A Couple of Quick Anecdotes

No Tour In Vietnam

Johny Ramos, who went to the school for the deaf in St.Augustine, was inducted by mistake into the service during the Vietnam War. Since he didn’t understand that his deafness would have made him exempt, he reported for duty. Later, my friend asked him how he had passed his medical examination.

“I’m okay, physically,” Johny told him, “When I saw the man ahead of me doing something, I did the same.  When the questions came, I nodded where he had nodded and shook my head where he had.”

“What about the hearing test?”

“I looked at the examiner’s eyes. His pupils contracted when he heard the sound, I was supposed to hear.  Then, I raised my hand.”

“What about your training?”

“I just followed whatever I saw going on around me.  When the guy in front of me got up, I got up.  When he threw  up, I threw up. Marching, sleeping, pissing, I just followed along.”

Johny was on the train to the airport to take him to his deployment, when his parents finally rang the bell on him.

Not Invited To The Riot


College kids were rioting in  those days, so the kids at Gallaudet, the world’s only college for the deaf, decided they needed to be part of what was going on.  Gallaudet is in Washington, D. C. the political heart of the country.  Why shouldn’t they be out there with those other students?

When they saw the students running and carrying signs, they followed along.  Two deaf students, somehow got separated from the group and missed the arrival of the police.  Someone threw a Molotov cocktail from a roof. The police thought the deaf students did it.

Came the words: “Stop or I’ll shoot!”

This was to happen over the years more than a few times, two of which were done by private individuals when they thought deaf people were trespassing. How much more dangerous is it for deaf people in prison, where a guard’s order is not immediately carried out?

Our First Ever Audio File

This is an edit of an interview I did with a deaf woman who was arrested a few years ago in Arizona. The interview was conducted via the Video Interpreting Service. It is worth noting, how expressive and conversant this woman sounds in the interview. Bear in mind, that the voice you’re hearing is the voice of the interpreter, not the woman herself.

This is the miracle of ASL. Due to the interpreter’s fluency in the language, she is able to add inflection and non-verbal content.

MDol https://deafinprison.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/mariadollconv21.mp3lConv2

How Would You Handle This?

“Pete Castle” was away from home, and going into freshman year at a community college in Denver. College for him, was a completely new cultural experience. Because of his deafness, much ordinary life skills had passed him by.
Here he was in a laundromat, strange to him, his mother always having done his wash. School had taken up his day, so it was after 7PM and dark at this time of the year.

Pete had learned, long ago not to trust his “deaf” voice. Hearing people found it harsh, and sometimes had trouble understanding the sounds he made, which, of course, he couldn’t hear himself making.

There was only one other person in the laundromat, a young woman of about the same age as Pete, but with obvious competence, as she put paper money into a change machine and picked up the quarters necessary to start the process.

Following her, Pete slipped his dollar in as he had seen her do. The bill kicked back. Again. Again. He wanted to find out what was going wrong. He went over to the girl whose back was to him, came close and put a hand on her shoulder. She screamed and turned, screaming. Her body language mirrored pure terror. He tried to reassure her, but the combination of his coarse, unintelligible voice, his violation of her personal space and his hand on her, brought screams from her that were heard in the street. Soon an assault in progress brought the police – and handcuffs. His incomprehensible explanation brought the use of the Taser.

There was no interpreter at the station house, and no explanation on ether side. Cultural differences were too great. The young man was charged with assault and attempted rape. It was days before an astute judge called in a signing counselor, and the charges were ramped down to a misdemeanor.

Pete lost valuable school time.

Deaf people tend to stand closer to each other than hearing people do. Deaf people tend to use physical means of expression. Seldom is there formal teaching about man-woman relations.
The change machine at the laundromat had been unable to read the codes on the new multicolored bills.

A Current Case from HEARD

This is a memo I received from HEARD. The case is current, so not only are the names and locations redacted, but also any information that could be considered sensitive.



What I’ve Learned Thus Far

When the owner of this Blog, contracted me to build and manage the site, it was not because of my knowledge of the Deaf community, nor my understanding of the struggle of Deaf prisoners.

I’m not a psychologist, an attorney or an ASL interpreter. I’m an engineer, who recently discovered he has a penchant for writing. I was given this opportunity because I had the requisite Internet skills to help bring the owner’s vision to fruition.

In fact, it had never really occurred to me that there were deaf people in prison. Oh, I rather figured a certain percentage of the prison population might well be deaf, since the prison population in America is a microcosm of the overall population. Nevertheless, it never actually occurred to me that there may be a significant number, or that these people would bear an inordinate amount of the suffering that is prison life.

Since having begun this project however, I have learned a lot. Too much in fact, for the scope of this article – so I’d like to focus on two of the major lessons learned.

I’ll begin with a quick anecdote. This week, I had the opportunity to interview a deaf female victim of legal abuse. This unique experience was made possible by a relay service. The deaf individual signs into a video camera – videophone device, which is sent – via the Internet – to an interpreter. The interpreter reads the sign and speaks to a relay operator, who in turn speaks to me. When I speak, the whole process is reversed. This is truly a miraculous system, and it makes communication that would otherwise be impossible – commonplace.

During our conversation, at one point, I asked her why she hadn’t told the arresting officers a certain pertinent fact that would have helped her cause. There was a long pause at the other end of the phone – and not due to the relay operator’s delay lag.

After a moment, I heard the operator’s voice in the interrogative. “Tell?”

Here’s my point. I’ve learned that Deafness isn’t merely an inability to hear. More often, it’s an inability to communicate. If you were born deaf, chances are quite good that you never learned how to speak. Not only, can you not understand those whom you’re trying to talk to, but they can’t understand you. They may think you’re drunk, high on drugs or just plain stupid. They may confuse your fear and frustration with violence. In a job – like police work – where these people are constantly faced with life or death realities, the reaction to someone grunting and waving their arms around might well be one of self-defense.

Growing up, we learned to read and write by sitting in a class with others our age as they learned those same skills. We’d sound out words and the teachers would orally correct us when we made a mistake. The process of learning to read and write became homogenous with the process of learning to speak – and to hear. Not true for the Deaf.

Many Deaf receive their early schooling through something known as mainstreaming – being sent to a normal public school, alongside hearing children. These students find it exceedingly difficult, and not simply because the curriculum isn’t designed for those who cannot speak or hear English, but also because of the cruelty and unsociability of the other students. Alas, I myself – too young to know any better – am guilty of that very act.

A minority perhaps but nonetheless a surprising number of Deaf, are illiterate. Think of the horror of this. You’re being arrested. For what, you don’t know. In fact, you may not even understand the concept of arrest at all. First thing – they cuff your hands behind your back. The only communication you know is now gone. It’s as if they had gagged you with duct tape. All kinds of shouting, hitting and intimidations are going on – and not only can you not understand them, but they cannot understand you. Finally, they figure out that you’re deaf. They search the cruiser and come up with a postage stamp sized scrap of paper and a pen that doesn’t work. They tell you to write what you have to say, but you can’t write! You’ve been raised speaking with your hands – speaking as a first language – something completely alien to them.

Even those individuals who speak a foreign language have the advantage over you, because they’ve managed to pick up enough broken English to get by, and the chances that someone in the police station speaks Spanish, German or French are far better than the chances they speak Sign.

Lip-reading? Well, I’ve learned that lip-reading is about as effective as crossing the Rockies on a bicycle. You can do it, but it ain’t gonna be easy.

Here’s the 2nd big lesson for me. In trying to find contributors, stories, and other content for this Blog, I’ve discovered that there is a whole world of people out there, who have something to say, but lack either access to the Internet, or the skills to use it. There are people who have stories to tell, who want to contribute, who want to enlighten and entertain. Many of these people are far more comfortable, hand writing a letter and mailing it, than they are setting up avatars and logging in to Web sites.

Two Md. inmates worthy of mercy – The Washington Post

Two Md. inmates worthy of mercy – The Washington Post.

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