Barlinnie prisoners saving lives in India with visionary project

A project run by a Scottish prison is bringing hope to inmates and the gift of sight to people living in some of the poorest parts of the developing world.

Convicts at HMP Barlinnie are changing the lives of people thousands of miles away through a project which recycles old pairs of spectacles for reuse.

The glasses are tested and sorted by prisoners before being shipped out to the Punjab in India.

Lauchlan Campbell is nearing the end of a 16-month sentence for drugs offences. He once travelled in India and hopes to return one day to see his good work in action.

He told STV News: “It transcended my mind back to being in India, and how poor it really is and made me realise that I have a really good life on the outside, without committing crime; committing crime was greed and selfishness, and this brought it back to me again.”

The project was conceived by specialist opticians Visioncall, which is holding a clinic in the Punjab in May 2013 where they will hand out 60,000 pairs of spectacles prepared inside Barlinnie.

Christina Chappell, spokeswoman for Visioncall, said: “Glasses can make the difference between someone surviving and not and obviously education and work, and if somebody doesn't have the right sight to have education or to work then it can obviously make an impact on the life expectancy of a person in India.”

Prison bosses said the project plays an important role in the prison’s rehabilitation efforts, saving lives in India while changing lives in Glasgow.

Prison officer Gary McKechnie said: “Most of the people that we have within our area have mental health issues or learning disabilities.

“They wouldn't normally be employed within the prison itself, they wouldn't be suitable to work in certain areas, so they come up here and this is actually a bonus not just to the prisoner, but to the prison itself.

“A lot of the prisoners self harm and if you keep them occupied that can cut that figure down.”

Mr Campbell aims to join volunteers next year when they set up the clinic in India. He added: “I'd love to see the benefits that I've contributed to, watching people smile and being able to see again, that would be a fantastic experience.”

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