Opticians From Behind Bars

This post is to introduce you to Akeel, a.k.a. Mr. 0ptix. I met him on social media when I was impressed by the photos of the excellent lab work he does, and he does quite a variety of different lenses and tints. Akeel also started hosting Gucci frame giveaway contests and I started to see his social presence take off as he found the voice  he wanted to present to the world. He mentioned to me that he wanted to start his own website and blog, and this article is the start of that. This is Akeel’s story of how he began in the optical industry and became a board certified Optician. He is still working on the launch of his website but you can find him, and extremely responsive I might add, on Instagram at @mr.0ptix (the O is a zero). Here is Akeel’s story:

Mr. 0ptix
Akeel at Vision Expo East, 2019

Do not judge a book by its cover because it might turn out to be more interesting than you thought. When the time comes, people will share their story with you after they have come to terms with the experience they have had. At first glance, people will think I am just an ordinary Optician trying to make it on Instagram, bigger yet in life. However, the article you are about to read is very different and gives insight that is to be shared with everyone.

It was yet another change because they felt you should not get used to your surroundings. My mind always responded with the question “how can anyone get used to this?” You guys, the reader, are wondering who I am referring to. They are the New York State Correctional Department and my new surroundings is my new facility: Wallkill Correctional Facility. Prison was prison, lock down was lock down, and yet I felt that crappy place would change my life for the better.

In life you have two choices as I see it; either you can be good or you can be bad. I am not going to focus on the bad that actually placed me in there, but rather the good that changed my life. This positive change would come through the Wallkill Optical Program that was taught as a trade and eventually be something you could turn into a career.

Many people had already chosen this trade and were returning back to the housing unit when I asked one fellow inmate, “Where are you guys coming from?” His simple reply was, “The optics program”. He also added that the pre-entry exam would be next week and that I should go sign up. I immediately rushed downstairs to the Optical department and signed up. The program required a G.E.D or high school diploma; I had my high school diploma, plus I was in college with 103 credits earned. I knew the basic material they would ask us on the math test. I did study to brush up on my math skills and also got help from an individual named “Drama” who was tutoring people on the exam. I grabbed a mock test from him and started practicing.

Mr. 0ptix educating followersAll the waiting was over and I was ready. We were about 18 individuals who were trying to better our lives, yet we should have thought about these things before we actually got out behind these bars. IT IS NEVER TOO LATE to change and learn from our mistakes. I wanted to change and after a long weekend of waiting the results were up; 11 of us passed and 7 of us failed. We were excited and we were told to come back tomorrow for classes.

Classes ran for 90 days with training every morning on fining/polishing, generating, washing, edging, and finally inspecting lenses. There was one midterm that I passed with a 97 with my final exam score being 99. We were now ready to work in the lab and take on the real responsibility of making glasses for the world.

It definitely did not start off the way I expected it to; they stuck me in the fine and polishing room. Here, lenses would come after being generated and surfaced, to be fined/polished so the concave side would be smooth and ready to be edged. I would endure polishing and excess degree being left on me for the next three months. I began to enjoy it, besides getting dirty, because I was learning something new and this is an important step in making lenses. If it does not pass here then we have to redo it.

What else changed was my position at the lab; I would now be edging, inspecting, and getting more responsibility. We trained, during our pre-entry classes, but that did not actually prepare us to do real optical work. On our first day my partner and I destroyed about 15 pairs of lenses. Even though it was our first day, we got in trouble for not asking for help. As a team, we progressed each day and “bodied” less lenses, which everyone was happy about.

My partner and I became the best in the laboratory. He moved onto a specials department dealing with progressive/bifocals lenses, while I stayed in the same department and became a teacher. New students would pass pre-entry training and would be placed in my station. Over my two years at the program I trained about 5 students who too became inspectors and went on to be leaders and teachers themselves.Mr. 0ptix custom tint

As I learned leadership traits, I saw the opportunity to grow and make this journey a career path. The program offered the American Board of Opticianry exam, which was an incredible opportunity for 9 of us. I studied for six months for the exam and I was happy to have studied that much because it was hard. All my fellow testers were anxious, but I was calm because I was in this test taking environment before. I showed them techniques that would relax and help them take the test with ease. I believe it worked because all 9 of us passed.

We received our certificates, and it finally felt like I was taking a leap forward, instead of backwards. I was always falling short, but I poured in my all and it paid off. I was no longer looking at the world with a bad lens, but now a positive lens. My time was finally over and I was released with a career. I fell in love with optics and it has been my passion since I was introduced to it. My journey has just begun.

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