large print, it's even better. Their teachers are really excited about that."
The program of 30 prisoners at Riverbend aims to teach the participating inmates how to read and transcribe braille over the course of several years. Then, they work on transcribing textbooks for the Tennessee School for the Blind for free.
"The standard has always been, ‘We won't accept anything less than the best from you guys.’ And to know that and to have that standard and live up to that. They're grateful. They're grateful. It takes a lot off their plate," explained Krise.
"I read these textbooks sometimes and they're clearly not made for a blind student to read and were taught also how to depicted these things for the child when doing it in the Braille," said Gregory. "For example, graphics. And they feel for textures for learning the levels of a plant or something and trying to learn that. Knowing that you could somehow give them the same experience that we are blessed to have is, is really great."
Krise explained not all offenders at Riverbend are eligible for the braille program saying their security level has to be at a certain requirement, they cannot have any disciplinary violations and must have at least five years left on their sentence because braille takes years to learn.
"Once they get the interview, then we have an assessment exam: mathematics, reading, deduction charts. Because when you transcribe a school book K through 12, you may be doing AP math textbook, you have to–you have to know what you're looking at when you're looking at that. You have to have a good understanding of the English language and vocabulary."
Gregory said once he was accepted to the program, he realized just how helpful the skill will be when he finishes his sentence.
"When I leave these walls the opportunity to, I mean, there's good money, you know, and it's a fulfilling job. So those two things combined when I leave this my leave here, after all the amount of time will be truly beneficial to me and to my future family and all those things," he said. "I thought that, you know, when I leave here, I wouldn’t have an opportunity to do much, you know, maybe construction or something along those lines. But, having this opportunity to be able to have a job where I can use my mind instead of my body."
Krise said she is often asked about her decision to teach braille in a prison.
"I work in a prison. Maximum Security Prison with bad guys, good guys, Police, rules. But it's not always what you see on TV. There's people in here who just made a bad choice who just never got a chance in life," she said. "Every one of them wants to make a difference. You know, even if you did a bad thing you may not be a bad person. You just made a bad choice. And you can't sit around and tell people that but you can prove it with your works and your good deeds."
Various TRICOR programs are offered at many Tennessee Department of Corrections facilities throughout the state, "Our whole goal is every person is not coming back. That they're going to learn enough through our programming through our occupational skills training, that they won't come back to prison."
Gregory plans to open his own braille business once released and said he is grateful for the years of training he has received, "It's a great opportunity to get out there and, you know, get on your feet and get going. So, I really appreciate it. That's why I've been here as long as I have and stick to it. Because, although I may not see the fruit of it now but I know in the future I will."