H.E.A.R.D. Sends Letter to Editors of Major Fla. Papers

By BitcoDavid

Talila Lewis of Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deafcomposed and sent the following letter.

Dear Editor:

The abuse experienced by deaf prisoners housed in the Florida Department of Corrections defies imagination. Our most vulnerable prisoners–those who are deaf, deaf-blind, blind, elderly and mentally and physically disabled–are the victims of extreme violence and sexual abuse. This abuse has been reported to the governor, the current and former Department of Corrections secretaries, the Office of the Inspector General, and numerous wardens, corrections officers and counselors.  Yet still, terrible human & civil rights violations persist.

The Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) has systematically created a culture of fear and hopelessness for disabled prisoners.  The DOC’s failure to  provide adequate accommodations for and protections to this vulnerable population is beyond reproach.  Countless deaf prisoners, their family members, and advocates have expressed concern for the safety and well-being of these prisoners in Florida’s state prison facilities.  Many of Florida’s deaf prisoners, fearful of  brutal retaliation and assured of prison official’s apathy or complicity, have all but given up hope of ever living safe from fear of sexual and physical assault.  It is unclear the rationale behind the DOC’s unwillingness to address these concerns.

This past year, one deaf prisoner (he will remain unnamed to protect what remains of his “safety”) risked his life to report to the Office of the Inspector General, horrendous physical and sexual abuse of other prisoners with disabilities as well as other serious violations occurring at the prison. Though this prisoner’s complaint resulted in at least two officers being fired and numerous prisoners being transferred out of the facility, the Office of the Inspector General informed staff at Tomoka that this prisoner was responsible for lodging this “anonymous” complaint.  As a result of this breach of confidentiality, this prisoner’s life has been threatened by staff and prisoners at Tomoka.  Just last week, despite numerous requests from advocates not to send him back to this facility, the Florida Department of Corrections sent this prisoner back to what can only be described as a living hell for this man who sacrificed his own safety to protect others.  As of the writing of this letter, he has not been heard from by any of those community members with whom he consistently maintains contact.

The Florida Department of Corrections not only perpetuates human rights abuses against deaf prisoners, but it also fails to ensure adequate accommodations for deaf and deaf-blind prisoners pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act and other state and federal laws that exist to protect the rights of people with disabilities.

HEARD created and maintains the nation’s only Deaf and Deaf-Blind Prisoner Database.  This Database includes information on more than four hundred deaf and deaf-blind men and women, in thirty-eight states, the District of Columbia, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The abuses being reported out of Florida are by far, the worst that we have seen from across the nation.  Wardens, correctional officers and administrators, and  government officials must be held accountable for these abuses and for their failure to follow federal laws that protect people with disabilities.  These personnel should be aware that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated.

We have reported these abuses at every turn for nearly three years.  We have run out of options.  I hope this letter raises awareness about the horrors that people with disabilities and the elderly experience in the Florida prison system.  The Florida Department of Corrections actions and inactions are a mark of shame on the state and our nation.

To the citizens of Florida: You may decide to do nothing, but you can never again plead ignorance.


Talila A. Lewis

Talila A. Lewis is the Founder of Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD).  HEARD is a nonprofit civil rights organization that advocates for deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind prisoners across the nation.

Tomoka C.I. Image: Florida 13 News

Tomoka C.I. Image: Florida 13 News

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.

Deaf Males and Sex Crime

By Joanne Greenberg

Deaf men are overly represented in prison for the commission of sex crimes. They are therefore more often the targets of prison cruelty from guards and other prisoners. I think this is the result of a closed world of Deafness, itself. We know that sex offenders are more usually made than born, having been assaulted themselves, during childhood. Other, bigger kids, in residential schools for the Deaf, rape girls and boys, and they have to encounter their tormentors throughout the school year – and often through life. Bullies can act with impunity. Who would tell on them, when there is no safe haven or refuge?

One sex abuser I know is, himself Deaf, and has been a teacher at a school for the Deaf. He abused many of his students. When finally charged with a rape, he did everything he could to impede the authorities – demanding different interpreters and declaring that without an interpreter suitable to his needs, and a lawyer fluent in Sign – not only Signed English, but also demotic ASL – he was not receiving equal justice.

Many minority individuals distrust the law so much that they will endure almost anything before calling “outside” for help. It’s only when the Deaf offender leaves that world – and commits offenses in the hearing world – that the offense comes to the attention of the law. By then however, the offender has habits that are entrenched and chronic. It’s not only a lack of knowledge of Deaf language and psychology that keeps Deaf prisoners far longer than hearing ones in prison, it is also the chronic nature of their offenses which makes for far longer sentences.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.


New Webinars on Helping Survivors in Prison

By Pat Bliss

An organization called Just Detention International is planning a series of Webinars on helping inmate survivors of sexual abuse and rape. Understanding the Issue: An Overview of Sexual Abuse in Prison is the title of the first one, and it’s scheduled to occur on Monday, November 5, 2012, at 2:00 PM EST. There will be 2 more in the series.

Here’s the link to their Web site:


You can register there for these informative and enlightening seminars. Here’s the embedded PDF of their newsletter for September

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.


Breaking – From Prisonmovement’s Weblog – PA Rejects Clemency in Terry Williams Case

We’ve been following this story. Here’s the latest in this tragic case.


Our gratitude to Prisonmovement’s Weblog for keeping us updated.

A divided Pennsylvania Board of Pardons voted against clemency for convicted Philadelphia killer Terrance “Terry” Williams in the 1984 killing of Mount Airy churchman Amos Norwood.

Williams was a victim of constant sexual abuse by family members and other adults in his life, since he was 6 years old. While it can certainly be argued as to whether or not that entitled him to take the lives of those who had abused him, a consensus would agree that he doesn’t deserve the death penalty.

With Williams’ state and federal appeals exhausted all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the 46-year-old former Germantown High School quarterback’s last hope of escaping becoming the first person executed in Pennsylvania in 13 years lies in a hearing Thursday before Philadelphia Common Pleas M. Teresa Sarmina.

English: Germantown High School in Philadelphi...

Germantown High School in Philadelphia, where Williams was a student. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Again, a tip of the hat to Prisonmovement’s Weblog for their great coverage of this story. Here’s that link, again:




An E-Mail From Change.org


Child abuse victim Terry Williams killed the man who raped him for five years — now Terry faces the death penalty in three weeks. Help stop his execution.
Sign Sue’s Petition

David –

Terry Williams is facing the death penalty in three weeks for killing the man who repeatedly raped him.

But when Terry was convicted, the jury didn’t know the whole story. At the time of his trial, jurors say they had no history or background of the sexual assault and abuse that Terry Williams had suffered for years.

Terry was brutally raped for five years, beginning when he was thirteen, by an older man he trusted — Amos Norwood. When the jury learned his information after the trial, five jurors came forward to say that they no longer supported his death sentence. Even Norwood’s widow has forgiven him, and does not want Terry to be executed.

Sign the petition on Change.org asking Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania to stop Terry’s execution scheduled on October 3 — click here to add your name.

“When I heard about Terry Williams’ life and his legal case, I knew I had to do what I could to stop the scheduled execution of a man who should not be on death row and would not be on death row had the jury heard all the relevant evidence,” said Sue Osthoff, Director of the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women, a Philadelphia-based organization that assists victims of abuse and trauma who have been charged with crimes related to their abuse.

Like many of the victims of abuse Sue assists, Terry was repeatedly victimized. For Terry, that abuse by older males in his life started when he was only six years old. Despite continuing to suffer sexual abuse for the next twelve years, Terry received no counseling or support to help him deal with the repeated violence he endured. In fact, some of the people who were supposed to help were the ones who actually preyed on him.

None of this information was presented to the jurors during Terry’s sentencing; had it been, Terry would not be on death row. 

The public outcry for Terry’s clemency is growing. A broad coalition of people has joined the jurors and victim’s widow in asking that Terry’s sentence be commuted from death to life. Those calling for Terry’s life to be spared include a growing list of child advocates, victims’ rights advocates, former prosecutors and judges, law professors, mental health professionals, and faith leaders across Pennsylvania.

Sue Osthoff is very familiar with stories like Terry’s. She started this petition because she believes that if the jury had all of the evidence, they would not have sentenced Terry to death.

Join Sue in calling on Governor Corbett to spare Terry Williams’ life for killing the man who raped him.

Thanks for being a change-maker,

– Emilia and the Change.org team

Seal of the Texas Death Row, photographed in t...

Seal of the Texas Death Row, photographed in the Polunsky Unit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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