An Interview With Prison Author Glenn Langohr

By Glenn Langohr

As most of your readers already know, you’ve spent some time in prison but have now turned your life around.  Can you tell us what happened to land you there and how your change/rehabilitation came about?

Two good parents raised me, but they divorced when I was 12 years old. Being a momma’s boy, I was brokenhearted when I didn’t go with her. I called my dad out for ruining everything and that didn’t work out well for me. I ran away. I got into selling drugs. The law interrupted me, many times.

I spent 10 years in some of California’s worst prisons with 4 years in solitary confinement for riots and investigations.

The prison system didn’t rehabilitate me, writing did. California has 35 state prisons and they are violent and gang riddled. While “doing time” it is all about surviving. I started waking up at 4 am to write before surviving another possible riot took over my being. Eventually, I built up enough momentum writing books to know in my heart that I had a new life.

You are obviously quite (rightly) dedicated to highlighting the plight of prisoners in the US correctional system (as well as the abuses therein).  Your personal experiences aside, anyone who has had dealings with it can understand why this is such an important cause to you, but most people don’t have any such experience. How would you respond to critics who would argue that prisoners get what they deserve – do the crime, do the time types?

First I would say that some crimes are worse than others. I think we are too easy on Child Molesters and Rapists. But, are we the Leaders of the Free World? No, we are the leaders of the incarcerated world. In California alone we have 35 state prisons that are bursting at the seams, with more people behind bars than any other country other than China! [Editor's note: Actually, while China does have a larger total prison population, we more than double theirs, per capita.] Why? Because we are locking humans in prison who are addicted to drugs, or who are below the poverty level, and therefore undesirable. That could be your kid, your mother, and your neighbor.

In prison, that addiction is bred into an affliction much harder to escape, where gangs are the solution, spitting out tattooed-down, displaced humans, without any job placement or anywhere to live.

So really, most of the prisoners are not getting what they deserve, because we look at drug addiction like alcoholism these days – like a disease. They need treatment, not prison. I am working on adapting one of my books, My Hardest Step, into a TV show about Addiction and Recovery. One of the girls who did a casting call has been to prison. It didn’t help. A drug treatment center did work. She has been sober for over 2 years and has her son back in her life.

What do you see as the way forward in terms of prison reform?  How does this come out in your books?

Prison reform isn’t going to happen until there isn’t enough tax money to keep the current system going. I’m just being real. The Politicians and Media promote the need for prisons to keep the rest of us safe. To get elected, you have to be tough on crime. To stay elected, you have to be tough on crime. This starts with the D.A. In one of my high profile drug cases, the head D.A. at the time had aspirations to become the Attorney General for the U.S., and for that to even be a possibility, he couldn’t look weak on crime, so he made sure he had a 99% conviction record. Ten years later, his son is doing time for heroin addiction.

My books take you inside of prison survival between the gangs and politics and what life looks like Inside.

If real prison reform were to happen, it would have to be extreme. How about work programs instead of prison? How about prisoners actually learning how to get a job while in prison with computer training, resume training, job placement, housing placement and a real chance upon release?

How about only sending people to prison for violent crimes and giving the rest programs for treatment and self-help?

It is also clear that you are a man of faith.  What role has that faith played in your work?  How does it come out in your characters?  How is it part of your ideas for reforming the prison system?

Thank you for bringing this up. I read the Bible in prison every day and found hope that God restores the hopeless.

My characters are divided into two groups, those who are trying to find their conscience, and those who aren’t, with a good cop verses bad cop theme as well.

In my books, my main character chases redemption by knowing he has to help other lost souls find hope and a new life away from prison and the drug war, yet just surviving takes almost all of his attention.

How have you been able to partner your efforts with research and/or faith-based organizations to spread the word on your mission?

Not that well. The church I attend is amazing because of a few things. The worship band is out of this world. Our teaching Pastor is amazing also. He loves my books. But they and most churches don’t want to face their own issues, drug addiction in their family and their community.

My writing has progressed from 10-Drug War and Prison books that are in Print, Kindle and Audio Book, to 4 Prayer Books, to my most recent self help books. My Hardest Step is based on the Twelve Step Programs.

My best selling Prison Book is Underdog, available at  Amazon. Click here to see a 2 minute video about it.

Most, if not all, of your books are based on real-life events.  How much did you write while you were still in prison?  How do you deal with the possibility of getting sued by people who may recognize themselves, particularly the more well-known you and your work become?

I spent 7 years writing my first book, Roll Call, in prison – on the back of my trial transcript paperwork. Once out of prison, I turned down a couple of big publishers to self publish. I got a review from Kirkus Discoveries Nielson Media out of New York, that blew my mind.  “A harrowing, down-and-dirty depiction–sometimes reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic–of America’s war on drugs, by former dealer and California artist Langohr. Locked up for a decade on drugs charges and immersed in both philosophical tomes and modern pulp thrillers…”

As for being sued for writing such raw and penetrating content, I use this quote in TV interviews: “I paint with the true colors of life on a fictional landscape to protect the innocent and the not so innocent.”

My newest Prison book, The Art of War: A Memoir of Life in Prison, is the most controversial yet. While I was finishing up my sentence at a hard-core prison on the California border of Mexico, there was so much violence, you just wouldn’t believe half of it. Being a White inmate where over 80% of the population is Mexican or Black, it wasn’t easy. We had a prison guard who gave us information about other inmates, one of which was a notorious “Child Molester”. You’ll have to read the book to see what happened. It is on sale for 99 cents, in Kindle format, at Amazon.

What one thing you would like for our readers to know about you?  Your work?

“Jesus is my landlord.” I got that quote from a homeless woman who told it to the police who were harassing her for living in her car. They stopped dead in their tracks and let her go. I used that quote in one of my books. God bless you.

“I went from obsessively pacing my cell to realizing that if I find a way to write what’s in my head, I can find a way out of this hole.” — Glenn Langohr

DeafInPrison.com Celebrates 50,000 Views!!!

By BitcoDavid

Congratulations to us – DeafInPrison.com – who just received our 50 thousandth view! Of course all of you helped, but it was DoTheWriteThingTampa, who drove home the golden spike. In addition to the link on this post, they will get one on the sidebar as well. Thanks guys, your support is greatly appreciated.

And to everybody else who’s made DeafInPrison.com a reality – our awesome contributors, our supporter contribs and guests, and all our worldwide readers – an extra special animated gif thank you, too!

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.

Hey, They Made Their Choices…

By BitcoDavid

English: Members of Colonel Martinez's Search ...

Members of Colonel Martinez’s Search Bloc celebrate over Pablo Escobar’s body on December 2, 1993. Pablo’s death ended a fifteen-month effort that cost hundreds of millions of dollars. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I often hear the argument, people in prison made their choices – now they have to deal with the consequences. Many of us believe that the prisons in America are bursting at the seams with rapists, murders, thieves and pedophiles. And that – of course – isn’t completely untrue. On the other hand, many inmates are in for non-violent offenses, and far too often, many – Like Felix Garcia – are wrongly convicted in the 1st place. Studies have shown that right now, over 100,000 innocent people are living behind bars.

And what of those who are technically, guilty of a crime, but that crime was a letter of the law rather than a spirit of the law kind of thing. There’s a big difference for example, between a college kid who sells a few ounces of weed to pay for books, and Pablo Escobar. But in the eyes of the law, both men are guilty of the same crime.

The Crime Syndicate from Crisis on Two Earths.

The Crime Syndicate from Crisis on Two Earths. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I bring all this up, because the WaPo, today, published a first person op-ed piece about a guy who was trying to sell some baseball tickets in Washington DC. He got arrested, jailed for a few hours, and fined 50 bucks for the crime of scalping. Here’s what I found most interesting about his story. This guy – judging from his writing voice, and certain cues in the piece – is so White Bread and Middle American, he makes Dick Cheney look like Malcolm X. His surprise and indignation at his plight, I found almost laughable. If a run-in with law enforcement ends up in a couple of hours in holding, and a 50$ fine – consider yourself blessed!

See, I’ve lived most of my life on the razor’s edge. Aw, the hell with it – OK. I’ve been a guest of the State on a few occasions – ranging from a weekend to about a half a year. Nothing really serious – and nowhere near some of the horror stories written about on these venerable pages. People being gunned down in their beds, by dawn-raiding SWAT teams with misaddressed warrants, 30 year frame-ups by family members, decade long stretches in the SHU – that sort of thing.

Evil incarnate. Albert Fish, the Werewolf of Wysteria - murdered and ate children in NY state during the turn of the 20th century. Photo: Serial Killers Murderers

Evil incarnate. Albert Fish – the Werewolf of Wysteria – murdered and ate children in NY state in the early 20th century. Photo: Serial Killers Murderers

My response to Mr. Carr – the author of the WaPo piece would be:

See how easy it is, to end up on the wrong side of those bars? Do you get now, that not everybody is in there because they woke up one morning and decided to go on a killing spree? That when asked what they want to be when they grow up, few children – if any – ever answer with, I want to be a murdering scumbag? What one learns from even a few hours in lockup, is that life isn’t black and white. It happens in shades of grey – in subtle shifts. We don’t make our choices, as much as we have them made for us – or to us. One can do all the right things, and still end up in trouble, and conversely, the streets are teeming with people who should be doing time and aren’t. Good people often make mistakes, and bad ones often get lucky.

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.

A First for Florida Deaf Prisoner Felix Garcia

By Pat Bliss

[This article has been edited to remove the specific names of the researcher and her institution, by request of the original copyright holder - Ed.]

Fist, let me tell you that the clemency action is in motion and the interview article I mentioned in my last update, is on hold due to other commitments at the newspaper.

Something new happened for Felix when he met  a researcher on deaf communication in prisons who came to interview him last Tuesday, June 11, 2013. The researcher contacted me that she would like to do an interview. I led her to the proper authorities, she made the arrangements and the interview took place at Tomoka Correctional Institution.

Image courtesy of Pat Bliss

Image courtesy of Pat Bliss

But it was much more than your usual interview. You see, she is deaf and her language is ASL. Have you ever met someone new and wanted to just sit down and talk to get acquainted? You exchanged personal stories, your likes and dislikes, dreams and ambitions. You could carry on a conversation because you spoke the same language, you understood each other. This happened for the first time EVER in Felix’s life – that is, sitting down and having a normal conversation which he could be a part of and understand all what was said.

How is this so? While living in the free world, Felix was going deaf due to a untreated ear infection from the age of 3. When he was of age to have friends to hang around with, his hearing was cloudy as the disease was eating away his ear drum, puss leaking and suffering from migraine headaches and throwing up. He was not a kid who people would gravitate to. But he could not enjoy any communication anyway since he couldn’t understand what was said in an entire sentence, didn’t comprehend what the meanings were of words since he did not hear the teachers teaching – especially in high school English and Composition. Felix didn’t know what was happening but he felt he was not normal, he was different. A horrible event happened where Felix was arrested for a crime he didn’t commit but it was in prison he found out he was Deaf, and fellow inmates taught him how to Sign, to talk and pronounce words. That was the beginning of being able to interact with people – with full understanding.

The researcher comes in to interview. They are taken to a small room inside the visiting park area. At first he is prepared for an interview with pad and pen but she tells him to put it away, this is different. She opens with telling him something about herself in Sign. He signed back something about himself.  This two way conversation continued for about 3 hours. Felix was ecstastic. He never had an interview like this before, where he got to exchange ideas and convey his own thoughts – his way, in Sign. Felix called me and said “Mom, she is just like me!” [Felix refers to Ms. Bliss as "Mom." - Ed.] He realized there are Deaf out on the streets whom he can communicate with, as any normal human being. It was truly a eye opening moment for Felix. He has new hope of surviving when he gets his freedom. She is excited to have met such an exceptional deaf prisoner. She told me Felix is so different from the others, that he gripped her heart with his honesty and openness. We ended our Video Relay call with her words “I can’t walk away”. I said “I know, that is the reaction from everyone who meets him.”

[Editor's Note: We are still desperate for signatures on Felix's Pardon Petition. I have included the link on 2 of the 3 above graphics, but here it is as well, unformatted so it can be pasted into your address bar if necessary.

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/453/783/026/felix-garcia-should-be-granted-a-full-pardon/

Please consider signing this important petition. We still need about 600 signatures before we can send it off to the Florida authorities, and we want very much for that to coincide with his Clemency Hearing. Thank you in advance - BitcoDavid]

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.

In A Prison Times Three

By Jean F. Andrews

While some children learn to read effortlessly and on their own, I had to wait until the first grade. After my teacher taught me the 26 letters of the alphabet with the sounds they make, and taught me 20 to 30 sight words, she handed me a primer, my first book. Before my very eyes, the magic of story unfolded. I lurched forward through the talk to print connections, put it all together, until it made sense, I was on my way. Reading took me to worlds far and wide, real and imagined. And I have not put a book down since.

My ease in learning to read is not so with most deaf and hard of hearing children.

Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison - Global Giving

Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison – Global Giving

For them it is a lifelong struggle to access visual language–both signed and written. The struggle begins at home in a sound-base environment and continues to school, another sound-based setting and if they have scrapes with the law, it continues into still another sound- based setting, the prison.

My colleague, who organized a book club for hearing inmates in our town’s prison, says his book club is transforming minds. Inmates read books and get together with him to discuss ideas from the novels and share their own experiences about situations and characters they read about. Not a bad way to spend their time while they are doing time.

But if you are deaf, it’s a different story.

The 3 Weird Sisters from Macbeth. Afana.org

The 3 Weird Sisters from Macbeth. Afana.org

Most deaf inmates can’t read beyond the second grade level. It would be impossible for deaf inmates who are illiterate to get into the biography of Malcolm X or To Kill A Mockingbird or Macbeth or read Robert Frost’s poetry. My colleague’s prison book club has created a shared humanity, an oxymoron in such an incapacitating and punitive setting as the prison.

While deaf inmates reading levels are lower than the average reading level of most deaf high school leavers which is 3rd to 4th grade, still deaf non-offenders have information sources around them through the Internet, YouTube, VRS, their signing deaf and hearing friends, signing hearing friends, Deaf sports, and Deaf associations and ASL/English bilingual e-books.

Alex Dixon - Flickr

Alex Dixon – Flickr

Not so, for deaf inmates.

Deaf inmates live in cells without books or signing companions. Not only are they locked up physically; they are locked within the prison of illiteracy and within the prison without signers. It is prison times three.

What a terrible, excruciating lonely and cruel existence.

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

She Still Doesn’t Like Mondays

By BitcoDavid

Rarely but occasionally, my many favorite subjects coincide to form a great story. In this case, they would be history, music and crime. In a piece for MadMike’s America, I was reminded of the tale of Brenda Ann Spencer, the 16 year-old girl who didn’t like Mondays, and hence shot the whole day down.

On the 29th of January, 1979, Ms. Spencer unloaded 30 rounds from her home across the street, aimed at the Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California – killing the principal and a janitor, and wounding 8 children. The Boomtown Rats made her a cult icon in a song, titled with her infamous quote upon being captured. This happened before Columbine, before Virginia Tech and before Newtown. It serves as a reminder that shooting tragedies – and this type of mental illness – are nothing new. Many believe it also serves as a reminder that women are as capable of going off the rails, as are men. Still others believe that poor Brenda Ann stands as testament to the state of our broken world.

And yet others can’t stop laughing long enough to seek any meaning at all, from this senseless crime. Daddy’s little girl slips her trolley one morning, swipes his service auto, and starts blasting away – screaming that she doesn’t like Mondays. They’re not laughing at the tragedy – the destroyed lives of both the victims and the perpetrator – they’re laughing at themselves, at us. The Crown of Creation, a broken toaster.

Nobody really knows why people do what they do, we just know that they can be counted on to do stupid and destructive things. And in the end, we all suffer. We suffer as much from what Brenda Ann and her ilk do, as we suffer from what we do to them. Brenda’s in prison now – one of the first juveniles to be tried as an adult, and one of the first females – but that’s our failing, as well as her own. Somebody, somewhere, failed this girl. I’m not naive enough to claim her as an innocent – I’m simply saying that we all share in her guilt.

See, a prison – any prison – isn’t a symbol of our success in fighting social deviance, it’s a symbol of our failure. As long as there are prisons, we haven’t beaten crime – we’ve merely built an ineffectual bastion against it. People ask me why I write about prison so much. Perhaps it’s because I know how easy it would be for me to end up in one. Perhaps it’s because I thank Dog – or whomever daily, that I’m not already there. But I think it’s because deviance is an essential and necessary component of civilization. That without those who violate the social contract – no such contract could exist at all.

Brenda in an interview from Chino - 2012 Image: Today in Women's History

Brenda in an interview from Chino – 1999
Image: Today in Women’s History

My heart really goes out to poor schlemiels like Brenda Ann. She’s the flat tire on our Mercedes. The Trojan in our e-mail, the fly in our soup. But without her, our world wouldn’t exist. Flu doesn’t exist because you have an immune system – it’s the other way round. Police are our immune system – prison, our antibody – and Brenda Ann is our flu.

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.

Picture Glossaries in Jail: Do They Work?

By Jean F. Andrews

"Jail" in Sign Image: LifePrint.com

“Jail” in Sign
Image: LifePrint.com

“A picture is worth a thousand words. ” While this is true most of the time such as in family and nature photography, pictures don’t tell the whole story for the Deaf or ELL (English as a Second Language) offender. To address their language needs, jail and prisons officials are hiring graphic art designers to develop glossy, picture aids to assist the Deaf and ELL inmates. For instance, one jail in the south developed a pamphlet made up of a glossary of 25 terms such as “correctional officer,” “jails,” “pat down search,” “bail bond”—all illustrated with one colored picture for each term, followed by the word presented in English, Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese, and Haitian-Creole. These materials I would term “good will” materials as

they show awareness and respect for the offenders’ primary language.

Sign for "Interpret" In ASL, one would add the sign for "person" to signify an interpreter. Image: LifePrint.com

Sign for “Interpret” In ASL, one would add the sign for “person” to signify an interpreter. Image: LifePrint.com

But these pictionaries don’t really provide the access that Deaf and ELL offenders need. During the jail intake procedures and during the offenders’ stay in jail there is a basic need for more in-depth, 2-way communication between the

inmate and the jail officers. Deaf and ELL offenders need qualified interpreters to explain to them the jail inmate handbook as well as the procedures for grievances while in jail. If they are sexually or physically assaulted, they need to know the procedures in getting help.

In short, picture glossaries “look good” to the outsider. But nothing replaces the need for qualified sign language interpreters for Deaf offenders, and other language interpreters for the ELL offenders.

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

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