Prisoners making spectacles for prisoners
"As an optometrist, I saw an opportunity"
Tanjit Dosanjh is one of the most interesting and impressive people working in prisons. He is an optometrist, but he also has a personal interest in prisons.
“My dad's a prisoner. The idea for Pen Optical was born out of me going to visit him, and talking about the training courses that were available. As an optometrist, I saw an opportunity. In America, they've been training prisoners in how to make prescription spectacles since 1989. It's been going on so long that they have graduates of their programme who have gone on to become dispensing opticians and set up their own practices.”
We went to visit Tanjit's first workshop in a prison two or three years ago and since then he has gone from strength to strength. Tanjit has established Pen Optical, a registered charity that trains prisoners in optical retail skills, and gives them hands-on experience in making prescription spectacles. This is followed by a work experience placement within a practice. Our training centre and optical laboratory is in Maidstone.
After only a few years, by April 2016 Pen Optical held 31 prison contracts, and they train five to six prisoners at any given time. To date, they have trained fourteen people, and got eight of them into employment with opticians.
“Initially I went into prisons and gave presentations. But now we've got trainees here on a daily basis, and they tell other prisoners about us. They are carefully risk-assessed by the prison management and then I interview every single candidate before accepting them onto our programme: Are they serious about this type of course? Do they see themselves pursuing optics long term?”
“We placed one of our trainees into a branch of Specsavers, and he gets on brilliantly with his colleagues. Specsavers use a Maze customer insight programme, and our trainee has been talked about a lot on Maze. Customers say that he is the politest and most friendly of staff and people really like him. He is also a great retail salesman as he absolutely understands customer needs, even though he's only been there for three months.”
“The biggest challenge we face now is getting enough prisoners through the course to keep up with demand.”
What a great optimistic story!