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.

The Injustice of Lonliness as Punishment

[The tagline for is Sentenced to Solitude in Silence. Our contributor JoanneGreenberg sent this in. –Ed.]

The hardest part of being deaf and in prison may not be the rapes, the missing of messages or the misunderstanding in general. It might be the absence of other deaf people. Imagine a Russian or Basque speaker in jail who knows very little English, and suffers the unappeased hunger for simple contact, conversation and communication. This absence, we hear from other prisoners, is what is so biting in solitary confinement.

What I remember from my trips to mental hospitals, before their patents were ditched into our local streets, was the complaint of deaf people there who had been placed geographically, instead of by medical definitions. This was a huge advance for the ordinary hearing mentally ill, because it didn’t discriminate between chronic and acute conditions, thereby allowing the chronic to be simply warehoused instead of being treated. For the Deaf, it was ruinous because they had no way of knowing who else might be there with whom they could communicate.

Now, the prisons have the same problem. If deafness could take prcedence over the type of crime or the length of sentence, deaf people could be housed together and services tailored to their needs could be instituted.

County Jails vs. Prison from a Paralegal Perspective

I was asked by BitcoDavid to give my impressions of jail and prison as a paralegal. From 1993 to the end of 2006, I have spent a lot of my time either going into a prison or a jail. I hear many confuse the word jail when they mean prison so let me clarify the difference. Simply put, if one is arrested and awaiting trial, is convicted or pleas to a sentence that is less than one year – that person will serve his sentence in a county jail. If after a trial or a plea, and the sentence is a year on up – that person goes to a state prison. Federal sentences are carried out a bit differently – they are mainly all served in a federal prison.

When I was first hired as a paralegal in 1996, it was primarily to be the liaison between jail and the law office. I was already involved in prison ministry and had been inside many prisons by then. Therefore, this new position seemed to fit right in.  Jails are a different animal than prisons. Between the two, just about any inmate will take a prison over a jail. Why?

Jail is a 24-hour confinement in a cell pod area – no place to walk, except for possibly one hour of recreation a day in a small area. A few other activities could be attending a religious service, going to the law library, visiting with legal counsel or reporting to medical – if necessary. In one jail where I visited clients, medium and minimum-security inmates walked to chow. Maximum-security inmates were served at their cells. Cell pods are large enclosures composed of beds and tables, or separate areas consisting of smaller cells around the walls, with tables in the middle. They’re often overflowing, with inmates sleeping on the floor – very close quarters. However, the stress is probably the worst factor. The majority of inmates are awaiting trial. Tensions are high. Mistrust is like nowhere else.  Con games are going on constantly, and some inmates become snitches for the State, hoping it will help them get a better deal. Unfortunately, it often works.

In order to get inside a jail, I needed a permission letter written by the attorney, to a Captain or Sergeant in the Sheriff’s Office who oversees visitations by legal counsel. When I would show up to see a client, and my name checked with date and time entered, I was given a badge to wear while inside. I generally had a one-hour time limit, but if I were to see more than one client, then I had however long it took to complete the visitation. One time I got so busy seeing clients (I had about 6) I didn’t watch the clock, and when I went to leave the normal way, no one was on duty. In fact, I could not see anyone down one hall or another. I felt a little panic as I forgot how to get to Intake, where new arrestees are brought in. Finally, I found Intake and explained why I was inside. Because they had seen my face before, they believed me and we had a good laugh. Maybe if this had happened after 9/11 it would not have been so funny as many rules changed after that.

Before 9/11, in the 1990s, I had a lot of leeway.  At this one jail, there were 5 floors. Each floor had 2 to 3 attorney rooms – mostly glass – where I was locked in with the inmate. Often, those rooms were occupied. No problem! On one particular floor, they had a broom closet with a metal bench type table. Yes, that is where I would go and meet with the client among mops, buckets and sanitizers! Actually, I got the job done very well, and could leave when I wanted to. I almost preferred this room. In the attorney room, I would have to ring a buzzer, and wait for a deputy to open the door so I could leave.

That was another story, waiting on the deputy to open the door – letting me out was not top priority. Several times I would be locked in for quite awhile because, for example, of shift changes. I would much rather been in the broom closet, and able to leave whenever I wanted.

Each jail has a different layout, therefore, it would behoove you to listen to directions thoroughly, the first time – one could get confused with all the hallways. Some used color-coded stripes on walls or floors to different wings. Video cameras were strategically placed.

Like I mentioned earlier, inmates would prefer prison to jail. Where jail is quite confining, prison allows more freedom. One could almost say, prison is like a community environment –everyone makes their own bed and does their own laundry. They have a job to do every day. If not working at a job, inmates can go to classes like GED, or learn a skill. Outside ministry programs like Prison Fellowship and Kairos, [Kairos Prison Ministry – ed.] offer church services. Typically, there will be a law library. Inmates walk to chow, can exercise or join a sports team, go to the canteen and make phone calls. All of this of course is regulated, but from this perspective, there is more of a life.

Then there is the emotional factor. In prison, they know they are there for a while. It could be a little over a year, or for life. Nevertheless, the tension of not knowing the immediate future is gone. They settle in, so to speak, to start a new life. This new life though, offers new challenges – just like in any new neighborhood. Every prison has its gangs, its predators, nice people and bad people.

Well, aren’t they all bad? You would be surprised at how many decent people find that they are suffering the consequences of a bad decision, for whatever reason. Of course, many are actually innocent. That is where I come in – the innocent! It has been my passion all the while, in criminal law, to help free the innocent – to see justice done.

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


A Follow-up to My Last Inmate Letter

[I received another letter from the deaf inmate in CA in response to my letter. His first letter is shown below and/or under inmate letters tab. I have typed pertinent parts, and in clearer understanding, as most of it is a repeat of his first letter but I believe it shows what a little kindness can do for an inmate who has had no contact with society in his 25 years of incarceration. He still wishes to remain anonymous due to fears of retribution and harm but if you, the reader, would like to pass on a word of encouragement to give him hope, please leave a comment and I will print it and send it to him. This also applies to all the letters I have received that have been passed on to BitcoDavid.



4-2-2012                                                                                                                                                                                 ******* **** ******


***** ****** ****

******. CA *****

Dear Ms. Pat Bliss,

After all these years with no contact or communication, your letter was pure joy. I wrote the attorney lady address that you sent me, I took the time and explained all these years of incarceration of abuse and rapes: who – what – when. But because officers read our mail, unless it is legal mail, I ask Ms. Attorney *** to inform you of my condition and circumstances. I fear for my life constantly from officers and inmates which the officers use against other inmates….

I’ve live in loneliness, no love and a broken heart for 55 years. Ms. Pat…there are 2 laws and rules: black and white, the officers urge racism and hate and violence…if you get this letter I’m telling you I don’t want to die in prison…from birth till this day, my life has been lonely and empty and for 25 years hell but thanks to you, you have given me a small light of hope.

But at my age I wonder who would want to deal with a black, deaf, inmate even out in the world? I’m emotionally damaged and scared of people.

I’m so low emotionally, I don’t expect anything, no happiness. I have never loved or never had love, no compassion, no togetherness, no family, no friends and now I’m completely deaf. Pray for me and may God Bless you. Thanks. ****** *******.


[For the public’s information, I have the ball rolling to try to get this man help. Since mail takes so long, I have no other feedback to share at this time.]

A Radio for the Deaf

[It’s a rare pleasure to get some good news from a Deaf prisoner, and this letter is one example. As I write Felix Garcia’s story, I thought I would like to share this letter from him, with you – our readers.

Pat Bliss]

Image Courtesy Pat Bliss


Ms. Patricia Bliss

Hello Mom! :) Yesterday they called me to the property room and gave me my special radio and a letter from you. It was the day before yesterday that I called you on the phone. Wow Mom. The radio works great with this new hearing aid. Right now I have several Christian stations in preset. I have 88.9, 94.5, 91.5 and 89.7. And they’re great. I sing in Sign language. I can’t understand all the words but Mom this is great. I love it so much. It’s the hearing aids that made the difference. I can see now with a very strong set of hearing aids I can do almost anything. I let all the other Deaf try out the system using my new hearing aid and they were shocked on how strong this new hearing aid is. The radio does not work on any of their hearing aids except for one guy which shocked me also. I still have my old hearing aid and it works with that one but nothing like this new one. It still does not work with the T.V. and that’s because there is something wrong with the T.V. or the box but I get Christian stations and Christian songs. Yeah!!!!! :)

This morning I did a Bible study at 5 in the morning on 88.9 called Weapon of Praise, Psalm 9:1-3 and 2 chronicles 20:1-22. It was great. The Lord has truly blessed me this day. What other Christian music can I get? Happy, Happy, Happy, Happy, Happy, Happy, Happy, Happy, :)

Oh, I like this song that’s on now. It’s called “When I’m Alone with You.” {Calling me away when I’m alone with you – your glory shines, when I’m running again – all I have is you – you break this heart of stone}.

Image courtesy Pat Bliss

God, Mom. It feels so good to hear Christian music again. I love God so much. It’s my way of singing to Him. I cry out in songs with Signing. He loves us Mom, God is good. He really watches out for us. I just want to be around Him so much. Music, music, music. :) I’m so happy. This morning I prayed – for Jesus to wrap me up in this music and hide me. I slept so good last night.

He will make all things new, as we wait, as we watch, come because he is calling you. Just now I looked at the guy and said wake up. God loves you, and tomorrow is not promised, don’t miss out on the truth. Don’t let it pass you by. You may not get another chance. From the beginning of time, God has reigned and there is no other. Don’t be fooled by a false God. You owe it to yourself. Jesus is the only way. Be a rising star on the winning team. Look around you at this horrible place. Now look out that window at God’s creation, a lizard, a butterfly, the trees and the sky. God is good – all the time.

Happy Mother’s Day


I love you :)

Your Son

[Letter transcribed by BitcoDavid]

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