The Struggle of the Deaf in Prison

By BitcoDavid

Image: Wikipedia

Image: Wikipedia

Deep beneath Colorado’s Cheyenne Mountain – recently renamed Mt. BitcoDavid – lies the DeafInPrison.com complex. Here, thousands of worker bees  – wearing black suits, dark sunglasses and coiled thingies in their ears – drive around in blacked-out Chevy Suburbans, and labor tirelessly to bring you the best in Internet content.

Recently they received a communique from the Silent Grapevine, requesting a supporter contribution. Here is BitcoDavid’s response to that request:

The Struggle of the Deaf in Prison

By
BitcoDavid

All three elements of interaction with the Justice system, directly affect the Deaf in far different ways than they do the Hearing.

1) Arrest: The goal of police during an arrest is to take physical custody of a suspect. Their only concern is discovering hidden weapons, and preventing escape. There is little opportunity for communication during this phase, and an ability of the suspect to follow orders is essential. When a cop holding his gun, yells “get down or I’ll shoot,” you need to get down. If you can’t understand that command, you’re in immediate danger. Many Deaf sacrifice their Constitutional rights, due to lack of understanding the Miranda warning. A written card containing the Miranda rights is useless, because many Deaf have limited reading ability.

The interrogation phase of arrest is equally fraught with communicational failings. Many Deaf, in order to fit in, or to expedite an uncomfortable situation, will respond to questioning by smile and nod. This leads Hearing to believe that the Deaf understand what is going on, even when they don’t. Finally, out of fear and exhaustion, the suspects will often confess to things they didn’t do. After 12, 24, possibly even 48 hours of grueling questions – none of which they can hear or understand – they confess.

2) Court proceedings and trial: Here, an interpreter is essential, but is often denied. An example is the now 33-year-old case of Felix Garcia, the man that DeafInPrison.com is working to pardon. On numerous occasions, the judge would ask Felix if he could hear. For reasons that he himself isn’t completely clear on, he would answer in the affirmative. In the end, all they did was turn the speakers all the way up, causing Felix great pain, but not aiding at all in his ability to hear the accusations and evidence against him.

If a Deaf defendant is at all likely to have the benefit of a qualified ASL interpreter, it is during the trial phase. However, interpreters cost money that states are loath to spend. They will invariably try to find cost cutting methods of getting things done. Why add to an already expensive trial if you can prove that no interpreter is required?

3) Incarceration: It is here that the Deaf suffer most. It is here as well, that competent interpreters are most necessary, and least often made available. There have been cases reported of Deaf inmates not reporting for Count, because the order is verbal. Failure to report for Count can result in serious punishment such as Solitary Confinement. The same situation exists with Mess. Often, Deaf inmates go without being fed, because they are unaware that it’s time to eat.

The biggest problem for the Deaf in America’s prisons is violence and rape. Deaf people cannot hear whispers and muttering. They can’t hear people coming up behind them, and they have difficulty in reporting such activities. They struggle receiving medical care, because they can’t hear the doctors and nurses, therefore may not be as able to take part in their therapy, or in filling prescriptions, as can their Hearing counterparts. Conversely, they are less able to describe symptoms or to otherwise aid in their diagnoses.

The number of prisons and jails that offer onsite interpreters for these situations is relatively small – even in these days of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Furthermore, even if interpreters are available, the inmate must request one before the appointment.

Guards often see Deaf inmates as troublemakers. Nothing gets under a Corrections Officer’s skin, as much as a special request or need. When you’re in charge of 1000 or more individuals, the last thing you want to hear is inmate XYZ needs an interpreter.

We can address and eliminate these issues with a small amount of effort.

Every police cruiser in this country is equipped with onboard computers and WiFi. Police should learn how to use video relay via the Internet. Deaf suspects can be brought to the cruiser, where they would be able to offer a defense against arrest, and at the same time, be informed as to why they’re being arrested and what is expected of them.

Detectives need to conduct interrogations with interpreters present. If costs and availability were an issue, again, Internet interpreters and video relay would do the trick.

The responsibility for determining a defendant’s ability to aid in his own defense should no longer be the purview of judges and attorneys. The court should consult with an audiologist if there is any question as to a defendant’s competency.

Prisons and jails would need to make three significant changes. First, interpreters should be full-time on all shifts, and available. Inmates shouldn’t have to go through official channels to request an interpreter. Secondly, institutions need to house Deaf inmates in separate dorms, fully equipped to meet their needs. Finally, Deaf and bilingual (English/ASL) guards would be greatly beneficial.

Lastly, of course, if ASL were offered in all public schools, colleges and trade schools, individuals – law enforcement and otherwise – would be able to communicate with the Deaf, and would be able to reap the many advantages of learning Sign.

Image: Wikipedia

Image: Wikipedia

My gratitude and appreciation to Silent Grapevine for this opportunity.

Also, don’t forget that the #KeepASLinSchools video is done and can be seen here and here. Felix’s case is garnering much needed attention, thanks to the efforts of Sachs Media Group who is still maintaining their petition, here. Please take a minute to sign – even if you’ve already signed ours. It is critically important. And thank you all, for your continued support.

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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Kids in Adult Jails: Almost Half States Stopping Practice

By BitcoDavid

Juvenile Girl in Prison by Richard Ross. Photo credit http://www.businessinsider.com/richard-ross-juvenile-in-justice-2012-10

The artist in me just loves this picture. It so beautifully expresses the waste and futility of long term confinement of minors. Juvenile Girl in Prison by Richard Ross. Photo credit
Business Insider

The Campaign for Youth Justice just released a report that states that a number of legislative bodies in America have revisited the concept of warehousing teen offenders in adult facilities. America detains 70,000 youths per day — WaPo. There are now numerous bodies of evidence that this practice not only keeps the offenders from completing their education, but actually adds to the likelihood that they will grow up to be career criminals.

Of those 70,000, a large number are housed in adult facilities – with predatory, hardened adults. The suicide rate for these teens is 36 times greater than that of minors housed in juvenile facilities — NYT.

Psychologists now know that the Human brain doesn’t completely develop until the mid-twenties. While it is true that young people are capable of committing heinous crimes, and that punishment – as a factor of rehabilitation – is necessary, punishing a child by the same guidelines as one punishes an adult, is unfair to both the child, and to society as a whole. We will never know the contributions that may have been made by bad kids who turned their lives around.

Kids enter adult facilities, scared and unprepared. They are likely to get into fights, or in some other way, break rules. This results in solitary confinement. Numerous studies show that even the strongest of adults are mentally unequipped to deal with the privations of solitary. Undeveloped teenage brains cannot withstand the agony of this form of punishment. The kids come out scarred and damaged – if they come out at all.

Another problem with housing juveniles in adult facilities is that of rape, and other forms of sexual brutality. Excuse my bluntness here, but the simple fact is, young people are a prized commodity in the sexual marketplace within American prisons. Many are immediately sold into sexual slavery, and none of them have developed the skills to be able to protect themselves in those situations. They walk through the doors as victims in waiting, and are immediately preyed upon.

Often this leads to a cyclic abuse state, where the minor – upon release – becomes an abuser. I am reminded of a story once relayed to me. A young man was placed in what was at that time a juvenile facility. The initiation process involved the other inmates taking turns at kicking him in the genitals. The young man’s testicles ruptured and he ended up requiring medical castration. When a new inmate arrived, did the protagonist of my story refrain from imposing the same tragedy on the new boy? No. On the contrary, his fellow inmates were actually shocked at his savagery. The abused had become an abuser.

We have a lot of problems in America, and crime is certainly one of them. Victims rights groups are correct in pointing out that innocent people suffer at the hands of offenders. I know of a case in which a retired couple were robbed and killed in their home. The offender, a juvenile, wanted their car. The heartless brutality of the incident jolted the neighborhood. Many believe that the teenage perpetrator deserves nothing less than life in prison.

I can’t agree. Taking nothing from the suffering of the elderly couple, I believe that this teenager could have been helped – and could have turned his life around. Perhaps he would have become a social worker or a volunteer. Perhaps he would have felt that he owed that much to his 2 victims – an atonement. As it was, he became yet another male whore in an adult facility – where he died by his own hand.

Below, I have embedded the entire report. My appreciation to the Campaign for Youth Justice, the WaPo and the NYT for help with this article.

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.

When Death Comes as a Kindness

By BitcoDavid

Herman Wallace is best known as one of the Angola 3. Sites like Prisonmovement’s Weblog and Moorbey’z Blog have spent years trying to get him released from solitary confinement in Louisiana. Early on Friday, October 4th, Herman Wallace passed away, after a long battle with cancer. He was 71 years old.

Wallace was a writer, an artist and the figurehead of a cause. He spent 41 years in Angola’s solitary confinement.

Since January of 1974, Wallace has not seen the sun, experienced the joy of conversation or felt the heat of a woman. He lived what is for many of us, a lifetime, in a 6′ by 9′ concrete cell.

Mr. Wallace had originally been convicted on an armed robbery charge, and was housed in general population. During a prison riot, a corrections officer – Brent Miller – was stabbed and killed. Wallace and Albert Woodfox were convicted of the stabbing, and sentenced to life in solitary. There, they were confined with another inmate, Robert King. These three men became the subject of an Amnesty International report in 2011. Documentarist Vadim Jean directed the film In the Land of the Free, about the plight of the Angola 3. To the very end, Wallace swore his innocence, and both his family and his lawyer believed that the 3 were wrongfully convicted.

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

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

Wallace was released 3 days before his death, in what can only be described as a real life Dostoevsky novel. No justice, no closure – merely a glimmer of hope before the bitter end.

Wallace was born on Oct. 13, 1941. He leaves behind, five sisters.

Time marches on, and there is an urgency in peoples’ lives. If we don’t help people like Wallace now, when they need our help, it may be too late when we finally get around to doing the right thing by them. I bring this up because of Felix Garcia. The man I see in this picture has aged markedly. Felix has spent over 30 years, wrongfully incarcerated. If we don’t help him now, it may soon be too late.

After 41 years in the deepest recesses of Angola’s hellish solitary confinement, and the long-term agony of the most horrible of diseases, Mr. Wallace must have been glad to go. Surely for him, death came as a kindness.

My gratitude to the New York Times for help with this article.

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.

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

Excellent Interview Video on Solitary from WGBH

By BitcoDavid

The following video comes from Boston’s WGBH TV.

The video presents a number of interesting facts regarding solitary confinement, including that it’s expensive, and poses a public safety threat. We know it’s torture, and we know that it destroys minds and crushes souls – but many argue that prisoners deserve no better. Well, this video provides a counter argument that even the staunchest crime and punishment type, can understand.

Simply that it costs us taxpayers up to 3 times as much to break men in solitary, as it does to house them humanely. Further, since people do occasionally get released from prison, it does society little good to create psychotics – and then send them back to the public.

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.

26 Minutes in the SHU

By BitcoDavid

Much thanks and respect to Moorbey who originally posted this – well originally for us, anyway. It was actually posted on YouTube by KQED News. It was shot by the security camera in one of the exercise pens at Pelican Bay. I post it here with the following nugget of food for thought. This video is 26 minutes long. If you find it terminally monotonous and boring – think what 10 years must be like.

Peace. Out.

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.

Saving Lives with Shakespeare

Jean TrounstineBy Jean Trounstine

Can you imagine teaching Shakespeare to men in solitary confinement?  And by that I mean men who are actually locked in 23 out of 24 hours a day behind metal doors with only a slit to see through into the hallway?  And along with that, try picturing a woman who sits in that hallway, coaching those men as they speak Shakespeare’s lines aloud talking to other men who they cannot see?

Image: Jean Trounstine

Image: Jean Trounstine

This is the mission of Laura Bates, an amazing woman who is an associate professor at Indiana University and in 2003 began teaching in Wabash Correctional in Indiana.  In an article for an Indiana State U publication, Bates says “We are the only Shakespeare program in the segregated unit in solitary confinement anywhere in the world….Never before attempted….never duplicated either.”

The process according to the article:  “Two officers escort each man into an individual cell in a separate unit inside segregated housing. Bates, as shown above, sits in the small hallway between eight individual cells with the imprisoned men sitting behind metal doors peering, talking and listening through open rectangular cuff ports.”

I met Laura Bates when we presented together along with others who had used Shakespeare behind bars and I was knocked out by her work.  While I worked for ten years at Framingham Women’s Prison in Massachusetts and directed eight plays with women in the regular population (See Shakespeare Behind-Bars: The Power of Drama in a Womens Prison), Laura worked exclusively with men in solitary.

The challenge is explored in a book just released, Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary With the Bard.  She focuses on one particular prisoner and hence the title.  Larry felt Shakespeare saved his life.

In her book, Bates says that Larry read all of Shakespeare’s works and she feels that some of his comments are as insightful as any she has received in or out of prison, teaching the Bard.  He eventually made it into the general population of the prison. She is currently compiling his comments into The Prisoner’s Guide to the Complete Works of Shakespeare.

Here is a snippet from the book, reprinted below with the author’s permission on amazon.com

Oh, man, this is my favorite freakin’ quote!”

What professor wouldn’t like to hear a student enthuse so much over a Shakespeare play—a Shakespeare history play, no less! And then to be able to flip open the two-thousand-page Complete Works of Shakespeare and find the quote immediately: “When that this body did contain a spirit, a kingdom for it was too small a bound”!

…“Act 5, scene 4,” my student informs me, again smacking the page with his enthusiastic fist. “Oh, man, that is crazy!”

Yes, this is crazy: I am sitting side-by-side with a prisoner who has just recently been allowed to join the general prison population after more than ten years in solitary confinement. We met three years prior, in 2003, when I created the first-ever Shakespeare program in a solitary confinement unit, and we spent three years   working together in that unit. Now we have received unprecedented permission to work together, alone, unsupervised, to create a series of Shakespeare workbooks for prisoners. Newton is gesticulating so animatedly that it draws the attention of an officer walking by our little classroom. He pops his head inside.

“Everything okay in here?” he asks.

“Just reading Shakespeare,” I reply.

He shakes his head and walks on.

“That is crazy!” Newton repeats, his head still in the book.

A record ten and a half consecutive years in solitary confinement, and he’s not   crazy, he’s not dangerous—he’s reading Shakespeare. And maybe, just maybe, it is because he’s reading Shakespeare that he is not crazy, or dangerous.

Many of the men Bates encountered committed violent offenses behind bars, and while solitary is extremely controversial as a way to help prisoners change their behavior, they are sent there as punishment, often for years. But no matter what you think of containing these people in cages, no prisoner is only their crime. Bates’s work points up the idea that to label people as un-redeemable belies our humanity. These men are not “the worst of the worst” as often referred to in article after article.  They are men who are also human beings indebted to the chance to turn their pain, loss, rage and deprivation into words.  Bravo.

Jean Trounstine is an author/editor of five published books, professor at Middlesex Community College and a prison activist. She worked at Framingham Women’s Prison for ten years where she directed eight plays; she published Shakespeare Behind Bars: The Power of Drama in a Women’s Prison about that work. She takes apart the criminal justice system brick by brick at www.bostonmagazine.com and blogs at “Justice with Jean” at www.jeantrounstine.com.  Follow her @justicewithjean.

Permalink: http://jeantrounstine.com/?p=966

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