How To Learn About Deaf Culture? Read Tom Holcomb’s Introduction to American Deaf Culture

By Jean F. Andrews

Tom Holcomb, writer-scholar-teacher who is Deaf, captures the heart, mind and soul of the Deaf community in his book, Introduction to American Deaf Culture.

Respect me as a member of a cultural-linguistic group, don’t pity me as a member of a group of disabled individuals.

While sign languages are not universal as each country has its own indigenous sign language, Deaf people worldwide have universal shared experiences that few know about.  These include adopting similar solutions for effective living in a dominant hear-centric society, the use of a sign language, the congregation of like-minded deaf people, and the sharing of information.

Holcomb begins each chapter with a painting or drawing of a Deaf artist and ends with a poem written by a Deaf poet.  Readers will also learn about the vibrant culture of Deaf people, its history and heritage, sports, organizations and leisure activities, the politics in education, their feelings, aspirations and goals,  protective legislation and laws for Deaf rights, policies that have harmed deaf children such as the history of the exclusion of Deaf teachers and the keeping of ASL and how information about Deaf culture is routinely kept from parents with newly diagnosed deaf children.

The book has its uplifting parts. For instance, Holcomb inspirationally chronicles the journeys and accomplishments of diverse Deaf Americans as well as international Deaf people. Readers will also learn how technology has been a boon and bane. Videophones , text pagers, email, instant messaging, VRS, VRI, captioning, voice recognition technology and the like have provided access to communication but cochlear surgeries, auditory technology such as cochlear implants, hearing aids, and genetic engineering have sought to eradicate the Deaf culture as well as stimulate the economy by capitalizing on treatments for deafness for financial gain.   Parents and professionals interested in Deaf culture will benefit from this book.

Medical school students, doctors, audiologists and Au.D. candidates and other professionals who unknowingly impose “contrived solutions” on Deaf people rather than involving Deaf adults in decisions affecting young deaf children may find this book refreshing and enlightening.

The book is available through Amazon.com by going here.

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

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.

Militarized Cops and Drug War Victims

By BitcoDavid

Cheryl Ann Stillwell. Image: the Grey Train

The Huffington Post recently featured a story by Radley Balko, author of Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces. The article centers around the death of Cheryl Ann Stillwell, a middle-aged single woman, shot to death in a police raid gone awry.

According to Balko, Stillwell was a recluse, afraid of the drug activity she witnessed in her neighborhood. Stillwell did own a handgun, and she had installed surveillance video equipment in and around her home. But it wasn’t the undesirable element whom she needed to fear, it was a militarized SWAT team, enforcing a warrant with no name and no address – merely a description of her house as given by an unidentified informant, seeking to save his own skin.

Image: Narconon

This tragic tale is really a he said, she said of complex lies and deception. A story of police so bent on capturing drug dealers, that they will rely on coercion and hearsay. Stillwell, apparently was on a doctor’s prescription for Oxycontin, of which she gave 2 pills to a neighbor who claimed to be suffering from pain. Shortly afterward, the neighbor was arrested, and in order to cop a deal, turned in Stillwell.

At five-thirty in the morning, on December 22, 2005, SWAT team agents armed to the teeth, kicked in her front door. It was to be one of 3 raids, that day. In a haze of sleep, Stillwell went for her gun, but forensic evidence reveals she didn’t fire it. One of the officers claims to have seen her finger twitch on the trigger – in the darkened house. She died in a hail of gunfire.

And in Florida, to this day, all drug related search and arrest warrants are carried out by SWAT teams.

But Cheryl Ann Stillwell isn’t the only victim here. As America’s insatiable desire for narcotics increases, coupled with her insane need to criminalize drug use – as she seeks to lock up more and more of her citizens while further militarizing the police in the War on Drugs, we all become the victims. Cheryl Ann Stillwell never got her day in court. She never had her Miranda rights read her. At 5:30 in the morning, a small paramilitary force – a junta – busted into her home and killed her in her bed. And we are OK with that.

To learn more, go to Raid of the Day, or Drug Raid Gone Wrong. To pre-order Balko’s book, go to Amazon.

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.

Book Review of Outcasts and Angels: The New Anthologogy of Deaf Characters in Literature by Edna Edith Sayers, Galluadet University Press (2012).

By Jean F. Andrews

CHOICE is a publication which reviews books for academic settings. This book appeared in the April 2013 issue of CHOICE.

Outcasts and angels: the new anthology of deaf characters in literature, ed. by Edna Edith Sayers. Gallaudet, 2012. 361p bibl afp ISBN 9781563685392 pbk, $35.00; ISBN 9781563685408 e-book, $35.00

 

User:ProtoplasmaKid explaining Wikipedia and W...

Explaining Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects for deaf and hearing impaired children through an interpreter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fiction helps readers know and understand cultures other than their own in more empathetic and compassionate ways than informational nonfiction can’t accomplish. This anthology does just that. Edna Sayers (Professor of English at Gallaudet Univ.) gathered 32 short stories published from 1729 to 2009 that feature deaf characters. Through clever plotting and character creation, the authors of these stories reveal attitudes of hearing people toward sign language, the challenges and limitations of lip-reading, the difficulty of understanding deaf speech, and the infantilization of deaf people.

Sayers notes that the only story in this anthology that advocates for signing is Joanne Greenberg‘s And Sarah Laughed. Sayers also offers writers a useful formula for what she calls a “nonexploitative treatment” of deaf characters in literature: there are at least two deaf characters in a story, these deaf characters converse with each other, and their topic of conversation is about something other than being deaf or the deaf community. This stimulating compilation of short stories with deaf characters will endear, enlighten, provoke, and amuse all readers. This book is highly recommended for undergraduates and graduate students; professionals; general readers.

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

Interview With Glenn Langohr, Author of Prison Riot

By BitcoDavid

While reading Prison Riot, I was struck by how similar this story is to the classic Melville novella, Billy Budd. Of course, the latter was written in a much more stilted voice, and was built on Biblical allegory – but the thread of the story is very much the same.

Here we have a power struggle between a cruel and sadistic Corrections Lieutenant, and a fair minded but ineffectual Warden. The victim in that power struggle ends up being the innocent – the powerless everyman, whom in the Melville book was represented by Billy, and in Prison Riot is represented by B.J. and his friend, Giant.

Where the analogy breaks down however, is that Billy Budd was fiction.

Suspension of disbelief is not necessary when the writer actually lived through the hell of the California prison system. As a student of literature, I can think of no author, better suited to tell the story of incarceration than a former inmate. Glenn Langohr’s writing is filled with tension, vivid characterization, in the moment conflict and a true pathos that dispels stereotypical thought. The reader sees his characters as people – not just inmates.

From the entertainment standpoint, Prison Riot is filled with all the stuff that a good novel needs. There’s plenty of action, violence, conflict and tension. From the educational point of view, one can use this book as a blueprint for how to behave, should the reader ever face the misfortune of confinement in an American penal facility. For example, at one point in a conversation with a fellow inmate, B.J. is asked a question that he sees as a violation of his personal space – the kind of thing that just wouldn’t happen in the outside world. His response? “I know how to do prison time.” Of all the prison books I’ve read – and there’s been a plethora of them – I’ve never read one that delved so deeply into the social mores and memes of prison life.

The book is short – only about 30,000 words. His writing style is quick and terse. The words race off the page. One can read this book in a sitting, but the impact will stay with you long after you’ve put it down.

As a writer myself, what I like best about Langohr is his voice. He writes for readers, not for the dictionary, and he peppers his books with argot. In short, this book should be a College textbook for all students of Law Enforcement, and a users manual for the rest of us. Read this book, and internalize it, and you’ll be able to walk the yard with confidence – and you’ll never sit at the wrong table.

–BitcoDavid

***

The Destruction after the Fremantle Prison Rio...

The Destruction after the Fremantle Prison Riots 4 January 1988 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BD: You refer to the term “Block Guns.” Could you describe these? I take it from one of your paragraphs, that they shoot some sort of inert charge (apparently made of wood) or blank round, but can also accept live ammo. Can you expound on that?

GL: Great question. I didn’t explain it well enough in Prison Riot. The prison guards in California State prisons have a supply of block guns in the gun towers. Each building has a gun tower that overlooks the interior of the building, and also has a view of the yard where that building releases inmates. The block guns look like shotguns, but only shoot wooden blocks. They don’t shoot live rounds. The tower guards also have rifles that shoot live rounds – that legally, they are only supposed to use when inmates are using deadly weapons, not for fist fights. The block guns are used for fist fights.

The wooden blocks are compacted into a circular shape about the size of a silver dollar, but are a little thicker then a ping pong ball. The block guns are extrememly effective – in part because of the noise. In the building, or on the yard, the echo “booms” so loud that inmates inside every other building on the yard can hear it.

At Centinella State prison in Imperial Valley on the California and Mexican border, the prison yards are close enough together that inmates can hear the block gun go off on other yards. At Centinella it is an almost daily occurrence. As an inmate you become trained to expect it shortly after you hear the alarm go off, followed by a tower guard yelling, “GET DOWN!! GET DOWN!!” and then, “BOOM!! BOOM!!”

To give you a feel for the prison politics at Centinella, the Mexican inmates are ordered [by their shot callers] not to stop fighting until the block gun has gone off. Most of the time they keep going for about 30 seconds after the “BOOM” for respect and effect. That means you can expect to see a fight or stabbing on the yard, continue until the alarm screeches a whining noise – that rises and falls in decibels – followed by the order to get down; followed by a swarm of a couple dozen prison guards running to the incident, with about every third guard carrying a block gun.

At close range, block guns hurt bad and will knock the wind out of you and put you down. At more than around 40 feet, the block begins to come apart. Seeing it up close so many times, I can tell you that it breaks apart into circular rings and sizzles – burning  on the ground – on fire from the explosion sending it.

Prison Tactical Team (riot control)

Prison Tactical Team (riot control) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I find it interesting that in your descriptions of the riot – you make it clear that the guards are seen as a lower priority then the “enemy” inmates. Did you find that to be the case? In other words, was it common that an inmate would attack even at a time when an armed guard was standing there?

With this question you are getting really deep into prison life politics. It is the most eerie feeling to know a prison riot is coming well before it comes. Now you are getting into a gang riot or a Race riot. The gangs are where the pressure and most of the decisions are coming from. The prison guards don’t matter at all, compared to orders. To give you a better understanding, pretend you are in a California prison and you are told by your race, “If you ever see another race attacking one of us, you have to help and fight. If you don’t, you will be considered weak and you will be attacked.” This is the common mentality of every single race and to me, an ex prisoner of over 10 years, understandable and respectable.

I guess to fully understand this kind of thinking you have to picture being housed race by race, as far as who is in each cell. To watch your own race get outnumbered, attacked and possibly killed, while you are just watching, is a guarantee that you will be attacked by your own race later, as a form of discipline and order. So in that regard, as an inmate, the guard with the gun in the tower, or even 10 feet away in the chow hall, isn’t there at all.

Since we are getting so deep into prison life politics amoung races and gangs, I will explain it as it relates to other then race war and gang war situations. Lets say that I’m a White inmate and I watch another White inmate get attacked by a group of Black inmates – and instead of rushing to his aid, I follow the guards orders to “GET DOWN,” and just get on my stomach and watch the pummeling. For being in the area and not helping, I am in big trouble. In that situation, when the order is given to get me, the inmates will pick a spot to handle the business. That means that it will be done on the yard, as far away form the guards as possible. At times they – the guards, just can’t be avoided.  We call those suicide missions.

There has been a lot of discussion in the tech world and the media – over the past decade – of use of non-lethal but highly effective methods of stopping this kind of thing. Stuff like foam, high-pressure water, low frequency sound and pancake bullets – that sort of thing. In your experience, was any of this newer technology ever employed, or did the guards stay within the older framework of guns and gas?

While I was in prison from 1990, on and off through 2008, before I found a new path in writing books, I saw some changes in those deadly force measures. Keep in mind I’m talking California State prisons. First of all, the pepper spray works! It isn’t the kind of pepper spray you can imagine if all you are used to is what the police use on the streets. California prison pepper spray at one point killed a number of inmates because it was so pure that it stopped peoples breathing, caused shock and heart attacks. Somewhere in the mid 1990’s they finally toned it down slightly.

Don’t picture a little pepper spray bottle, picture a small fire extenquisher. Picture inmates drenched in so much pepper spray that it looks like they have been painted orange. I’ve seen white shirts and bald heads completely drenched in dripping orange fire. The pepper spray is so strong that if a fight is going down in the building, all of the inmates inside the cells will start coughing.  They will stand at the cell watching, with their faces covered with shirts like bandanas.

The next level of force was the old fashioned billy clubs. New laws changed the shape of them from the same kind the police use on the streets to higher tech ones that are spring loaded and eject a thinner steel outward. Those disappeared later. As mentioned earlier the guns start with the block guns and graduate to “LIVE ROUNDS COMING NEXT,” usually with that exact warning.

I have finally got around to writing about life at Centinella, where I spent my last amount of prison time and will use an example of a respectable gun tower guard. I had made it my business to develop conversations with gun tower guards, because I figured they would see me in a human light. I tried to pick their brains and make them laugh. One prison guard I talked to was an ex-military sharp shooter. When the Mexican inmates and Black inmates went off in a yard riot, that everyone knew was coming, that tower guard never fired a live round. That riot was a very serious one and prison made weapons were scattered all over the yard. More than a dozen inmates had puncture wounds from being stabbed. He probably should have fired live rounds, even if he only fired into the ground. But he had a lot of pressure on him to dance that fine line of which inmates can I righteously say are trying to kill. Later he was laughed at by many of the other guards as weak.

That Mexican and Black war was a long way from done. The next time they came off lockdown to wage another round, that same guard fired a live round in a smaller riot. He fired it through the middle of the basketball backboards right where the red square is.

I get the distinct impression that the guards’ reactions to you would have been no different, had you not been involved in the fighting. From your writing, I felt that they just kind of swept in and mopped up – paying no heed to innocence or guilt. In other words, even if you had hunkered down with your hands over your head, you still would have been tied up with zip ties and carted off to the SHU. Is that true, or am I missing something?

You have that part right on. In a riot like that they take everyone in the area and sort it out in ad-seg. To be found guilty of “being a combatant” it takes the written reports of eye witness accounts from the guards, pepper spray proof dripping off the inmate, injuries, hand evidence from punching or using a weapon and the very rare testimony from another inmate.

It’s clear to me that the financial rewards benefit the guards in these situations. Overtime, Hazard pay, etc. Bearing in mind that neither of us are corrections professionals, in your opinion, were the guards complicit in these riots? Did they see the financial benefits as incentives to foster dis-harmony among the many inmate groups?

Fantastic question and hard answer. Yes I have painted that picture in a number of my books that this is the case, and yes it does happen. However, it is rare where the guards do it in an evil way. For people who haven’t been there, this must be so hard to understand, but even the prison guards become affected by all the violence and pressure.

There are so many examples I can use of this but to be fair to how hard their jobs are, they can know a riot is coming just as well as the inmates – because a tiny percentage of the inmates send them written notes, telling them it is going to happen – yet they can’t stop it. What are they going to do, ship hundreds of inmates to other yards every time? I have been on over 25 different prison yards. In my experiences, I have seen guards get evil and instigate wars to continue, by what they say while we are locked down. When one side wins a yard fight in a big way – let’s say the Mexican inmates are attacked by the Black inmates and get their asses handed to them – and a Mexican veteran prison guard says things in the building like, “You guys aren’t getting off lockdown for years. You know that if you mess with one bean you get the whole burrito.” That is putting pressure on both races to keep the war going.

The prison guards and gun towers can pop cells open inside the building where both races are let out, in those situations, and the war reignites with what is called, on site orders. That kind of situation keeps the yard on lockdown and that hazard pay – time and a half continues.

Again, to be fair to the 99% of the prison guards who don’t deserve to be painted this way, it is a rare fact of California prison life. But, besides the extra money incentives, and overtime control, the prison guards are following a divide and conquer strategy because they would rather see the inmates fighting against each other versus fighting them!

There are 3 reasons that I can see for becoming a prison guard. A) One could have an anti-crime hard-on. Say one’s family or one’s self were victims of crime, for example. B) Money. It’s possibly the best paying and most in demand area of law enforcement. C) A genuine desire to help people turn their lives around. However, several psychological experiments conducted over the last half century would indicate that regardless of the motivations for joining up, the tendency is to move towards a culture of cruelty and corruption. Based on your experience, would you say you found that to be true? Were there any guards that you thought highly of?

Yes I found many that I respected and thought highly of. Most of those either usually looked like they could have been in prison themselves, and or they were militarily trained pros. As mentioned earlier I studied them like my life depended on it and this became getting to know them through conversation.

In California prisons you have regular prison guards, tower guards, free staff workers who work the clothing, food and other shops, Inmate Gang Investigators, Security Escorts, Special Teams for searches and cell extractions and Counselers that go all the way up to the Warden. They are hardly ever all on the same side themselves. Inmates are constantly studying this angle to find cracks in their structure. How do you think all the cell phones are landing in prisoners hands? How about a percentage of the dope and pretty much all of the tabacco? How about inside info?

For the most part most of the prison guards are there to earn a paycheck. On the serious level 4 yards where the inmate population is more then half lifers, there isn’t much room for a prison guard with a hard on to be disrespectful to inmates because he knows he will get stabbed. In a place where violence and pressure are a constant, moment by moment, 24-7 affair – 365 days a year, the senses are hardened and the culture becomes emotionless.

What is the relationship between I.C.C. and the store? You waited for a long time to get I.C.C. so you could buy essentials like toothpaste and deodorant. Why is it viewed as necessary for an inmate to be classified before he’s allowed store privileges?

Because an inmate has to be classified to a certain level for yard and store priviledges. I.C.C. is a collection of prison administrators mostly made up of counselors who do the paperwork. That part of the process is where they determine special needs situations. Lets say that an inmate gets off the bus and enters a prison, that person has to be cleared for yard before they get to go to yard and get store. I.C.C. looks through the file to determine if there are any enemies or reasons not to put the inmate on the yard. For instance, a well know rapist, police officer doing time, or even Charlie Manson, can’t just be put on a mainline prison yard because they are all consided, points to earn and will get stabbed. For that and many other reasons, I.C.C. keeps inmates locked down, without priveledges, until that process is determined.

Once determined, and you are on the mainline, and a riot or any form of discipline puts you in the hole-ad-seg (SHU), you have to go through that process all over again to get yard and store in there.

I get that it was terribly important for the I.C.C. to classify you as what you were – White inmates, but could you spell out for our readers why the Southern Mexican label would have been so detrimental.

In the true story I wrote, Prison Riot – I was involved in a massive riot that made the news at Solano in 1998. The southern Mexicans were outnumbered by the northern Mexicans and my friend Steve Smith, also known as Giant and myself decided to lend a hand to the southern Mexicans because we were friends with many of them.

Let me make this very clear, I’m a White man who doesn’t gang bang or claim a gang, and I helped them because I don’t like to see people bullied or outnumbered. Giant felt the same way. The problem with being 2 White guys in the midst of almost 100 Mexicans at war in a riot is that the prison guards had to assume we were what is called, Sleepers, who were Mexican gangsters. The massive problem for us as White inmates to be classified as southern Mexicans in the hole, is that when our SHU term ran its course, we were going to be housed as southern Mexicans. That is a massive problem.

Imagine getting off the bus at a new prison, being put in a cell with a southern Mexican, and having to tell him, “Look I’m sorry to disturb you but I’m a White inmate so please don’t tell me about who you guys are stabbing tomorrow.” On the other side of that coin you are also going to have to explain to the rest of the White inmates that you are indeed a White inmate!

I’d be very interested in some of your views regarding the impact of America’s drug war on these racial politics within the prison system. Could you give me a brief paragraph showing a connection between the Drug Culture in the U.S. and the struggle as it is currently playing out in Mexico – and could you tie that to the California prison system?

Perfect question to add to the last one, to show you how crazy it is –because of the drug war and the direct connection to it, breeding more violence and gangs, under the current policy where we incarcerate drug offenders!

In California prisons southern Mexican inmates are under enormous amounts of pressure to straight up be gangsters, and that breeds an army of gangs. That is also the case for every other race, maybe to a lesser extent. The amount of gangs in southern California is staggering and their reach is long. By not getting to the root of the problem – drugs and poverty – prison is the breeding grounds. People see the news that the Mexican cartels are powerful and they don’t understand that in California’s prisons, those cartel members don’t have the most influence. So if I’m in a cell with a southern Mexican all of those politics are crossing into a White inmate’s loyalties.

Back to the drug war breeding gangs. By incarcerating low level drug offenders we are turning an addiction into an affliction much harder to escape, where gangs and violence are the calling cards. The problem gets bigger when these displaced, tattooed down, harder to get a job, mentally taxed from post traumatic stress, human beings get released without any job training or housing placement.

Now you mentioned Mexico’s drug war also. Most people don’t know this but in Mexico it is legal to have up to an ounce of Meth, Heroin, Cocaine etc. You just can’t bring it to sporting events or sell it! I used to hear this on the radio in my cell in Centinella, on the border of Mexico, and scratch my head in exasperation. But guess what. By decriminalizing drugs you take the power out of them! Look at Canada, their policing of drug addicts is more of a nursing program to get them into treatment. If we treat drug addiction as a disease, which it is now looked at like alcoholism, we are being not only smarter, but more humane. We shouldn’t call drug addicts criminals. For those of you with kids who have become addicted you understand.

English: Aerial view of San Quentin State Pris...

Aerial view of San Quentin State Prison, in Marin County, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kind of a side note here, but the homemade lighter you spoke of is actually called a carbon-arc lamp. It was one of the first lamps used for film projection in the 1890s. Necessity truly is the mother of invention. Can you think of some other prison fabrications you created that were of equal technical interest?

The Asian inmates are the most advanced, go figure. They made lighters with batteries that were almost like a regular lighter! We also used salt water lighters. Inmates can make cell phone chargers and so much more, but I personally am not that talented.

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.

Nowhere Man In Nowhere Land

By Jean F. Andrews

John Lennon’s sad lyrics in “Nowhere Man In Nowhere Land,” resonate in the life of Junius Wilson (1908-2001). Wilson was a Black Deaf man who was incarcerated for a rape he did not commit. His first six years at the State Hospital for the Colored Insane developed into a total of 76 years. During this time, he was surgically castrated . Back then, deaf and disabled people in jails and mental hospitals were considered “undesirables.” Even when Wilson was found to be mentally competent in the 1960’s, he was still held in the mental hospital because hospital staff did not know where to send him.

As a “nowhere man” invisibility surrounded Wilson for his whole life with hearing people. Born deaf in 1908 to a hearing family, his parents did not know how to communicate with him. They struggled with their deaf son’s anger and frustration.

But Wilson’s “nowhere man” status changed in 1916. At this time, at the age of 8, he entered the North Carolina School for the Colored Deaf and Blind in Raleigh, the first school for Blacks in the U.S. Here he learned a language—the Black deaf sign language or “Raleigh Black signs.” Through storytelling, folklore, humor passed down from deaf peers and adults in the Black deaf community, he acquired language. Here he learned and used “black signs” that are different than “white signs,” as Black deaf persons were segregated from White Deaf persons.

At the Black Deaf school, Wilson was “Somewhere.” He found his Black Deaf identity as he was immersed in a community of people like him. He found his “home” at the deaf school. Now he was “visible” to his peers and the adults around him. He could express his wants, desires and feelings.

But all this abruptly changed in 1924. As a student, he went to the fair in town and did not come back when he was supposed to, disobeying his supervisors. He was a teenager, expressing his independence and rebelling against the tight rules of the school. For this infraction, the school’s response was harsh. Wilson was expelled.

http://ifp.nyu.edu/category/history/page/3/

North Carolina State Hospital for the Negro Insane
http://ifp.nyu.edu/category/history/page/3/

His “nowhere man” status returned as he was back home with his family. Being an independent teenager, he frequently rebelled. He exploded in anger and frustration because none of his family knew sign language or understood him.
In 1925 he was accused of attempting to rape his cousin and found to be insane at a lunacy hearing. There was no interpreter present to get his side of the story. No one was there to assess his mental competence. He entered “nowhere land,” again when he was committed to the North Carolina’s State Hospital for the colored insane in 1925. The hearing hospital culture and community did not recognize Wilson’s language or Black deaf culture.

Indeed, Wilson’s deafness and disability made him the “nowhere man in nowhere land,” his status for much of his life. He was forced to work on the farm at the State hospital doing for decades doing what others wanted him to do. His education, his potential, everything he had to create his own life with his own aspirations and dreams were taken from him. While incarcerated, he could not hear what the others were ordering him to do. He could not communicate with the other inmates. His deaf cultural behaviors of touching and tapping people may have been misunderstood.

Chart showing number of sterilizations in North Carolina From 1928 to 1983.http://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/NC/NC.html

Chart showing number of sterilizations in North Carolina From 1928 to 1983.
http://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/NC/NC.html

In 1932, he was surgically castrated as many other inmates who were considered criminally insane, mentally deficient, sexually perverted and deaf and dumb. Institutions were practicing eugenics. Thus the stereotypes of people with disabilities as being “oversexed,” or “animalistic,” were prevalent, as explained by Susan Burch and Hannah Joyner, in their book, “Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson.”

In 1960, the staff at the hospital realized that Wilson was not insane but they did not know how to bring him back into society. His lifetime at the hospital had made him dependent and vulnerable without language or an education. Finally, in the 1990’s, the social worker John Wasson found out that he was not insane and lawsuits resulted.

The lawsuits resulted in a house, a driver and a pension for Wilson. According to Wilson’s biographer’s Burch and Joyner, he lived out his life still at the hospital but in his own private cottage with his own private chauffer to take him shopping and to town.

Given an education, opportunity, language and immersion in the Deaf community, Wilson may have made a very different life than the one he lived out at the mental hospital. He may have been a “somewhere man” is a “somewhere land.” He could have learned a trade, got married, had children, and developed hobbies. He could have “had a point of view,” and his world could have been “under his command.” He would have reaped the benefits all of us do such as having an education, interests, opportunity, and support networks of family, friends and community to realize our potential.

Even though Wilson lived during a different historical time faced with such issues as Jim Crow segregation, eugenics and institutionalization, injustices for deaf inmates are still prevalent today. Indeed, there are many deaf inmates who are “nowhere man”, deprived of their Deaf culture, community and language during their arrests, bookings and incarcerations. They are in “the “nowhere land” of police stations, jails and prisons without have the same access to information and services that hearing inmates have.

Source: Susan Burch & Hannah Joyner (2007). Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson. Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press.

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

Further Reading:

https://www.google.com/search?q=Unspeakable%3A+The+Story+of+Junius+Wilson

 

A Review of Glenn Langohr’s “Underdog”

By BitcoDavid

Who better to speak to the horrors of a broken prison system than a former inmate? Glenn Langohr’s inside view of life behind bars, in some of California’s most brutal prison facilities, is an eye opening, day in the life view that no other author could provide. Through his eyes, we see the inner workings of a system that few of us ever see, and all of us dread.

His opening salvo is a hat-tip to my other cause celebre, the mistreatment of our most unfortunate of fur children – shelter animals. He uses this chapter though, as a lead-in to a story of brutal torture, inept administration, racism, deception, derision, divisiveness, prejudice and injustice. In Underdog, Langohr makes the point that the time spent breaking inmates could be much better spent, building – or rebuilding – Human beings.

List of criminal gangs in Los Angeles, California

The 37 page book – more a novella, really – takes the reader on a first person account of a prison riot, triggered, both by a power vacuum within the heavily segregated racial schema, and the rampant Heroin use that has become such an integral part of prison life. From there, we’re made privy to a lockdown in the hole and the rabid need to classify all inmates as gang members. We’re told in exacting detail, the methodology used by gang investigators to determine an individual’s status – tattoos, self-identification, and the word of other prisoners. No burden of proof, no advocacy, no defense. You’re branded a gang member and thrown into solitary without so much as a how do you do.

The first demand the prisoners wanted addressed was the process Pelican Bay uses to validate gang members to SHU terms without end. They went on to say that prisoners are accused of being active participants of prison gangs using false or highly dubious evidence, where in the isolated SHU, their only way out is to debrief and that it provides false information, wrongly landing other prisoners in the SHU, in an endless cycle.

English: This is a picture of a Latin King sho...

This is a picture of a Latin King showing his Latin King tattoo–a lion with a crown–and signifying the five point star with his hands, which stands for the “Almighty” in the “Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation”. Public Domain photo.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Underdog, we’re given first hand views of several California facilities ending with the infamous Pelican Bay, during the height of the hunger strike that made the name of that institution a household word – the Western Attica.

I found Langohr’s voice to be open and brutally honest. His prose is neither stilted nor flowery. He writes about his subject in plain English, and peppers his work with the argot of the places that had so much impact on his life. Through Glenn, we learn the meaning of terms like off the shelf and IGI Gooners.

There is a marvelous first person tension to his writing. He’s not an academic writing about the prison system for a college text book, he’s a former prisoner and activist, writing about it for you and me.

I felt handcuffs placed around my wrist and heard the noise of them being tightened and then felt the steel bite into my skin. I was pulled backwards out of the visiting booth and steered in a half circle.
I said, “What are you going to do, arrest me for finding out you torture prisoners?”
Parker responded, “We’re escorting you off the prison. We’ll get you when you come back to prison, almost all do.”

You can contact Glenn Langohr via Email: rollcallthebook@gmail.com
Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00571NY5A

But best of all, Glenn has agreed to become a contributor to DeafInPrison.com. We look forward to reading many great posts from Glenn. In summation to this review, I’d say that if he writes for us, half as well as he writes in his books, we’re in for some great reading.

English: Pelican Bay State Prison, looking wes...

Pelican Bay State Prison, looking west, taken July 27, 2009, from 6,500 feet MSL (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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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