Progress is Being Made on Mandates

By BitcoDavid

English: Federal Bureau of Prisons (seal) Espa...

Federal Bureau of Prisons seal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, the Senate passed the sorely needed Smarter Sentencing Act. Supporters of the law came from both sides of the aisle, but the act is opposed by the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, who believe that Federal mandatory sentencing is a necessary tool for minimizing crime and aiding prosecutors.

The truth is, this legislation would reduce prison population and ease recidivism, balance out racial disparity, heal broken families and save tax dollars. More Black males under the age of 40 are currently jailed or imprisoned, than were at the peak of South African Apartheid. The Federal Bureau of Prisons is operating at 140% of its maximum capacity. That means that there are 14 inmates for every 10 beds.

English: An aerial view of the Federal Correct...

An aerial view of the Federal Correctional Institute in Sheridan, Oregon. It is run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons by the US government (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While it has been proven that Blacks are no more likely to sell drugs, than Whites,  they are far more likely to be prosecuted for drug law offenses. Whites also tend to receive no sentences or light sentences, whereas Blacks are more likely to feel the brunt of mandatory sentencing laws.

Yesterday’s Senate vote shows that both Republicans and Democrats believe that America’s incarceration fever is out of control and needs reform. The problem has become so disastrous, that even these two opposing philosophies are willing to work for change.

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For years, judges have opposed these draconian laws. I have even heard of cases where judges handed down rulings, while in tears – their own sense of right and wrong being in direct opposition to laws that tied their hands.

Of course, like any legislation, yesterday’s vote was only the first hurdle. The bill will now go to the House, where if it is passed will go to Obama‘s desk. From there, it will have to face any Supreme Court challenge. So, don’t expect to be picking up your loved one, at that main gate, tomorrow – but given the givens, DeafInPrison.com lauds this flickering flame of progress and says thank you to the U.S. Senate.

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

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Song Tells Felix’s Suffering

By Pat Bliss

Heather Hardy is one of the individuals who wrote our petition for Felix Garcia’s pardon. She recently completed recording the song she wrote to accompany that petition. She is currently seeking an interpreter to facilitate the production of a video of the song, which we will publish here, upon its completion. Until that time, here is the mp3 - audio only – version of the song. Below, find the embedded Word document containing the lyrics.

 

Pat Bliss is a retired paralegal in criminal law. She continues to do legal work for indigent prisoner cases showing innocence. She is a Certified Community Chaplain, Certified as a volunteer for CISM (Crises Intervention Stress Management) and involved in community events.

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Terrell Brittain Advocates for Deaf Renters

By Jean F. Andrews

Deaf people are treated unfairly by housing leasing staff, according to a front-page story in the Houston ChronicleJanuary 27, 2014 by news reporter Jayme Fraser. In fact, office managers are reported to have rudely hung up on deaf inquirers who call in using relay interpreters. Why is this situation still happening in this era of Civil Rights and the American with Disabilities Act? Fraser further reports that the National Fair Housing Alliance organization is collecting cases where more deaf people, seeking housing, were treated unfairly. Fraser interviews Terrell Brittain, a young, articulate deaf professional who has a master’s degree in Deaf Education, and is currently employed as a professor of American Sign Language Interpretation at the University of Houston. Brittain recounts his bad experiences and rude treatment when trying to contact leasing office staff, both while he was in college as well as now – as a professional. Fraser quotes Harold Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association for the Deaf who attributes this case and others to “a problem with poor training.”

Poor staff training is only the tip of the iceberg. The problem is much deeper. While Brittain’s treatment by the leasing office staff was inexcusable and illegal, fortunately for Brittain, he has the communication skills and education to confront the leasing officials in order to clearly articulate this complaint. Many deaf adults seeking housing are not as fortunate. These deaf adults are functionally illiterate. They are the victims of a poor educational system that postponed their exposure to a visually based sign language and failed to teach them to read and write. Consequently, many are underemployed or unemployed.

They have difficulty articulating their needs and seeking their Constitutional Rights. Many of these deaf adults get caught up in the criminal justice system and are unable to defend themselves because they do not have the background knowledge or communication skills to work with an attorney and understand their trial.  If you go to Huntsville State Prison and interview deaf inmates there, you will find out what Dr. Katrina Miller, professor of Rehabilitation counseling at Emporia State University, found out in her study of 99 Deaf Prisoners in Huntsville State prison.

Dr. Miller found that many deaf inmates incarcerated there, told her they did not have interpreters during their trials and do not know why they are in prison. Unlike Terrell Brittain, who can communicate his complaint and seek a legal resolution, many deaf adults struggle to obtain their Constitutional Rights with more serious consequence than no roof over their heads; they can face a life behind bars.

Jean F. Andrews is a Reading Specialist and Department Chair of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University.

[Editor's note: You may notice something different in Dr. Andrews' bio. She is now the Chair of her department. Please join DeafInPrison.com in congratulating Dr. Andrews on this well deserved promotion. --BitcoDavid]

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An Open Letter to Melissa Harris-Perry/MSNBC

By Supporter Contributor Carol Finkle

[Editor's Note: Carol Finkle is our newest Supporter Contributor. The following is a letter she wrote to Ms. Harris-Perry following a broadcast about the difficulties faced by Transgender inmates. I edited the letter for a general audience, and to be more within our AP style guidelines. The original can be found on our FaceBook page. --BitcoDavid]

melissa_2c copy

Melissa Harris-Perry (Photo credit: Tulane Publications)

Hello. I saw your segment about CeCe’s transgender prison experience this week and committed myself to at least trying to connect the Deaf prisoner-experience story – and people who’ve been telling it for decades – with you. If CeCe were Deaf, her story would be much worse. I have always said that the only thing harder than being Black in America is being Black and Deaf in America. I call the Deaf the last oppressed minority. They are near-totally invisible in this society and small in number. There are only two million ASL-using Deaf Americans, and most – sadly – are the children of Hearing parents. Parents often, make decisions out of ignorance and fear, when it comes to raising their Deaf babies. These children grow up misunderstood and oppressed, beyond the pale.

The young, Deaf, activist population has coined a phrase for this kind of Deaf-specific oppression – Audism: the oppression of the Deaf by the Hearing.

Mr. Conservative (School Punishes Deaf Child for Using Sign)

Mr. Conservative
(School Punishes Deaf Child for Using Sign)

I am a Hearing parent of Deaf children, now in their forties, and parents themselves. My son adopted two Deaf toddlers in the past six years and my daughter has two beautiful girls, both hearing – continuing the tradition of mixed, Deaf-Hearing families being bilingual, and bicultural. We are Deaf and Hearing (the bi-cultural part) and users of English and American Sign Language, (the bilingual part). Some of us speak, and some of us do not. This has nothing to do with having two languages or with communication itself. After all, speaking is but one mode of communication – aural, and signing is another – visual. The Deaf, if you will, call themselves the People of the Eye.

Would you believe, Miss Deaf America, the Deaf Olympics and so on? Yes, a separate culture woven invisibly throughout every town and city in the nation – separate, but unequal. The ADA has had some impact, but I could tell you stories from my forty years as witness to the world of my children.

Finally, watching and listening to the very deep and informative segment about CeCe and trans-gender prisoners’ experience, on Sunday, I know it is you who’d be the perfect media person/program to get this whole, huge, unknown story out there, starting with the Deaf prisoner experience. You would not be alone. There is a small army of bloggers, v-loggers and traditional journalists, struggling to bring awareness to the suffering Deaf prisoners must endure. BitcoDavid of DeafInPrison.com, a major Mother Jones Magazine expose, by James Ridgeway, and at two-part episode on Al Jazeera America last month, are but a few examples.

Below are some links that may help you gain a better understanding of the situation:

Carol Finkle is the mother of 2 Deaf Children. She has been active within the Deaf community for over 40 years. 

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Event: HEARD’s 3rd Aniversary Bash

By BitcoDavid

HEARD will be celebrating its 3rd year, on Tuesday, February 18th at 6:30 PM, Eastern. The event will be held at D.C. Public Library, Tenley-Friendship Branch, 4901 V Street NW. There will be speakers, a new class of interns announced and the Al Jazeera documentary will be screened. Embedded below is the FaceBook invitation page.

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

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My Insperation

By BitcoDavid

Derrick Coleman is the first Deaf NFL player. He has been featured in inspirational commercials, and has helped bring the Seattle Seahawks to the Superbowl against the Denver Broncos. Here’s a letter written to Mr. Coleman by a young girl.

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

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Update on Felix – Part 2

By Pat Bliss

After visiting with Felix on Sunday, January 5th I drove to Tallahassee. I took a route I had not traveled before, which took me through mid-Florida flat land compiled mainly of horse farms and training establishments for horse racing. I actually enjoyed it, and allowed enough time to get to Tallahassee before dark. Our clemency attorney – Reginald Garcia – called me and told me there was to be an early meeting before going to the Capitol. It was totally unexpected and I would end up, blown away.

Image from Raiford Prison, cir. 1930  Northlight Theater Blog

Image from Raiford Prison, cir. 1930
Northlight Theater Blog

The meeting was with the Innocence Project of Florida. After much discussion, they agreed to look into our case. As if that wasn’t enough, there was more. Attorney Michael Ufferman – an expert in criminal appellate law – was at the same meeting. Attorney Ufferman received case law on a US Supreme Court opinion where the Federal Courts will drop any time bars on actual innocence cases. This has been are stickler in the past for us, getting heard in Federal Court on Felix’s 6th Amendment violation – denied a fair trial due to deafness where he could not assist nor understand what was taking place and was not  provided an interpreter.

Attorney Ufferman stated he was going to file a Federal Writ Of Habeas Corpus. In a third happy surprise, Attorney Garcia – experienced in parole matters – said he will attend Felix’s parole hearing coming up in October with me.

In my heart I was bursting with thankfulness as we left the Innocence Project office to go to the Capitol for a meeting with an attorney for Governor Scott on the clemency action in progress.  We were encouraged to see other clemency aides to get a second vote to initiate a Request for Review which requires the Governor plus one. Another positive step in a long process.

I left Florida very content that my purpose in making this trip had been fulfilled.

Update on Felix:
Felix is on a new venture. He graduated from the Character/Faith program on 1/13/14. He is enrolled in a training class to become a computer instructor and is already teaching Word, Excel and drawings on the computer to fellow inmates. Besides this new work he is in and knowing what these professional attorneys are doing on his case, Felix definitely went from hopelessness to hope in a very short time. Happy New Year to all!

Pat Bliss

Pat Bliss is a retired paralegal in criminal law. She continues to do legal work for indigent prisoner cases showing innocence. She is a Certified Community Chaplain, Certified as a volunteer for CISM (Crises Intervention Stress Management) and involved in community events.

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