Story of Joshua, a braille translator behind bars

5 minutes reading time
March 19, 2021

This week we have a different story to share with you. Recently we were connected to an inmate, currently in a Missouri prison, who worked as a braille transcriber for years and has a natural talent for coding. He even built a braille translation program named BrailleWolf. He has a masters degree from Tyndale Seminary, Literary and Music Braille certifications from the Library of Congress, and the LC101 certificate from LaunchCode and continues his doctoral studies at Tyndale. If you would like to get in touch with him or show any support, let us know and we will convey your messages. Without further ado, here is Joshua’ story in his own words.

A close-up of an excerpt from a braille book

“She loved you and so do I and I am getting you a lawyer.”

These are the words my grandfather, William C. Lindley (Papa), gently spoke to me when he came to see me in a juvenile detention center almost 21 years ago. After speaking these words he kissed my neck and left the tiny visiting room to begin a life without his wife of almost 40 years. Her name was Carol Lindley and I called her Nana. I was just 16 years old when Papa spoke these words of love to me. The unimaginable part, though, is that I was in juvenile hall because I had just killed his wife and was charged with murder.

Despite the fact Papa fought for me, despite the fact I was 16, despite the fact multiple psychiatrists and psychologists testified I was suffering from a psychotic break at the time of my crime, I was still certified as an adult, found guilty and sentenced to a mandatory sentence of life without parole (LWOP). A LWOP sentence meant I would die in prison after the lash of time had taken its ultimate toll.

When I entered prison I found myself in an adult maximum security prison at the age of 17. I could not think, read or write very well. Many people thought my life was over and I can only imagine the mental anguish my mother and Papa must have had over knowing their teenage son had been incarcerated alongside adult prisoners, only to be released when he dies.

Many thought my life was over at this point, but I have found that where there is life there is hope and where there is love and forgiveness there is human transformation leading to the betterment of humanity as a whole. We as human beings often underestimate the power of unconditional love and forgiveness. I have come to learn that hope shines the brightest in the midst of what we assume is hopelessness. I have seen and felt grace in the midst of utter despair and destruction. I think grace, whether we believe in God or not, is best seen in human beings helping and serving and forgiving and loving one another. It was grace, like that of Papa and caring people, that culminated in me earning a Masters degree from Tyndale Seminary, Literary and Music Braille certifications from the Library of Congress, and the LC101 certificate from LaunchCode.

From 2010 until 2018 I worked as a Braille Transcriber within the Jefferson City Correctional Center (JCCC). I transcribed thousands of textbook pages into Braille following the Literary, Textbook, Tactile, Nemeth and Music Braille codes. Brailling for the blind gave my life a sense of significance and purpose. However, this came to a sudden stop in the spring of 2018 when I was transferred from JCCC to the Potosi Correctional Center (PCC) because I had a distant relative working at JCCC as a guard. I was devastated with no way to braille anymore. I struggled at PCC and greatly missed my friends and braille duties. I struggled to find something to engage my mind like Music Braille did. This, however, would change in 2018 when I was asked if I wanted to be in the LaunchCode inmate pilot program here at PCC.

The idea of learning computer programming intimidated me as I had no prior coding experience, but I loved learning and decided to jump headfirst into the ocean of coding. I even called Papa on the telephone and told him about the exciting coding class I was in. He said he was proud of me for taking the class and proud of the person I had become. He asked me where Potosi was located as he was planning on visiting me soon. I gave him the location and we ended our conversation by telling each other we loved one another. Little did I know that would be the last time I would get to hear his voice. Papa died from complications stemming from a car accident in the summer of 2018. I was shattered, but knew he was proud of me for taking LaunchCode so I gave it my all as I grieved the loss of my only hero, Papa.

I took to coding better than I did to Greek, Braille and Music combined. I finished my coursework months ahead of my classmates and began building a Braille translation program and named it BrailleWolf. I have never in my life been so consumed by a subject such as I am with coding. I enjoy it immensely and have put my doctoral studies at Tyndale on hold so I can focus on writing and teaching code here at PCC.

About a month ago a member of the LaunchCode team reached out to Emre Sarbak at Mediate and shared with him how I had taken to coding and had begun developing technology for the blind. Emre gracefully set up an email account and it seems he is going to help me prepare for a career in building technology for the blind. I am excited about this, but prison has become an obstacle to my growth and development as a human being. The overcrowded prison population coupled with covid and staff shortages has made rehabilitation almost nonexistent. I feel like my ongoing incarceration is hurting me psychologically and working against my desires to pursue a career in blind-tech. The lash of time over the past 21 years is becoming incredibly harder to endure. I often wonder when is enough going to be enough?

Papa did not want me to be certified as an adult and tried in adult court. Instead, he wanted me to go somewhere where I could get help, earn release, and ultimately mature into the human being he envisioned me to be when he would hold me high in the air as a baby. Sadly, his voice of unconditional love and forgiveness has been ignored by our justice system for over 20 years, but I am not giving up on my hope for release. I will continue to work and grow and learn regardless of my environment. Papa stood by my side my entire life and always encouraged me to keep learning, to keep growing and to keep loving God and people. In 2012 when the United States Supreme Court declared mandatory LWOP as cruel and unusual punishment for juveniles, Papa spoke out and said, “I have forgiven Joshua and hopes he comes home soon.” Still, the state ignores his voice: a voice of love and forgiveness.

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