Why Isn’t Felix Free by Now?

By Pat Bliss

Felix could say he cried out for help to anyone who would listen. Ever since he found out – after arriving in prison and  having the trial transcripts read to him by his cell mate – that his sister testified against him. All the time thinking, during the trial she was helping him, because he could not discern the words spoken by the witnesses, while testifying. Felix relied on his attorney, when he would ask him, “What are they saying?”  “Everything will be OK,” the lawyer would say. He also saw his brother Frank come into the courtroom, and was told he pled the fifth and that is why he didn’t testify – nor help him go home. Felix did not know what Frank had said in his own trial a year earlier.

Felix could say that he relied on a prison law clerk’s advice when he got Frank’s first affidavit in 1989. It stated that Frank killed the victim, that Tina and Ray participated in the crime and that he, Felix, was completely innocent. The law clerk misfiled that document and it was sent back to Felix. Felix thought the regular letter from the Judge was a denial and he put the affidavit in a box, only to be remembered again in 1997 when I took his case. Felix could only read at an elementary level at that time.

You could say his legal team made a wrong decision in 1999 by withdrawing the second affidavit from Frank. In all honesty the team were under the impression the deaf issue (6th Amendment violation) was valid, as it was allowed to proceed to the Evidentiary Hearing. They did not know the Judge, and the State, already knew it was going to be stricken. Due to a turn of events, it was not the right time to present the new evidence. Time proved that.  But alas, this court action was denied.

You could say that it took too long for the inmates – to whom Frank confessed that he put his innocent younger brother in prison, so he could avoid the death penalty – to send in their affidavits. Eventually many of them were transferred to where Felix was. Most had never met Felix before. A couple of the inmates had – over the years – been in the same prison with Felix, but they never knew each other. When they met Felix, and remembered what Frank had told them, they felt obligated to write affidavits of what they heard. These came to me between 2002-2004.

You could say that at the 2006 Evidentiary Hearing, where Frank confessed to Felix’s innocence, and how Felix got tangled into the crime by Frank making him sign a pawn ticket, that the Court got it wrong, by not believing Frank’s confession. The Court did not say it didn’t believe the confession. The Order stated it did not believe Frank,  because Frank had lied at his own trial in 1982. He lied to his attorney, to the jury, and to the Judge – making him not credible in the eyes of the Court. Frank’s whole testimony was tossed out. And the appeal was unsuccessful, without an opinion. It closed the door for any more appellate procedures on the case both in state and federal court.

But I  suggest that the Courts, nor the State want to concede they have convicted an innocent man. This is not a DNA case. If it was, it would be over by now. The jury got it wrong. There was no consideration for the time factors and defense witnesses. The Judge got it wrong. Felix’s trial attorney could have done better, but he did what he could to alert the court of his client’s limited ability to help in his own defense. And he asked not to proceed to trial. The Judge knew Felix had a hearing problem, he could have ordered a sign interpreter. This case though, was unique in 1983.  Now we are in 2014.  The Governor has the authority to right that wrong – if he wants to and so far he doesn’t. And Felix’s sister, Tina – in May of this year – had her chance to right the wrong, and help her younger brother, Felix. She chose not to. We can’t blame her, really. There is no statute of limitations on a murder case, and she has enjoyed her freedom these 32+ years.

In a nutshell, this is why Felix is still in prison. Publicity helps draw attention, which can be invaluable, but it cannot get anyone out of prison. There are only three ways that can happen 1) the case goes back to court on some issue that is viable or 2) the Governor and Clemency Cabinet grants clemency or 3) the Parole Board grants parole.  Our next proceeding is the Parole Board hearing, possibly in January of 2015. The efforts of the legal team are in full force to make this third avenue a reality -  your support inspires us.  Thank you.

–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.

Coping With Innocence After Death Row

By Marsha Graham

The following embedded PDF written by by Saundra D. Westervelt and Kimberly J. Cook, examines the struggles of exonerated inmates, as they attempt to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

Marsha Graham is the driving force behind several blogs, among them AnotherBoomerBlog. She is a good friend to DeafInPrison.com and we would be lost without her support. When she’s not blogging, she’s a committed activist and attorney.

I breathe, drive, take photographs, and write – not necessarily in that order.

There But For the Grace of God…

By BitcoDavid

Picture this. You’re on your way somewhere, when a police cruiser comes speeding up from behind you, and lunges up onto the sidewalk, cutting you off. Just as you stop in your tracks, another cruiser does the same maneuver, behind you. A third, boxes you in by stopping curbside, on your left. In unison, the cops jump out of their cruisers, guns drawn, and yelling. “Freeze! Get on the ground! Face Down!”

Website delivered a "404." Unable to cite photo credit.

Website delivered a “404.” Unable to cite photo credit.

You’re standing there, completely stunned and unable to move – unable, even to make sense of their commands. “I said get down! Get down on the ground NOW!” You hear one say, “if you don’t lie down you scumbag, I’ll blow you in half!”

“What’s going on, Officers? What did I do?”

“Shut up! Shut up and lie down or we’ll shoot!”

You lie down. Face down on the frigid sidewalk – you lie down.

“What did I do?” You feel one large man sit on top of you, his knee digging into your back. Your arms are violently pulled behind you, and with crystal clarity, you hear the ratcheting click of the cuffs as they lock into place.

Nobody has told you anything. Nobody has even asked your name. Someone or some thing is droning out your Miranda rights. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say, can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to…”

“… Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you?”

“I didn’t do anything. I don’t want a lawyer. I don’t want to remain silent. I didn’t do anything.”

“Just answer yes or no. Do you understand your rights?”

Defeated even before the bell, you nod your assent, accompanied with a croaked out, “yes.”

Now you’re in the back of a police cruiser. The only clear memory you have is how much it hurt when they picked you up from the ground, by pulling at your cuffed arms. A searing scorch shot through your shoulders and upper back. You thought they were pulling your arms out from the sockets.

“Can you at least tell me what I did?” You ask, as the cruiser rolls on for what seems like hours.

“Please sit back and be quiet, sir. You’ll get all that information.” You hear him lean over and say to his partner, “God, I hate the talkie ones.”

News coverage showing the number of arrests in one day in one county in Florida.http://baycountypress.com/2013/01/29/arrest-logs-and-mug-shots-for-bay-county-florida-jan-28-29-2013/

News coverage showing 40 arrests in one day in one county in Florida, 12 of which were drug related.

A few more jokes, and good-natured conversation between them – as though you didn’t exist at all – and you’re at your first booking destination. You’re walked past rows of desks and computers, and finally placed in a cell. “Turn around,” somebody barks, and through a small slot in the barred door, your cuffs are finally removed. You feel like you just got off the Rack. Your only thought is how grateful you are to have those cuffs off.

Scared yet? If you’re a young Black male, in an urban environment, you stand a 1 in 4 chance of this happening to you.

You’re alone. You’re alone and although this nightmare has only just begun, you’re already broken. You’d say or do anything, if you thought it would help end this.

One of the cops – you recognize him. He more or less took the point on your arrest – keeps coming back to your cell and asking you pointless questions. “How old are you?” “What kind of car do you own?” “Do you live alone?” Finally, at one of his stops, you ask him, “Hey, can I go to the bathroom?”

“Gimme a few minutes, and we’ll get someone to take care of that for you.”

You wait for what seems like another hour. Finally, someone comes and tells you to turn around for cuffing. “I have to go to the bathroom,” you say as he clicks the cuffs home, and unlocks the cell door. “Yeah, yeah. We’ll get you there. Just be patient and don’t make any trouble.”

He brings you to a desk, where he removes one of the cuffs and locks it to an eyelet. You’re chained to this desk. After about 10 minutes, another officer shows up. Moving like a glacier, he takes a form out of a drawer and inserts it into a 1960s vintage, whirring and clanking, typewriter. “Name.” It’s not a question. It’s a monosyllabic utterance, drenched in boredom. You give him your name.

After you’ve given this man your address, your phone number, your identifiable marks and tattoos and the name of the first girl you ever got to 2nd with, you tell him that the other officer promised, you could go to the bathroom. He looks askance at you – his face, silently calling you a pain in the ass – and gestures to another officer. This one takes the cuff out of the eyelet, and walks you down the hall to a large lavatory. He leaves the one cuff on your wrist, but lets you go in, alone.

It’s been a good 4 hours since you were arrested.

After you’re done in the bathroom, you’re brought back to the cell. Still, no one has told you what you’re being charged with, or given you any pertinent information. To them, this is all business as usual, but to you, it’s the scariest day of your life. A simple nugget of friendly information might go a long way toward assuaging that fear.

More time passes. Eventually, someone comes, cuffs you up again and puts you in a van. You’re on your way to your second booking destination.

Entrance and egress is provided through back doors and special causeways, so you don’t even know the addresses of the places their pin-balling you in and out of. Now you’re in a much larger facility – a holding pen of some sort. Other people are in there with you. You’re actually more scared of them than you are of the cops, so you just sit quietly in your little corner and wait. They are all doing the same.

It’s now been 8 full hours since you were arrested. You’re tired, hungry, lonely, cold and afraid. Your Wallet, cellphone, car keys, watch and other personal effects were all taken from you. Your belt and shoes were taken from you. You’ve been given some foam rubber slippers, and other than pants, shirt and underwear, you have nothing. A cop comes to the door of the pen and barks out your name. You stand up, and he tells you, “You’ve been ID-ed. You’re moving into interrogation.”

Here’s where you get your proverbial one phone call. He takes you – cuffed – into a room with a large number of pay phones. He removes one of the cuffs and clicks it into another eyelet, this one anchored to the phone stall. He hands you a coin, sufficient for a 3-minute local call. Not knowing any alternative that makes sense, you call your BFF. In response to her natural question, you yell to the four winds, “Hey, where am I?” “_______________ County detention facility. _____________ ____________ Street,” someone replies from the ether. After you hang up, you wait for someone to come and unchain you from the phone.

You’re stripped, cavity searched, and issued an orange jumpsuit. You’re put in a small, ill-lit, windowless room with a large mirror on one wall. Other than 2 chairs and the table you are chained to, there is nothing in the room. You wait.

You wait.

Finally, a team of interrogators comes into the room.

It seems, the more they talk – the more trouble you’re in. They deluge you with questions, show you mountains of unrecognizable photographs, badger you and accuse you. They tag team you with the good cop/bad cop routine. They threaten you with unfathomable torments, and try to convince you that confession is your only hope. They lie to you. They use your own body’s physical needs, such as food and sleep, as weapons against you. They eat in front of you, and drink coffee. They blow cigarette smoke in your face. It may be 12, 13 even 14 hours since you’ve had anything to eat. Sign this, and we’ll go get you a sandwich.

You don’t sign. Not because you’re some sort of staunch individualist who knows that his own innocence will eventually win out, but because you don’t have a clue what the hell they’re talking about. On the way back to your newest cell, they – jokingly – threaten to throw you down a flight of concrete stairs.

It’s Friday night. The earliest you can be arraigned is Monday afternoon.

The arraignment isn’t your day in court, your chance to stand up and speak on your behalf – while a deeply committed, and brilliant country lawyer snaps his suspenders, and challenges a jury. It’s 15 minutes of people using a foreign language to speak about you in 3rd party dissociation.

At the end, bail is set. 250,000 dollars. Of course, you only have to pay 10% of that. Do you have 25 grand? No. So back to jail you go. You’re awaiting trial. Six months – maybe a year. You’re in jail, you haven’t been tried, and you’re innocent of crime.

If you’re a young Black male living in a major city,  the likelihood of your serving time at some point in your life is 28% . If you’re a young male of any ethnicity and poor, you are 150 times more likely to be arrested than if you’re wealthy.

Next time you post to an Internet site, about how prisoners wouldn’t be there if they didn’t do something to deserve it, I hope you think about my little story, here.

Now, as horrific and Kafkaesque as this story reads, try – just try – to imagine what it would be like, if you were Deaf.

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.


My Trip and the Latest on Felix’s Case

By Pat Bliss

Image: Pat Bliss

Image: Pat Bliss

In mid-December 2012, the Requests for Clemency were filed. This is the first step. The actual hearings may be quite some time from now. We are now engaged in informational meetings, like the one I mention below, with the Governor’s legal counsel. As we progress in this action, I will keep you posted. Thank you all sincerely for your interest in Felix Garcia’s freedom. He so much appreciates knowing he isn’t forgotten and that people really do care.

I got back late Wednesday afternoon – the day after Christmas. I had driven for 10 hours. We had a great productive trip, but one highlight was on the 19th when I had an appointment to meet with the Governor’s legal advisor and Reggie Garcia, Felix’s new clemency attorney. I drove up that morning from Clearwater, Florida. We had our meeting at the Capital and I got a tour of the Governor’s office, too.

Image: Pat Bliss

Image: Pat Bliss

The other highlight was Christmas day with Felix. He was discouraged because he could not contact me – having heard no news. After I filled him in on the latest about his case, in Tallahassee, he lit up, and his face was all smiles. I saw hope written in his eyes. That is how Felix survives. It is the continual hope for something better.

However, there was one profound moment that really touched me. We were standing in line to buy ice cream at the commissary. The windows were open, no screens but bars. We were standing next to a window and while learning of his case, he asked me, “Do you feel freedom?” I asked him what he meant. He motioned his head towards the window (Inmates are no permitted to reach out) and said, “That is freedom right there, I want that so bad.”  Oh my, it broke my heart. Just beyond those bars, was the parking lot where I would be leaving from, and all I could say was, “You’ll be out there someday – as soon as possible.”

Felix Garcia celebrating his GED in 1984 Courtesy Pat Bliss.http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/deaf-prisoners-felix-garcia

Felix Garcia celebrating his GED in 1984 Courtesy Pat Bliss.

Fortunately, we were at the commissary window right then, and we got Snickers Ice Cream bars. Felix sure enjoyed his. I stayed as long as I was allowed. He gave me a big hug upon departure. I started heading north and spent the night just inside the Georgia border. Looking back – what a year this has been. Thank you, DeafInPrison.com and all our readers, fellow contributors and supporters, for being a part of it.

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.


Help End the Felony Murder Rule

By BitcoDavid

A Follower on FaceBook brought this petition to our attention.


They bring up the following points:

The felony murder rule operates as a matter of law upon proof of the intent to commit a felony to relieve the prosecution of its burden of proving intent to kill, which is a necessary element of murder.

The intention to commit a felony does not equal the intention to kill, nor is the intention to commit a felony, by itself, sufficient to establish a charge of murder.

The felony murder rule erodes the relation between criminal liability and moral culpability in that it punishes all homicides in the commission, or attempted commission, of the proscribed felonies, whether intentional, unintentional, or accidental, without proving the relation between the homicide and the perpetrator’s state of mind.

Under the felony murder rule, the defendant’s state of mind is irrelevant. Because intent is a characterization of a particular state of mind with respect to a killing, felony murder bears little resemblance to the offense of murder except in name. First-degree murder is an arbitrary assignment.

Holding one or many criminally liable for the bad results of an act which differs greatly from the intended results is based on a concept of culpability which is totally at odds with the general principles of jurisprudence.

It is fundamentally unfair and in violation of basic principles of individual criminal culpability to hold one felon liable for the unforeseen and un-agreed to results of another felon’s action.

The basic rule of culpability is further violated when felony murder is categorized as first-degree murder because all other first-degree murders (carrying equal punishment) require a showing of premeditation, deliberation and willfulness, while felony murder only requires a showing of intent to do the underlying felony.

The purpose of creating degrees of murder is to punish with increased severity the more culpable forms of murder, but an accidental killing during the commission or attempted commission of a felony is punished more severely than a second-degree murder.

While the felony murder rule survives in Tennessee, Virginia, Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, West Virginia, Indiana, California and other states, the numerous modifications and restrictions of it by some states’ courts and legislatures throughout the United States reflect dissatisfaction with the basic harshness and injustice of the doctrine and call into question its continued existence.

The felony murder rule can be used by prosecutors in a manner so as to cause grossly disproportionate sentencing, depending on the circumstances of each individual case.

The felony murder rule is probably unconstitutional because presumption of innocence is thrown to the winds. The prosecution needs only to prove intent to commit the underlying felony; that
done, first degree-murder becomes part and parcel of the underlying felony because intent to commit murder does not have to be proved.

The felony murder rule is probably unconstitutional because in some cases it violates the Eighth Amendment: cruel and unusual punishment, grossly disproportionate to the crime(s) actually

The felony murder rule holds unequally involved parties equally accountable and punishable. Again, cruel and unusual punishment if you’re only the lookout for a robber who happens to kill in the process of the robbery.

they deserved it

they deserved it (Photo credit: Will Lion)

The felony murder rule violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process because no defense is allowed on the charge of first-degree murder, only the underlying felony.

The felony murder rule bears no rational relationship or equity in its two penalties, with the penalties of other murder laws, including, at times, the charge of first-degree murder.

It is no longer acceptable to equate the intent to commit a felony with the intent to kill.

Believe it or not, the American Justice System was created to keep people out of prison. The concept of innocent until proven guilty, The right to protection against self incrimination, and The 8th Amendment – all speak to the American concept of fair play, the dread of incarceration and our aversion to cruel and unusual punishment.

What could possibly be crueler than to Imprison a teenager for life – for merely being present at the scene of a crime. Maybe he was driving the car. Maybe he was the lookout. Should he be punished? Yes, of course. But can we, in good conscience, allow one stupid moment – one adolescent lapse of judgement – to cost him his entire life?

Please consider signing this petition at: http://www.causes.com/actions/1696694

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.


After a Break; Felix Part Five

Here’s part 5 – the beginning of disc 2 – in the interview of Felix Garcia in prison, as conducted by Jim Ridgeway and Pat Bliss. Felix is much calmer in this section, and he talks frankly about communication issues, language barriers and lip-reading. He is – by the way – an excellent lip-reader, and he provides some marvelous insight into this difficult and complex method of communication.

Again, as before stated. This is the property of Jim Ridgeway, who owns the copyright. The captions and tech work were done by me, and our wonderful and talented interpreter – without whom none of this would be possible – chooses to remain uncredited. The video cannot be copied or downloaded, but by all means, please feel free to link back to it.

The School to Prison Pipeline Is Even Bigger for the Deaf

This is an article published in the New York Times. It states that children with disabilities are more likely to be suspended from school, than are non-disabled students. But, they didn’t need a study to prove this. They just needed to read DeafInPrison.com. We’re well familiar with both the school to prison pipeline, and the difficulties disabled students – in particular, the Deaf – are faced with. They are often disproportionately punished, in both schools and in adult life.

According to a new analysis of Department of Education data, 13 percent of disabled students in kindergarten through 12th grade were suspended during the 2009-10 school year, compared with 7 percent of students without disabilities. Among black children with disabilities, which included those with learning difficulties, the rate was much higher: one out of every four was suspended at least once that school year.

Want to read more? Here’s the link:


Inmate Responds to One of Our Posts

In May, I did a post on the differences between county jails and prisons from the paralegal perspective. Here’s the link to that post.

County Jails vs. Prisons

I’ve added it here, to help provide some perspective.

A few days ago, I received this response from a former inmate.

As usual, if you have trouble making out the text in this image, simply double click on it to view it in full screen.

Interview with Mr. Jesse Doiron English Professor and Leader of Inmates Book Club

I interviewed my colleague, Mr. Jesse Doiron who is an English professor at Lamar University in Beaumont, TX. For the past five years, he has led an interesting inmates’ book club. I asked him how he got the club started and how the inmates liked it. Implications for starting such book clubs for deaf inmates are also presented.

Biography of Mr. Jesse Doiron

Instructor of English

Department of English, Modern Languages, and Philosophy

Lamar University

Office O-38 Maes Building


Jesse Doiron spent 13 years as an educator and consultant in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.  His work experience ranges from the University of California at Berkeley to St. Louis University, from the Spanish High Command School in Madrid to the Saudi Naval Forces School at King Abdulaziz Naval Base in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In 1991, Jesse witnessed the fall of the USSR as a Soros Teaching Fellow in Kiev, Ukraine, where he taught English at Skola #145, a math and physics lyceum. Before that, he was caught up in “Desert Storm” as an instructor for the Institute of Public Administration in Saudi Arabia.

Jesse has served as director of the Lamar Language Institute at Lamar University.  He also wrote and managed the Joint Education Project, a $300,000-plus consortium effort linking Lamar University with the Beaumont Independent School District, the Greater Orange Area Literacy Program, the Port Arthur Literacy Service, and the Beaumont Library System – Literacy Depot.  Jesse is now a full-time instructor in the Department of English, Modern Languages and Philosophy at Lamar University and an adjunct instructor of English for Lamar State College – Port Arthur.

Jesse has taught courses in literature (World, British, and American) as well as courses in creative writing, composition, and English as a Second Language.  In 2008, Jesse developed an on-line freshman composition course which he continues to teach as part of the expanding on-line offerings of Lamar University.  In 2009, Jesse helped develop the Department’s first on-line, dual-credit version of Freshman English Composition.  In 2012, Jesse developed and taught an on-line British literature course for Lamar State College – Port Arthur.


Most recently, Jesse has been focused on issues dealing with “Restorative Justice” and the rehabilitation of convicted felons.  In this area, Jesse has worked closely with Bridges to Life, a Christian outreach program that brings victims of violent crime face to face with convicted felons in prison.  He also volunteers with the Houston-based New Leaf prison rehabilitation program.

Jesse is a member of the Jefferson County Coalition for Victims of Crime and has served often as emcee for that group’s Candlelight Vigils as well as the Coalition’s Angel Tree Christmas events.

As a member of the Coalition for Victims of Crime, Jesse regularly volunteers with the Jefferson County Center for Victims Assistance in their training programs for police academy and sheriff academy cadets.

In 2007, Jesse began teaching English courses at state and federal prisons as an adjunct instructor for the Lamar State College, a position he continues to hold. He has taught composition, literature, and creative writing in a variety of prison environments from low-security to maximum-security penal institutions.  In addition to these college courses for inmates, Jesse also volunteers as a facilitator for an inmate book club at a local prison.

In 2008 and 2010, Jesse taught a multi-disciplinary Honors Seminar at Lamar University:

“Victims, Criminals, and Punishment.”  This 15-week seminar included the participation of guest speakers who were part of the criminal justice system, including victims of crime and perpetrators of crime.


Jesse received a Soros Teaching Fellowship in 1991 and was awarded an educational travel grant by the International Renaissance Foundation the following year.  He has consulted a number of organizations around the world on educational matters ranging from developing kindergartens in Central Europe to language training of military officers in Spain and Saudi Arabia.

In 2004, Jesse received the Courage Award from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty the TCADP annual conference in Dallas, Texas.  That same year, he was a recipient of the Jefferson Award for Public Service in Beaumont, Texas.

In 2007, Governor Rick Perry gave Jesse the Governor’s Award for Restorative Justice.  That same year, Jesse received the Julie and Ben Rogers Community Service Award from Lamar University.

In 2009, Jesse was featured on I Survived, a reality program of the A&E Biography Channel that reports on people who have faced death and lived to tell about it.  In Season Three of the series (Episode 24), Jesse tells of being attacked by two men wielding a three-pound shop hammer.  The savage assault happened in the badlands of north Texas during a freak snow storm in 1983.  Before this program, Jesse’s victimization was featured in three local newspapers — The Beaumont Journal, The Beaumont Enterprise, and The Examiner.

In 2012, Jesse was recognized as Volunteer of the Year by the Bureau of Prisons –

Federal Correctional Complex in Beaumont, Texas for his educational and religious work in their Medium Security Institution.

Interview with Mr. Jesse Doiron

May, 2012

How would you describe your “inmate book club”?

It’s a book club first.  Just as any book club in the “free world” it functions as a social activity through which people who enjoy reading can talk about what it is that they are reading.  The “inmate” part of the “inmate book club” is, of course, intriguing to most people who hear about the group.  For me, it is the only book club with which I have been associated.

In fact, when the prison administration first asked me to facilitate the book club, I called my big sister for advice.  She’s a librarian in the Dallas area.  The best bit she gave me was to let the book club be what it wants to be – don’t try too hard to make it what you want it to be.  She was wise in her warning.

While my book club is significantly different from the ones my sister facilitates as part of her job, it works the same in many ways. We select a book to read.  We read the book.  We talk about the book.  And just like the various book clubs my big sister has organized, mine often gets way off topic in our conversations.

How did you come up with this idea?

The inmates had already been meeting to talk books long before I got involved with them.  I suppose the prison administration wanted to organize their approach so as to better monitor their activities and to better focus their efforts – no one ever really explained what it was that I was supposed to do other than the rather vague concept of “facilitate.”  My first night was awkward because as soon as I walked in, there was an undeserved deference to me as some sort of “book club expert.”  Even after I explained to them that I had never been in a book club, they found it difficult to “suspend disbelief,” as we say in literary analysis.

I became the only “free-world” member of the club.  This distinction brought with it another responsibility that wasn’t clear until the charming educational officer introduced me to the inmates. Her demeanor and that of the inmates told me that I was not just going to talk about books; I was going to somehow represent the books.

How have the inmates responded to you?

I’ve been in the inmate book club for more than five years, now.  This year, the prison complex gave me one of four “Volunteer of the Year” awards.  Many of the inmates I met that first night have been released or transferred.  Over the years, some of the men have seen me gain weight and lose hair.  They have read a hundred books with me.  They have invited their best friends to visit the club, and many of them have joined it.  Every time I leave, they are flipping through a novel, smiling, waving good-bye, and trying to pin me down on a date for the next meeting.

How do you choose the books that the club reads?

Over the years, we have tried a number of systems to select our titles.  None of the methods have ever been bad, some have been chaotic, but most of the time consensus works.

The first year, I received a list of books that the administration had approved for use.  It was a wildly eclectic selection of novels that ranged from sci-fi series to New York Times bestsellers.  There wasn’t any Dickens.  No Hemingway.  Nothing bad.  Nothing old.

Once accepted as part of the club, I found the inmates asking me what I thought they should be reading.  It was the “free-world” mystic acting, as if I should know what was au courant in the world of belle letters.  The inmates and I started drawing up our suggestions for the administration, and, as I said, consensus works.  For us, it was never a problem selecting a title.  The problem was acquiring the title.  Funding is always difficult for this kind of a prison rehabilitation/recreation program.  We were lucky to get three copies of a book to share among us.  The system worked, but it often slowed us down in our reading.

One night – a particularly slow night, since the copies of the book had never arrived – we hit upon the idea of having multiple titles available for our discussion.  That way, if there were any prison glitches in getting a book, we’d always have a couple of fallback novels on hand.  Once we met and everyone just gave individual reports on whatever book he was reading that week.

Sometimes we focus on a genre.  For example, June is juvenile dystopia month for us – inspired by the buzz that The Hunger Games is getting.  The men know that I have kids in elementary and middle school, so they were interested in seeing what it is that young people have in their hands.  Many of the men are fathers, too.  I think this selection will be a great way to connect them with their children over the summer, and share some heavy philosophical ideas.  Even the fellows who don’t have sons or daughters were quite happy to join in on this idea. They all have family connections.  They all have some heavy philosophy hanging on the bars of their cells.  I knew the idea was a good one when I saw them arguing over the three copies of the book that we were allotted.

Do the inmates have preferences for genres – like fiction versus nonfiction?

Yes.  Individuals are individuals in prison or in the free world.  Our book club has rarely selected nonfiction.  The last one I recall was The Story of My Life, by Helen Keller. All of the men read more than I do.  They read everything.  I have learned their individual preferences, and I try to spread the focus so that each man gets a bit of what he most enjoys in literature.  One fellow could pass for a professor of philosophy at any academic conference.  Our youngest member, who taught himself to read in prison, loves anything that has mythology in it – Norse, Roman, German, Hindu – myths.  Many of the inmates are into sci-fi series or fantasy series.  Not many romance novels get suggested, but they do like love stories and family stories.  My western-novel guy got out a few years ago.

How long do your sessions last?

The inmate book club meets in the evenings from 6:00 p.m. to “call back.”  The actual hours depend on the daylight available – a security concern.  Usually we have at least two solid hours together; although, not everyone can make it on time because of prison schedules – feeding, work, recreation, religious services.  The men are not allowed to roam freely around the grounds, so one has to be flexible in starting and finishing a session.  Some months, I get out to the prison three or four times.  Some months, there are lockdowns that prevent our meeting at all.

Do you ever read books that have been adapted for the motion pictures?

Often we purposely select a book that has been made into a movie, or will be made into a movie, with the idea of viewing the film version for comparison.  A bit of self-censorship is needed here, because there are multiple restrictions on showing movies in prisons.  Some inmates have already seen a motion-picture adaptation of a book, and these inmates like to share their views of how successful screenwriters were in adapting the work for the cinema.  These discussions are particularly erudite on the levels of both film and literature.

Can men who have low reading levels participate in the inmate book club?

No inmate is excluded from joining the book club, but there is a territoriality that one can sense.  Book clubs usually are not big.  Usually they are made up of a few people who know one another well and enjoy getting together for other reasons to begin with.  Here, I am talking about a “free-world” book club.  Again, the same holds true in prison.  These men were together before I joined them.  They are the book club, really.  While a few inmates pop in from time to time to visit, the ones who stay seem to have another kind of established relationship with one of the men already in the book club.  That said, the inmates are surprisingly tolerant of those who want to try out the book club.  One year, we had a fellow who rarely read anything that we were discussing.  He came to the meetings, and he often made interesting comments – rarely about the books.  That said, none of the inmates ever suggested to me or to administration that the fellow be excluded from the book club.  And in the discussions, I never felt a need to monitor the inmate’s participation because the other inmates were able to do so with effortless charm.  It worked out well for the non-reader and the readers.

Could your inmate book club be adapted for deaf inmates who typically read below a third-grade level?

My experience in English as a Second Language leads me to answer, emphatically, “Yes.”

The book club is about people and their experiences with books.  A person’s experience can be profound even if the book is simple in structure.  I have seen this in ESL classes here in America and across the globe – Saudi Arabia, Spain, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, and the Republic of Georgia.

As a father, I remember having tearful reactions to the books I read to my children.

Good literature does not necessarily mean literature that is difficult to read.  A good book club does not necessarily mean everyone in it has to read a book that is difficult. Add to the written word the technical opportunities afforded by multimedia presentations, and you can easily unloose a great deal of potential for the non-native speaker or for the hearing-impaired.  Book clubs with enthusiastic participants and skilled facilitators can accomplish much in difficult environments like prisons and with individuals who are challenged socially, culturally, physically, or mentally.

Leonard Mlodinow, a physicist with a knack for psychological observation, has a new book out called Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior. He is not a Freudian at all, but he does note that people often act on impulses that are buried beneath their conscious understanding of situations.  “Blind sight,” for example, is when a damaged brain can still transmit enough peripheral information to allow for a kind of visual interpretation when there should be no capability for vision.

In a similar manner, readers understand much more than they read – sometimes by way of psychological osmosis or subliminal absorption.  Their understanding doesn’t necessarily come across at the conscious level, but there is obvious evidence of some level of comprehension because of the way they participate in discussion of the material.

An idea in a book might slip right by until another fellow mentions it in passing, then the idea bubbles up again and loses its ephemeral quality, becoming instead monumental. Suddenly the overlooked idea is important; the book is understandable.

In the inmate book club, our discussions help us all get our minds around ideas, words, actions, and beliefs.  I have never left the prison without a more intense feeling, if not a better understanding, for what we have discussed that night.  These discussions make the inmate book club invigorating, enjoyable, and inspiring.  The books make it a book club.

Waiting for Trial

For an updated version of this post, please go to



Pre-trial Motions

[Editor's Note: Although this pertains to the Felix Garcia case, I wanted Pat to post it on the scroll, because I believe we can all benefit from any insight as to the inner workings of the Court system. After all, forewarned is forearmed, and where the Courts are concerned, there but for the grace of God...]

[Author's Note: This is sort of a monotonous time for most everyone involved. I say most as you still have those attorneys who find every aspect of the trial process exciting. At the September 25, 1981 hearing where Felix was given court appointed counsel, Attorney Raul Palomino entered a Not Guilty Plea on behalf of his client/defendant. With that, the pre-trial motions start. I will highlight some of them that I hope will give you, the reader, some insight into the motion aspect of a trial. I will leave out mentioning the Criminal Rule numbers, Constitutional amendments, any mundane speech, to try to make it informative yet not boring.]

1. Demand For Discovery.

This is where the defense demands the State to disclose within 15 days all the information they have against his client. It is pretty standard in every one:

A)   Names of all persons of interest relevant to the offense charged and to any defense with respect thereto.

B)   Any statements made by any person listed in preceding paragraph.

C)   Any oral or written statement by the defendant.

D)   Any tangible papers or objects obtained or belonged to the defendant.

E)   Any material or information provided by a confidential informant and name.

F)   Any electrical surveillance or wiretapping of the premise or conversations to which the defendant was a party to.

G)   Any search and seizure of any documents.

H)   Reports or statements of experts made in connection with this case, including results of mental or physical examinations, and scientific tests, experiments or comparisons.

I )   Any material information within the State’s possession or control which tends to negate the guilt of the Defendant as to the offense charged, or to        punishment, or the credibility of the State’s witnesses.

What the Defense here is requesting from the State is to inspect, copy, test and photograph this information so everyone begins the trial on equal ground. The Defense wants to know what the State knows that makes them certain they have the right person. The Defense then builds its defense on what it receives. If you heard the term Prosecutorial Misconduct, it generally stems from this request. The State may inadvertently or purposely leave out, misplace or hide information, or whatever, and because of it, the Defendant doesn’t get a fair trial. I might add that in return, the Defense shares their list of witnesses and exhibits with the State.

2. Motion For Statement Of Particulars.

This motion demands the State to show exactly what the evidence was that lead to an arrest of the Defendant. This motion is tailored to the alleged crime charged in the Indictment.

A)   Exact date on which the offense alleged in the Indictment occurred.

B)   Exact time on which the offense alleged in the Indictment occurred.

C)   Exact place or addresses where the offense alleged in the Indictment                        occurred.

D)   Particular description of the firearm which was allegedly utilized.

E)   Whether crime charged in the Indictment is predicated on the theory of

premeditated murder or felony-murder, and if on felony-murder, the type of  felony allegedly perpetrated at the time of the alleged homicide.

F)   Whether the Defendant was the actual perpetrator or an aider and abetter of  the offense alleged in the Indictment; if the Defendant was an aider and         abetter, whether or not the Defendant’s actions made him accountable for the    crime charged as an accessory before the fact or as a principal in the first             degree or as a principal in the second degree.

This is to pin down the State to exactness and not generalities or broadness. This can also be used as a factor if there has been a change in law during the period of the alleged transaction and the trial to determine, if found guilty, the degree of punishment at sentencing.

3. Motion For Statement of Particulars Relating To Aggravating Circumstances.

This case was filed as a Capital Felony (where the death penalty was a possibility). These trials are done in two phases -  Guilt Phase and Sentencing Phase. When the Defendant is found guilty, then the Sentencing Phase begins. At this juncture, the State will introduce aggravating circumstances to enhance the punishment – to prove that death is warranted. This motion is gleaning the proof the State intends to adduce at sentencing which is:

A)   Whether the State intends to prove that the Defendant has previously been  convicted of another Capital Felony or a Felony involving the use or threat of    violence to the person, and if so, the nature of the previous conviction, the          date thereof, the Court in which said conviction occurred, the style of the             case and case number, and any other relevant particulars.

B)   [ I’ll be more brief on the rest.] Whether the State intends to prove the            Defendant  knowingly created a great risk of death to any persons.

C)   Whether the State intends to prove the Capital Felony was committed while  the Defendant engaged in, an accomplice, or attempt to commit another               criminal act: robbery, rape, arson etc.

D)   Whether the State intends to prove the Capital Felony was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing lawful arrest or effecting an escape from   custody.

F)    Whether the State intends to prove the Capital Felony was committed for     pecuniary gain.

G)   Whether the State intends to prove the Capital Felony was committed to        disrupt or hinder lawful exercise of any governmental function or                             enforcement of laws.

H)   Whether the State intends to prove the Capital Felony was especially               heinous, atrocious or cruel.

This last particular  is generally the one the public is most acquainted with. And is the issue on appeal the most times before any court in a death sentence. There will be witnesses at the Sentencing Phase and the Defense will also ask the State for a list of their witnesses and experts, and what aggravating circumstance will they will be related to.

Just so you know, the Defense will introduce Mitigating circumstances at Sentencing to try to cancel out any enhancements towards death versus Life. We’ll get to that later.

Book Review of Katrina Miller’s (2005) book: Deaf Culture Behind Bars: Signs and Stories of a Texas Population. Published by AGO Publications

Unfortunately, this book is out of print but perhaps is available through a library.  After I visited a county jail and a state prison and met with two deaf inmates, I reread Dr. Katrina Miller’s book and found it most relevant and informative so I am submitting a book review for deafinprison readers.

Katrina R. Miller.  (2003) Deaf Culture Behind Bars: Signs and Stories of a Texas Population.  Salem, OR: AGO Publications.  https://www.agostore.com

The jail and prison environment is an isolating and cruel existence for the culturally Deaf as well as hard of hearing inmates because of lack of access to communication, services and programming with correctional officers and fellow inmates. Dr. Katrina Miller’s pages spill out compelling life stories of Deaf inmates who find themselves behind bars and without services that are typically given to hearing inmates.  Written for sign language interpreters, social workers, police, correctional officers and the Deaf Community, Dr. Miller’s book will be informative to attorneys working on cases involving Deaf clients who are in jail or prison. Dr. Miller’s book is based on her doctoral dissertation published in 2001 where she described the background and crimes of 99 deaf inmates in the Estelle Unit in Huntsville State Prison in Huntsville Texas. (Forensic Issues of Deaf Offenders, Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas). Much of the book includes many interviews Dr. Miller conducted with the Deaf inmates. Dr. Miller provides statistics on the kinds of crimes Deaf inmates committed as well as information on services they need and barriers they face in the prison environment.  There is also a section on deaf signs used in prison that are linguistically different than signs used outside the prison walls. The book presents many interviews of deaf inmates and the reader can learn from the inmates “first-hand” how it feels to be Deaf and in prison—all of which riveted this reader to the page.

Don’t Talk to Police – The Coolest Explanation You Will Ever Get


If hearing people can’t get a fair shake during an arrest procedure, think how the Deaf must fare.

Originally posted on CrimeDime:

You have to watch this video twice. The first time, you will be mesmerized by this law professor’s raw talent for averaging 22.6 words per second with an unmatched ability to simultaneously entertain, wave his hand around, chew gum, rub his belly, and pat the top of head without breathing. Okay, I exaggerated. But only a little.

The second time you watch the video, you can actually pay attention to the content. James Duane gives seven reasons to aspiring attorneys that their clients should never talk to the police.

1. There is no way it can help.

2. If your client is guilty — and even if he is innocent — he may admit his guilt with no benefit in return.

3. Even if your client is innocent and denies his guilt and mostly tells the truth, he can easily get carried away and tell some little lie or make…

View original 245 more words

The Costs of…

Dirk Becker, a fan of ours on FaceBook, posted this on the timeline page.
The Costs of Incarceration- Canada

Correctional services expenditures totaled almost $3 billion in 2005/6, up 2% from the previous year.
Custodial services (prisons) accounted for the largest proportion (71%) of the expenditures, followed by community supervision services (14%), headquarters and central services (14%), and National Parole Board and provincial parole boards (2%).
This figure does not include policing or court costs which bring the total expenditures up to more than $10 billion for the year.
Cost of incarcerating a Federal prisoner (2004/5): $259.05 per prisoner/per day
Cost of incarcerating a Federal female prisoner (2004/5): $150,000-$250,000 per prisoner/per year
Cost of incarcerating a Federal male prisoner (2004/5): $87,665 per prisoner/per year
Cost of incarcerating a provincial prisoner (2004/5): $141.78: per prisoner/per day
The cost of alternatives such as probation, bail supervision and community supervision range from $5-$25/day.


Arizona sheriff rejects court monitor; Justice Department threatens to sue – The Washington Post

Arizona sheriff rejects court monitor; Justice Department threatens to sue – The Washington Post. Not mentioned in this article, but known to us – the guy’s no friend to the Deaf, either.

A Word About Our Author’s Pages

As you look at the top of our scroll page, you’ll see a series of tabs, bearing the names of our valued and esteemed contributors. These pages are used by our authors as a place to write about those issues that concern them – not necessarily related to the issue of the Deaf behind bars.

One such page belongs to Pat Bliss. She has been writing the serialized story of the Felix Garcia case. Ms. Bliss has been working as a paralegal, and has been long involved in this case, and the ongoing effort to free this innocent man. We have been enjoying 2 to 3 updates per week. You’ll want to follow this page.

BitcoDavid, who enjoys writing short fiction, shares a few pieces about one of his many passions – our fur-person friends. Stay tuned though. One of his other passions is amateur boxing. He may choose to share some of those stories, as well.

Joanne Greenberg 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. She offers – on her page – a few words about who she is.

We also have a constantly updated links page. On here, you’ll find useful resources, relating to deaf inmates and the Justice system.

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