I went to a California state prison for the first time the other day. I’d been to jails but this was my first time actually at a prison. I also attended my first parole hearing. Parole hearings are pretty interesting…. I was in a small room with two attorneys, two guards, two parole commissioners and an inmate. It was, uh, very intimate to say the least.
Billy Mansfield was convicted three decades ago of killing five women in California and Florida. He was denied parole this week.
One of the most interesting things I learned during my trip was the existence of the Blind Project. For more than fifty years, this program has been run at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, part of the state’s prison system. Inmates learn valuable work skills while also helping a worthy cause by making audio recordings, fixing Braille machines, repairing eyeglasses and doing Braille transcription, among other tasks. In recent years they’ve been working to convert previously-recorded titles from cassette tape to CD. They also apparently clean and maintain machines owned by the state-run California Braille and Talking Book Library.
I was most fascinated with the creation of books on tape. Yes, inmates read and record books on tape for the visually impaired. Titles range from children’s books to Isn’t that fascinating? Those incarcerated at CMF have included serial killers Charles Manson, Santa Cruz’s own Ed Kemper, and Juan Corona, as well as the likes of Timothy Leary, among others.
I’ve got to admit – I’ve been amusing myself just a wee bit by imagining possible titles and their potential narrators…..