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.

Two Quick Stories

By Joanne Greenberg

A lifetime of working with the Deaf has given me a wealth of great memories and stories to share. Here are 2 quick ones that come to mind.

I was in the nursing home, watching deafened elders scratching spidery words on paper. Many of the words were unreadable. A group was sitting, silent and isolated, in chairs along the wall. Isolation in old-age is a terrible thing to bear, I thought. I got to a fragile old man, with whom I communicated, by howling into his ear.

“I have a gift for all of you!” I shouted. “I can come up here and teach you sign language. Even if you are slow, or have arthritic fingers, you will be able to communicate with one another.” He waved me away.

“We may be low,” he growled, “being here, but we’re not that low.”

“Does that mean you’d rather be mute and isolated than use a beautiful and fluent language, to speak to one another?”

“Our dignity is all we have here,” he said, with a look of great distaste. “We don’t flap our hands around, gesturing.”

Before that conversation, I never would have believed that there was such a stigma connected with using Sign language. I thought the urge to speak and be understood could overcome any negative feelings about a strange manner of communication.

As America’s population ages, with people living longer than ever before, hearing loss is becoming more and more prevelent – and more problematic. Evidence now exists tying age related hearing loss to dementia. This story takes place back in the mid-Seventies. I know that acceptance of ASL has increased dramatically, and that’s great. But the language is still somewhat stigmatized, in particular among the elderly who struggle to come to grips with all the losses – physical and mental – that aging brings.

 ***

A Deaf girl was driving me to a class. She had asked me to interpret it, and we were on time. Suddenly, she signalled left, and pulled over to the side of the street. We waited. In a moment, I could hear a siren, but barely and far in the distance. Soon, the sound became louder, then stopped suddenly. Just as I was about to ask her, why she had pulled over, a fire truck – lights only – sped past us.

“Why did you pull over? I could barely hear that siren. And it stopped, well before the fire engine came by.”

“I saw all the people on the sidewalk, a few blocks back, and they all turned to see something coming,” she said. “It would have been either the fire or the police department – so naturally, I pulled over.”

We waited for a few moments, and then were on our way.

There are many forms of deafness. Some Deaf hear better than we do, but in a different frequency range. I have often heard stories of Deaf people hearing a crying baby or a siren, when no one else could. This however, represents a different skill set. This young woman had trained herself to pay attention to stimulus that we might ignore, knowing that what her ears couldn’t tell her, her eyes could. What matters here is not what she could see, but rather what additional information she could glean from what she saw. A valuable skill indeed.

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.

Concern at a Distance

By Joanne Greenberg

In Lakewood, Colorado as in many other places in the United States, people are protesting the placement of schools and other facilities for the Deaf. They worry about increased traffic, and the lowering of property values. They fear danger from the pupils in those schools, or the recipients of those services.

”We have nothing against the Deaf,” they say, “but the school doesn’t belong here – or here, or here. Such a school would spoil the integrity of the neighborhood.“

I’ve already heard this complaint. About Black people, Jews and Hispanics.

English: Alameda High School in Lakewood, Colo...

Alameda High School in Lakewood, Colorado. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A society will create what it values. In this case, concern at a distance. The reality is, that dozens of studies of such intrusions, show us that when the “invaders” are welcomed, they serve to bond the community and result in improvement in property values and the stability of neighborhoods, the way schools, parks and other additions do.

A neighborhood near me accepted a group of at-risk boys in a residential center. The boys were under closer supervision from the school faculty, than home-raised children are. Their group leaders urged them to volunteer time and effort to help the neighbors around them. They became welcome presences in the community, shoveling snow and doing odd jobs for older people and shut-ins who needed their help. Friendships resulted. “The best neighbors you could have,” my friend told me. When the group wanted to expand, the new neighborhood picketed against them. Maybe a Wal-mart will come in for those fearful people.

English: Footprint of Walmart stores within th...

Footprint of Walmart stores within the United States. Areas with more than one branch have progressively larger points. Alaska not to scale with the rest of the map. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

New Book Examines Drug Use in Treatment of Mentally Ill

The International Society for the Psychological Treatment of Schizophrenia (and other psychoses) U.S., is having their annual convention this year in Chicago. I am going to give a speech called, “The Lone Ranger is Busy and Tonto Has Split.” No matter what health plan is adopted for this country, it is going to feature large amounts of heavy-duty psychotropic drugs, given for relatively mild to moderate conditions.

The administration of these drugs has constituted chemical straight jackets to many people, making life-long invalids out of them. The new book that describes this problem, and promotes a solution is Rethinking Madness, written by Paris Williams.

Others have come forward with the same statistics. There has been marked improvement by patients who have stopped their drug regimens, compared with those who have not. We are going to have to solve, or at least ameliorate the serious problem of mental illness on our own. The medical/psychiatric community is not ready to accept this form of treatment. There are in this country today hundreds of small, active help centers and support groups, bringing relief to their patrons.

The Hearing Voices movement that started in England now has chapters in America. There are also private and alternative clinics and peer groups that have recorded improvements on all levels for the people who attend them.

When I looked at my insurance lists, of accepted drugs, I saw that fully 1/3 of the drugs listed were heavy-duty anti-psychotics. This should set off alarm bells in people who are paying great amounts of money, for treatments whose side effects are horrific.

We know that mental illness is treatable in many different ways. Not enough good research has been done on these ways.

Mini-post: Update #JusticeForFelix

161 Signers so far. Don’t drop the ball. Felix still needs you. Sign @ http://www.thepetitionsite.com/453/783/026/felix-garcia-should-be-granted-a-full-pardon/ Tweet #JusticeForFelix

Blacks and Whites Use Different Sign

The September 18th edition of the Washington Post – Health & Science section reports that even in the language of the deaf, race makes a difference. This story by Frances Stead Sellers of the Washington Post:

Carolyn McCaskill remembers exactly when she discovered that she couldn’t understand white people. It was 1968, she was 15 years old, and she and nine other deaf black students had just enrolled in an integrated school for the deaf in Talledega, Ala.

When the teacher got up to address the class, McCaskill was lost.

Image courtesy of Washington Post

What intrigues McCaskill and other experts in deaf culture today is the degree to which distinct signing systems — one for whites and another for blacks — evolved and continue to coexist, even at Gallaudet University, where black and white students study and socialize together and where McCaskill is now a professor of deaf studies.

Full graphic from Washington Post

You can learn more by clicking on the following link:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/sign-language-that-african-americans-use-is-different-from-that-of-whites/2012/09/17/2e897628-bbe2-11e1-8867-ecf6cb7935ef_story.html

 

 

 

Do Deaf people dream in ASL?

Often they do, but it depends on how long they have been deaf and what form of communication is natural to them. You can often see deaf people who are sleeping, talking to themselves in their sleep in full or half formed sign. Many report that the characters in their dreams use the same range of sign – regional professional or technical signs – and with the range of skill as I’ve seen in them while awake.

Deaf friends have told me that they dream they can hear, but since they don’t really know what that entails, or how speech sounds, they imagine some pretty bizarre things.

I have a friend whose parents I had known for quite a few years. I was sad when her mother died. And one day, I was talking to her about her family and I said, “I really miss your mother. We had quite a few telephone visits – and I always knew it was she, as soon as I picked up the phone. She had a very pleasant roughness to her voice. A texture that was unique.”

My friend looked at me in surprise and said, “Are you telling me that people have different voices?”

I told her that not only are our voices different, but most of our emotions were shown in the voice, and not as she had imagined, in face or body language. This surprised her. I also told her that we sometimes play or express other moods with our voices conveying one thing and our body language, another.

Think about what it must be like in prison, where voices are kept dead flat – which translates into dead flat ASL.

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