Open Letter to Florida Clemency Board

By Joanne Greenberg

Dear Clemency Board,

Felix Garcia celebrating his GED in 1984 Courtesy Pat Bliss. From Mother Jones Magazine.

Felix Garcia celebrating his GED in 1984 Courtesy Pat Bliss.
From Mother Jones Magazine.

I have been interested in the Felix Garcia case, for the last few years, and I have seen all of the material from that case, including the 2 hours of video interview on DeafInPrison.com. I know that he has exhausted his legal opportunities, but because there is a strong probability that Felix is not guilty of the crime for which he is charged, I am afraid that when he comes up for parole, he will not state that he is remorseful. And this will deny him parole.

Most recent photo of Felix with Pat Bliss.  Image credit Pat Bliss

Most recent photo of Felix with Pat Bliss.
Image credit Pat Bliss

However, nothing stands in the way of Felix’s being freed as an act of clemency. He’s already served a monumental sentence, but he has been able to create a life for himself, that will be useful and positive – on the outside. He will be able to do good things for himself and for the community in general; and especially for the Deaf community, which needs what Felix has to offer.

If we have any faith in rehabilitation, we certainly see rehabilitation in Felix’s case.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

Mainstreaming 30 Years Later

By Joanne Greenberg

123/365 Deaf awareness week

(Photo credit: clogsilk)

Mainstreaming blew in during the ’70s and ’80s on the same wind as the breaking up of state mental hospitals, and with the same emotions; end the stigma, expand what is “normal” to include everyone. Differences will disappear and a better society will result. The “gesturing” and facial expressions shouldn’t be a barrier between the hearing and the Deaf. At the same time, American Sign had been shown to be an authentic language, and not simply a set of gestures. Deaf people were moved into the public schools, along with other handicapped children. Blind, learning disabled, etc.

The parents of these children, were the first to demand this inclusion. The Deaf form a special subculture different from all others. Army brats, circus children, Amish children are raised in their subcultures from their babyhood, to be adults in those subcultures. But the parents of Deaf children are overwhelmingly hearing. The only faintly, comparable example might be the raising of Gay children by straight parents. But the language they both speak is the same, so even that example fails.

Gallaudet University baseball team (then: Nati...

Gallaudet University baseball team (then: National Deaf-Mute College), 1886. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The parents of these children wanted ‘normal’ kids. They also tacitly accepted the use of Sign language. Why not use what was then called, ‘the least restrictive environment,’ which had been urged by the reformers? Why not send an interpreter with every Deaf child, to interpret what was said in class? The idea was well meant, certainly. Was it naive? Certainly. Who interprets the school bathroom? The playground? The cliques? The socializing? The after-school? Unless their parents are Deaf, the students enter the school as foreigners from birth.

English: A Video Interpreter sign used at vide...

A Video Interpreter sign used at videophone stations in public places where a Deaf, Hard-Of-Hearing or Speech-Impaired can communicate with a hearing person via a Video Relay Service. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not referring here, to HOH kids, some of whom, with powerful hearing aids and lots of backup can make it through mainstreaming in local schools.

The parents of Deaf children, are faced with a hard choice. Send the child away to residential school, at a young age – where she will be admitted into a world, over which they (her parents) have no control – and which are foreign to them. Or keep her at home, where she will stay, uncomprehending and being passed along from class to class. Many of these children are tolerated, but very seldom accepted.

Interpreters translate, they do not explain. An interpreter cannot stop classroom instruction to make sure that the concepts familiar to all hearing children, are made clear to the single Deaf child, who may be in the class. Who needs an explanation of the difference between rights and right, between contract and contract, between running out of coffee and running for office? Is there time for an interpreter to separate the demotic ‘cool’ from a word meaning a degree of temperature.

Deaf people go to prisons and mental hospitals, at a higher rate than the hearing. This is not surprising, given the lack of communication between the hearing and Deaf environments. Kids learn passively – by osmosis – attitudes and expectations of the world around them. Without early, constant specific attention and education, Deaf children miss cultural as well as intellectual messages, and information. Nobody consciously teaches the hearing child his culture, or subculture. These he internalizes at an early age. Schools for the Deaf can accomplish this, better than mainstream schools – even with the best interpreters available.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

A Basic First-aid Class for Deaf Adults

By Joanne Greenberg

[Editor's note: This piece was originally written by Ms. Greenberg several years ago, so many of the time and date references may no longer be accurate. -- BitcoDavid]

Resusci_Annie photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Resusci_Annie photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The idea for the class came serendipitously. I was taking advanced first-aid and I mentioned to the Chief Instructor, that because there were a fair number of Deaf people in the Denver area, perhaps the class should learn some simple signs and the manual alphabet. I find Sign useful as an alternative means of communication when ordinary speech is impractical. The Instructor, being enterprising and adaptable, allowed me to do this. After the course was over, four of the instructors and one other student asked me if I would teach them basic Sign.

During those sessions we began to talk about the isolation that deafness imposes. The pre-lingual Deaf are often unable to get the simple life information that the Hearing learn informally from people around them. They are often further handicapped by reading problems and poor education. As these ideas were better understood, the instructors agreed that Deaf adults would be prime candidates for the Basic first-aid course.

I happened to know of an Adult Education class for the Deaf, and the co-leaders of this class, were delighted when I mentioned the possibility of a first-aid class to them. The class was taught in the basement of a church in downtown Denver. Its funding was partly private and partly state, and because it was both experimental and independent, we were encouraged to proceed at our own pace.

We began by having a simple social meeting with the class. The instructors’ Sign was still rudimentary, but it was important for the Deaf students to know that although there would be one or more interpreters for all classes, the instructors had taken the time and showed and interest in communicating with them directly. We have come to believe that this is a key point in the success of a first-aid program, that the instructors be well trained in all levels of first-aid instruction and also have at least fundamental command of Sign language. Sign helps break the reserve of the Deaf student and helps the instructor over any feeling of strangeness in working with all levels of Deaf people.

Formal sessions started with about 12 students, which soon dropped to 10. Their reading level ranged from about third grade to the post-graduate level and verbal skills had about the same spread. In addition we had an elderly woman who was so physically reserved the she was unwilling to sit on the floor during the first sessions and a middle-aged Black man who told us privately that he could never bring himself to have any physical contact with White people, especially women, due to the fear ingrained in him in his childhood. We also had two Hearing High School students, a boy and a girl.

The first classes were the hardest. We found we were going too slowly, teaching too much from the book. We were, in short, underestimating the intelligence of our students – confusing low language ability with low interest and competence. We soon began to feature practical demonstrations and to replace complicated explanations with role-playing. Our chief interpreter was intuitively alert to this and often gave up formal Sign for mime when the need arose. We divided the students into groups whenever we could and their competence with each other opened the way for them to demonstrate lifesaving methods on us. We faced the problems of shyness and race directly and frankly. In lifesaving situations, reticence and race have no place.

It soon became evident that more content was needed in the course and one of the instructors brought a Resusci Annie to class and gave everyone training in artificial respiration. The instructors and interpreters discussed this decision, like all others. We met at a local place for supper before each class and besides being pleasant; it was a good way of getting everyone’s views and feelings on decisions to be made and the progress of the class.

Most Deaf people depend on getting by with minimal understanding. Often they will respond to what they think we want, saying yes, yes, I understand, when they don’t understand at all. Some have grown up under the stigma, wrongly applied, of retardation, and will go to any lengths not to appear slow or stupid. Our greatest enemy in this class was phony acquiescence, and our pre-class talks allowed each of us to tell whether we had noticed any signs of misunderstanding of the body language that indicates pulling away, resentment, confusion or disapproval.

A paradox developed. We knew that we had been moving too slowly for these interested people and we began to speed up. (The class had stared on April 24 and we were halfway through May with only a fourth of the course finished.) On the other hand it was apparent that years of personal experience and a wealth of misinformation and old wives’ tales would have to be ventilated and put to rest before new learning could take place successfully. Because of the communication problem, the Deaf are keepers, storers of experience. The unexplained phenomenon, the misunderstood illness may be kept waiting for 25 years before someone comes who has the time and knowledge to listen and perhaps interpret correctly. We were slowed therefore, by the weight of the Deaf students’ pasts. (And, of course, butter on all burns – that’s what Mom did. The Deaf are nothing if not observant. In passing, it should be noted that one of the truest proofs of real learning I saw during the course was that one of the problems on the final was a 2nd and 3rd degree burn. We had butter, grease and margarine all over the place, and no one used any.)

Deviant Art - Alice of Spades (Don't worry, it's make up)

Deviant Art – Alice of Spades (Don’t worry, it’s make up)

Our strengths and weaknesses were becoming clearer to us with the passing of time. We had started speeding up the rate of instruction; we were relying almost entirely on Sign and demonstration. We were communicating without preaching, that first-aid can be done by Deaf people on other Deaf, or by Deaf people on Hearing, and that empathy and competence were the keys to success. One Deaf person described our sign as “groping, slow, clumsy and understood.” Our students understood and liked us.

The two Hearing students did not work well with the class. They seemed to feel themselves above the Deaf students and were self-conscious about role-playing. Whether this was Hearing or Adolescence we did not know, but they often made the class self-conscious and we all agreed that we would never again mix Deaf and Hearing students. Ultimately, they were the only ones to flunk the course.

Another misjudgment was our lack of a firm stand on attendance. Since the class was experimental, we started out by following the Teacher’s manual. The Basic course is supposed to be self-teaching; instead we had to resort to the lecture-discussion format. Usually, the reasons for missing class were good, but the effect on the teachers was demoralizing, since some of the students had shown very little retention of printed material that was not reinforced by discussion and practice.

Would you believe you can buy phony wound appliques on the Web?

Would you believe you can buy phony wound appliques on the Web? (Riseagainthenovel.com)

On June 30th we gave our final. We had tried written tests and found that 2 of our best students were failing, not because they did not know the material, but because their reading and writing skills were being tested and not their knowledge of first-aid. We met in the middle of June to plan a rigorous series of 6 accidents. Each accident had a victim, 2 first-aid practitioners an interpreter and an evaluator – unless the evaluator’s Sign skills were good enough to allow her to combine the functions. The victims were purposely both Deaf and Hearing, and some were complete strangers who had never worked with Deaf people before. We made sure more than one of the victims was a White woman.

The problems were: heart attack, open fracture of the jaw, second and third degree burns of the arm, Annie in asphyxiation, a suicide attempt using drugs, a fall from a ladder, shock and a fractured leg. Props and moulages were used and the blood flowed like wine, but no special allowances were made for physical reticence or the problems of inability to communicate with the Hearing. The students were forced to make Hearing strangers understand their intentions by whatever means were at their command. In this, they were remarkably successful.

We had often spoken of two pars of our goal for the class. First, that we might begin to train Deaf adults in first-aid skills and safety-consciousness, second, that we might be able to find and train a small cops of Deaf instructors who would be able to train other Deaf people, with more punch, wit and relevance the new could ever bring to such a course. We have proven that the first is not only possible, but practical and pleasurable for both students and instructors. We are now looking forward to accomplishing the second goal, using the top students of our first class as potential instructors. Training will begin this fall.

Throughout this account, I have tried to give a feeling of what we learned, good and bad, in our class. There are a few other recommendations we could give to Hearing first-aid people who want to teach the Deaf of varied reading levels. The point about instructors learning Sign has been made before, but is important enough to be repeated. Instructors should be prepared for surprises, good and bad, and they need to understand some of the dynamics of Deafness. Group teaching and continuous feedback assure that automatic answers won’t be taken for real learning.

Instructors will have to train themselves not to hear the extraneous harsh sounds made by some Deaf people. Some will have very poor speech, which may be incomprehensible as well as unpleasant. Sign is a further help there. Finally, fancy-pants interpreters or instructors are not good for work with low verbal Deaf people. Esophagus sounds scientific, but throat is the word that will be understood, and while myocardial infarction may be mentioned, heart attack is the phrase that has meaning. Signing instructors will know when the interpreter is speaking simply. If and instructor needs to know where to get an interpreter, she might go to the state school for the Deaf, and ask for the name of a solid no-frills Signer.

I have talked about work and problems. I have not talked about the pleasure of communicating with people starving to death for communication, o the joy of helping to heal decades-old wounds made by isolation. In the first-aid manual, it speaks of “promotion of confidence by demonstration of competence,” For the Deaf, that confidence is a prize above rubies.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

I Flunk My Hearing Test

By Joanne Greenberg

Hearing exam

Hearing exam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was sure that I would pass because I hear so much better than my husband, and while some people were difficult for me to hear unless I was facing them, most of them speak clearly enough for me to follow. I did the bit in the soundproof box and when the audiologist showed me the results on the graph, I asked if I could cram for the next one and make a better showing. Yes, I was better than my husband, but my hearing was worse than a normal person’s would be.

I am comfortable with the hearing aids I got, but I have to find someone I couldn’t hear before to see if the difference is as great as my audiologist things it will be.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

Conversation at the Supermarket

By Joanne Greenberg

I was standing near the onions trying to figure out which kind I wanted, when I spotted a neighbor who greeted me. During our chat, she mentioned that her husband had new hearing aids. “They cost a mint, but he never wears them. I’m exhausted by his saying. ‘What?’ all the time and having to repeat myself 3 or 4 times before he gets what I’m asking him, and I’m almost howling. All our incidental conversation has been lost, the little back-and-forth that’s half the fun of being with someone.”

I nodded. “Same here,” I said. I was aware of movement behind me. I turned and there were 4 women, all nodding, and then they all broke out with similar stories about hearing loss and the fact that the person isolated by it isn’t the only one suffering.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

I Meet McCay Vernon

By Joanne Greenberg

About 40 years ago, a man called me up on the telephone. “I read your book, In This Sign, and I think you would be the one to work on a film I have in mind.”

I was annoyed. “I’ve never written a script,” I said.

He went on. “I have a grant to make a film about the effect of deafness on the families of deaf children.”

That was easy. Who was this clown? “I’m not interested in children,” I said. “My interest is in deaf adults. If I were to write the script for such a film, I’d have to know about the effect they have on families.”

“What if I got 20 or 30 sets of parents of deaf children to meet with you and talk about their experiences so that you would learn about them?”

“Sure,” I said, knowing it would never happen.

The next week he called again. “I have a a group of 30 set up in Denver, but you need to tell me when you will be free.”

I told him, scarcely believing what he said.

“I’ll be there to introduce you, ” he said, “so that we can tell them of the plan.”

I picked up McCay Vernon at his hotel and we started out, getting hugely lost in the wilds of downtown Denver, ending up at a Safeway Truck depot. He was patience personified. We got to the meeting late, but not too late.

The meeting was a revelation to me. We made the film. At first, I realized that the ordinary speech couldn’t be used, even though I had 3 hours of tapes to listen to. I made a script using bis of this and that and summarizing what I had heard. Our EXT problem was that using the parents themselves resulted in an artificial and stilted feeling and McCay finally went to a local (Westminster, Maryland) drama group. The film won a prize and I had a 40 year friendship with one of the most gifted, genuine, human people I would ever meet.

One of his gifts was, that he could sense what you were best at, and that would be the task he’d assign you. Most people – when putting together a project – will pick any warm body for a given task, but McCay had an almost 6th sense for assigning people the work at which they were best suited.

We did many projects together. I miss him deeply.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

Book Review: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

By Joanne Greenberg

English: Piper Kerman at the 2010 Brooklyn Boo...

Piper Kerman at the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a memoir of fifteen months spent in Danbury Federal Prison work camp. In the range of prisons, this was the highest (best); the others were downhill from there. Piper had been a drug dealer, left the drug game, and ten years later was arrested in connection with a sweep arrest of her former gang members. This woman brought to her experience the absolute best possible strengths – she was healthy, young, attractive but not beautiful, cultured but not pretentious, and flexible.

The book reads well. The reader is brought into Piper’s  prison life as she goes through different levels of the experience, and the reader admires her ability to adjust to what are often uncomfortable but never horrific situations. Later, in jail, pending an appearance in court, things are not as manageable. The writing is smooth and interesting. I had some quibbles with her take on her fellow inmates. I don’t know of any group anywhere as comfort giving, stimulating, appreciative, or loving as how she describes her

fellow prisoners. The administration didn’t count at all. They appear and disappear in a mist with one or two exceptions that she managed to work around. The positive relations that she had with her fellow prisoners made me a little suspicious. I think she was using them to show how useless and ridiculous the modern American prison system is. I agree with her, but I can’t help feeling a little bit manipulated.

This book was highly recommended to me by a friend, and I haven’t had a chance to discuss it with her. I can see why the book would be very popular, because it strikes all the right notes. The prison system sucks, but ordinary people are the salt of the earth. As you already know, this is not the case. Most of the people I picked up when I was doing rescue just thought they were going someplace else. Occasionally, though, we got scuzzballs. I thing the police get bitter because of the scuzzball ratio and this influences their outlook.

The book can be purchased through Amazon.com as well as other outlets.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

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