We currently are accepting applications for our Board of Directors. The Board supports the work of HEARD & provides hands-on leadership and strategic governance. While board operations are led by HEARD’s President, active board members are key to maintaining a healthy all-volunteer organization. HEARD Board Members will serve a two-year term, and are eligible for re-appointment for one additional term. Board meetings will be held every 6-8 weeks via videoconference or face-to-face meeting.
(Optional) link to a video introduction, 1-3 minutes in length, describing your interest in work that connects to HEARD’s goals or current projects.
The nominations committee & current board will review all applications. Applicants may be contacted for an interview. Accepted applicants will be notified no later than July 15, 2015, for a term beginning on August 1, 2015.
Timeline to Important Events in Deaf Prisoner Phone Justice Campaign
This is a Timeline of Highlights from HEARD’s Deaf Prisoner Phone Justice Campaign (now in its third year).
We have submitted six comments to the FCC & our founder was invited by the FCC to present at two FCC workshops discussing Inmate Callng Services Reform and deaf and disability access to telecommunications in jails and prisons. In addition, we engaged hundreds of Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDiabled & Hard of Hearing prisoners in direct advocacy, with over 100 comments coming from #DeafInPrison, their family members & their advocates and attorneys. Watch Al Jazeera America's exclusive documentary, "Deaf In Prison," which chronicles the isolation, abuse and neglect experienced by deaf incarceraed individuals who are denied interpreters, communication, information and telecommunications in our jails & prisons.
November 15, 2012 - Pastor Mark Ehrlichmann (current President, then VP) attends rally at the FCC to encourage reasonable, just, fair (and accessible) telephone calls for all prisoners and their loved ones.
November/December 2012 - Talila "TL" Lewis contacts commissioners of various public utility commissions to ask that they include disability access in their draft Prison Telecommunications Reform Proposal to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC).
December 28, 2012 - FCC Issues an Notice requesting public comment on inmate calling services for prisoners. One paragraph addressed deaf and disabled prisoners and asked for public comment on this issue.
January 2013 - HEARD creates a signed-captioned video to engage the community in the Deaf Prison Phone Justice Campaign and encourage all members & allies to submit comments to the FCC. Here is the signed-captioned video to educate and engage the Community: http://goo.gl/xc6OV9
March 25, 2013 - HEARD submitted comment to the FCC about the current state of telecommunications injustice in jails and prisons across the nation. It included comments from 40 prisoners across the nation. HEARD's First Comment: http://goo.gl/3s80Qr
March 25, 2013 - In response to HEARD’s call for action to Deaf* prisoners, more than 50 Deaf Prisoners submitted comments on their own.
March 25, 2013 - HEARD submitted comments from 19 Deaf* prisoners at 18 different prisons in addition to our own comments: http://goo.gl/Tk9589
April 24, 2013 - HEARD Sends Certificate of Achievement for Outstanding Advocacy to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Men in California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility. After receiving HEARD's 2013 Deaf Prisoner Phone Justice Campaign "Call for Action" in January 2013, the men at this California facility that houses more than 40 deaf men organized and sent more than thirty letters to the Federal Communications Commission!
The men there who have strong English writing skills sent powerful testimonies to the FCC, and they assisted those who struggle with English to put their ASL into English, so they also could share their stories with the FCC. They requested adequate, equal, and affordable accommodations, including Videophones, Captioned Telephones, a working TTY/TDD, & rates that take into account the slow speed of communication via TTY/TDD: http://goo.gl/3UQf6W
July 10, 2013 - HEARD Founder, Talila “TL” Lewis speaks on FCC Workshop Panel discussing inequity of telecommunications access for Deaf* and signing prisoners and their loved ones. Archived live stream of workshop here: http://goo.gl/rYUCgX
August 2, 2013 - FCC's Consumer Advisory Committee passed a resolution recommending the FCC ensure reasonable rates for all prisoners; and accessible, proportionally discounted calls via TTY that allow more time for prisoners who are deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind: http://goo.gl/9TM94A
August 9, 2013 - FCC adopts an order that brings an end to excessive telephone rates but does not address serious and sweeping accessibility concerns raised by HEARD related to the absence of videophone (and other) technology in all but one handful of prisons in this nation. HEARD Press Release states that "HEARD’s Deaf Prisoner Phone Justice Campaign will not end until deaf prisoners and their families have equal access to telecommunication in prison.": http://goo.gl/sQFHEc
September 26, 2013 - The FCC released the Inmate Calling Services Report and Order and Notice requesting yet more comments on this issue with respect to a number of issues including deaf and disabled persons.
November 2013 - HEARD asks the Community & Allies to support our efforts by signing on to a Community Sign-On Letter which stated in part:
"Simply put, family members of deaf prisoners have endured an even greater financial burden and often have been entirely denied communication with their loved ones solely based on disability. The Commission emphasizes that its recent efforts are to ensure that 'rates for Inmate Calling Services are just, reasonable, and fair.' While we applaud the Commission's decision to ensure that rates are just and reasonable, we remind the Commission that there is no fairness without equality."
December 13, 2013 - HEARD submitted a Community Sign-On Letter with more than 700 signatures (100+ signatures were from law firms & nonprofit orgs) in support of Deaf Prisoner Phone Justice. HEARD’s founder wrote this among other things:
“Simply put, family members of deaf prisoners have endured an even greater financial burden and often have been entirely denied communication with their loved ones solely based on disability. The Commission emphasizes that its recent efforts are to ensure that ‘rates for Inmate Calling Services are just, reasonable, and fair.’ While we applaud the Commission’s decision to ensure that rates are just and reasonable, we remind the Commission that there is no fairness without equality.” Community Sign-On Letter: http://goo.gl/6Vk0oR
December 20, 2013 - HEARD and Deaf* Prisoners submitted even more comments saying exactly what we siad eight months before—that there is no justice, no access: http://goo.gl/FGtxhT
January 13, 2014 - Just to be sure that we were clear, HEARD submitted these comments to reiterate that there is an ongoing crisis of systemic abuse of and discrimination against deaf prisoners and that justice demands that #DeafInPrison receive EQUAL access to telecommunications http://goo.gl/wd1Mgv
July 9, 2014 - HEARD’s Founder, Talila "TL" Lewis, speaks at the FCC about issues important to Deaf* and disabled detainees and prisoners at the FCC's Reforming Inmate Calling Services Workshop on Wednesday, July 9, 2014.
Captioned video of the day's workshops can be watched here. (Watch TL's speech in ASL here).
January 12, 2015 - HEARD submits yet another comment after conducting an extensive survey on current telecommunications usage wthin the DDBDDHH community & a separate experiment testing the length of time it took for college-educated Deaf students to operate a TTY(some of the phone companies argued that TTY use was not exceptionally longer and so rate should not be further discounted for calls using TTY technology). The survey found that of the first five hundred individuals surveyed—more than 70% of whom have university and post-graduate degrees—84% report that they never use a TTY; 7% reporting that they use a TTYs just once per year; 3% report using a TTY once per month, with 3.6% reporting daily use of a TTY. Our experiement with university-educated students who used a TTY machine yeielded results that indicate that calls take far longer than 4x the rate of voice calls.
September 30, 2015 - FCC Releases its proposal for its upcoming order which will cap rates for telephone calls. The historic order will not mandate ICS companies/prisons to provide videophones or outher auxliary aids that enure equal access to telecomm for deaf or disabled prisoners. Instead the order will "remind correctional institions of their obligations to make TRS available to people with communication disabilities," and "encourage jails and prisons to allow commonly used forms of TRS . . ."
Again, we applaud the FCC's action to remedy injustices regarding rates but remind the Commission that tens of thousands in jail and prisons can not access telecommunications at all. Action is needed to remedy the injustice of lack of access to telecommunications if this decision is to carry weight within disability communities who are disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration.
The vote on this order is open to the public & will take place at the FCC on October 22, 2015. We encourage the community to attend and applaud the action taken to decrease rates but to remind the FCC that there is no justice without equality.
Our next public meeting will be in Washington, D.C., on October 14, 2015. We will be discussing actions we are planning in this effort. Please join us.
The barriers faced by deaf and disabled individuals within our justice, legal and corrections professions are not widely discussed or well understood. Nevertheless, deaf and disabled people are particularly susceptible to unjust encounters within each of these professions. This article will focus on barriers facing deaf people, but should be read with an eye, mind, heart toward disability justice more broadly.
Lack of awareness about deaf culture and communication within these professions leads to wrongful arrests and convictions; disproportionately harsh punishment for alleged crimes; and higher recidivism rates for this historically underserved and misunderstood population. While language access services are recognized as integral to police, court and prison operations for spoken language minorities; deaf people--many of whom use sign languages to communicate--rarely receive this essential component of a functional and fair justice system.
Long-standing federal disability rights laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, guarantee equal communication access in each of these spheres. Yet, narratives from deaf people and existing research on Deaf Access to Justice indicate that each of these systems consistently fails to provide equal access to services, activities and programs for this population. The consequences of cultural incompetence within these realms are beyond tragic:
Police officers assault and kill innocent deaf citizens;
Attorneys do not provide effective assistance of counsel, leading to deaf wrongful convictions;
Prison officials perpetuate physical and sexual assault against deaf prisoners; and
Parole officers deny deaf returned citizens an equal opportunity to successfully reintegrate into society.
For example, in 1999, Mr. Joseph Heard spent twenty-two months in the District of Columbia Jail (D.C. Jail) after a judge dismissed charges against him and ordered his immediate release. The District failed to provide telecommunications access and interpreters for the duration of his unlawful two-year confinement. So complete was his isolation, that he was unable to effectively communicate to anyone that he was being illegally held. During this unlawful detention, the contracted medical healthcare provider performed medical testing on Mr. Heard and gave him potentially dangerous, anti-psychotic medications without communicating with him or obtaining his informed consent. In 2005, Mr. Heard won a $1.5 million settlement against the District of Columbia for these and other egregious rights violations.
In 2013, less than decade later, another deaf man initiated a suit against the D.C. Jail for its failure to provide interpreters, telecommunication, and other auxiliary aids during his detention at the D.C. Jail. These narratives, and narratives from deaf people across the nation support the proposition that existing laws and litigation, standing alone, will not create a just justice system. We cannot leverage legal and legislative victories into social and cultural change. Instead, we must enforce existing laws and use education to create a society that considers disability in the development of everything. HEARD created the #DeafInPrison Campaign to raise awareness about abuse of and discrimination against deaf detainees and prisoners across the nation, but education and open dialogue is key to ending these tragedies.
Indeed, it is the general lack of understanding of and sensitivity to the deaf community's unique linguistic culture, coupled with lack of enforcement of existing laws, that makes access to justice particularly elusive for this population. The justice, legal and corrections professions must address this gap in knowledge through education & training that is led by (and centered on) deaf and signing people. Only then will professionals within these systems be able to understand and effectively address barriers to access for deaf people. Education will continue to change attitudes and perspectives of justice professionals, but candid discussion of past access oversights is crucial to ensuring that we move forward in a way that truly advances justice for deaf people.
I am hopeful that we will see a day when there will no longer be a need for the Deaf Access to Justice Movement and I have some ideas about how we can get there. We must educate stakeholders and policymakers; hire deaf people to work in each of these professions; build cross-ability and cross-power coalitions; create and leverage contacts to ensure that deaf people have a seat at bargaining tables; investigate and report on discrimination and abuse within these professions; and hold one another accountalbe for universal accessibility.
This is how we can heal, transform and strengthen our communities while advancing the cause of justice.
HEARD Publishes Second Report on Abuse of Deaf Prisoners in Florida
HEARD Founder, Talila "TL" Lewis, sent the following e-mail to wardens in the Florida Department of Corrections and to attonreys in the U.S. Department of Justice on May 23, 2014:
I am writing because my organization, Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD), is still receiving reports of abuse of and retaliation against prisoners with disabilities within Florida Department of Corrections prisons. Below I have provided a synopsis of ongoing issues at several prisons in Florida, including reports of rampant gang violence and physical and sexual abuse of deaf, disabled and elderly prisoners. The list of prisons in violation of federal disability rights law is not exhaustive; nor are the lists of abuses within each prison. I also attached our previous report of abuse of prisoners with disabilities within the Florida Department of Corrections, released in January 2013. The abuse listed below occurred within just four months.
Individuals included on this email are wardens from each prison listed, the Florida Department of Corrections Inspector General, Florida Department of Corrections ADA Coordinator, Department of Justice attorneys and an attorney from the Florida Protection & Advocacy agency. We also have contacted news media and are in constant contact with civil rights attorneys in Florida. We have entered our fourth year of advocacy on behalf of these prisoners and I assure you that HEARD will continue to publicize information about these abuses and work with civil rights attorneys and the Department of Justice until the Florida Department of Corrections brings an end to the same.
Thank you in advance for your time, attention and action.
Talila A. Lewis
STATEWIDE DOC CONCERNS
Interpreters, telecommunications, auxiliary aids are not provided at most Florida DOC prisons housing deaf, hard of hearing or deaf-blind prisoners
Deaf and hard of hearing prisoners have no access to telecommunication at most FL DOC prisons
Deaf prisoners across the FL DOC can not use the TTY to call the toll free STOP RAPE hotline or the Inspector General's toll free number
The Prison Rape Elimination Act has not been implemented in prisons across the state for deaf, blind, deaf-blind or disabled prisoners (and rape of prisoners within these populations continue to occur at prisons across Florida)
Tomoka C.I. shipped nearly 100 wheelchair users out last year after deciding that Tomoka was not wheelchair compatible. These prisoners, are now housed throughout the FL DOC--many in prisons that the DOC website says are not "wheelchair compatible."
Deaf prisoners applying for work release programs have received different versions of the following response when they grieve their respective classification officer's refusal to allow them to participate in work release programs:
"Per the state classification officer, you cannot be transferred to a work release center as there are none with that can accommodate your disability. Therefore your grievance is denied."
Deaf prisoners are being raped and assaulted
Deaf prisoners can not use telecommunications to contact the STOP RAPE hotline or the IG's anonymous tip line
The warden and staff are aware of the abuse but have not acted to end the abuse or ensure that deaf prisoners can contact anyone who can support them
Deaf prisoners are denied interpreters for medical, programs, services, activities (e.g., deaf prisoner denied requested interpreters for medical appointments. The nurse told the deaf prisoner-patient to "hear and lip read." When that was not successful the nurse asked another deaf prisoner to interpret the appointment.)
Staff refuses to provide hearing aids, batteries for hearing aids, etc.
Officers/captains make fun of deaf prisoners
Deaf prisoners do not have equal access to announcements (intercom system)
Staff prevents deaf prisoners from making calls and phone charges for deaf inmates have increased exponentially (they already were excessive)
Deaf prisoners not allowed to work because they are deaf
TTY is not working
New ADA Coordinator in Tallahassee, Mr. Larry Purintun, took over Martie Taylor’s job--prisoners believes Mr. Purintun has no knowledge of the abuses going on with the disabled & asks HEARD to inform Mr. Purintun of the abuse
Gangs are not being controlled by DOC
Administration continues to put able-bodied gang members in J2 dorm. These gang members continue to abuse and exploit prisoners with disabilities
There have been 6 stabbings recently; 2 in B Dorm, 2 in K dorm and 2 at work camp., two are critical. (Caused by gang members) "You won’t hear about these stabbings and if the two inmates die, I would assume the Warden may not be informed either. Violence is way out of control."
Deaf prisoners being moved into B and K dorms (instead of staying in J2-the dorm that is designated for people with disabilities).
Deaf prisoners believe staff and administration are trying to get the deaf killed as a result of filing grievances, complaints, lawsuits about abuse and retaliation
Retaliation against disabled inmates by gang members (theft/abuse)
Fight in J2 dorm between guards & gang members--blind inmate unable to avoid the fight and was pepper sprayed by guards. Deaf inmates try to rescue blind prisoner during the scuffle.
Deaf prisoner was beaten and has bruised/possibly cracked ribs. Prisoner is afraid to seek medical help due to frequent use of "administrative isolation" after deaf and disabled prisoners report physical and sexual assault
Administration "approves" grievances but does not take action on the grievances which worsens abuse by staff and prisoners who receive no punishment
"Violence all around us, especially bad for deaf as they cannot concentrate on bettering themselves; must keep a look out to not get hurt and try to figure out what hearing people are saying."
"Rapes, physical abuse, and theft occurring frequently."
"Fully-able inmates and guards physically abusing and extorting inmates with disabilities (not just deaf/ hard of hearing)"
Locker search in early morning resulted in violence against deaf inmates by gang members (with knives and locks in socks). Weapons reported by deaf inmates but guards only found and confiscated one (ignored Plexiglas knife). Gang members from other dorms able to enter and assist with violence and escape "unnoticed" by guard.
New Assistant Warden has not improved J2 dorm conditions.
Classification officer, Ms. J. Mead, is in charge of impaired inmates but housing Sgt. Myers does the placement of the inmates. They do not talk so he puts who he wants in J2, non- impaired inmates dumped into dorm from solitary confinement, without Ms. Mead knowing. Ms. Mead should be in charge of J2 dorm so she can make sure only impaired inmates go in that dorm.
TCI assistant wardens are not relaying any information to Warden Royal to keep him in the dark. When [Prisoner Name Redacted] was able to talk to the Warden, he was asked why he was not in J2 dorm, so [Prisoner Name Redacted] explained about his stolen hearing aids, etc., of which the Warden had no knowledge but [Prisoner Name Redacted] was not able to finish as security kept interfering with their conversation and pulled [Prisoner Name Redacted].
On May 7, 2014, a DeafBlind prisoner who refused to give thugs money was jumped and beaten by these prisoners. Security locked one of the inmates up but staff “did not see it” so will be released back into J2 dorm. Also locked [Deaf Prisoner] up in Y dorm and confined to a cell for "protection" – a punishment worse than staying in J2 dorm.
E Dorm does not have any accommodations for the deaf prisoners housed there, but prisoners are not complaining because J2 is so bad to live in. The big problem in E dorm is gang members who have cell phones and have the 800 number to find out inmate trust account balances. Then they find out who has money and they approach prisoners in "threatening packs" to extort them.
Deaf prisoners are in dorms without access to telephones and closed captioning. They are scared to complain because they are scared of being sent to J2 dorm.
Deaf prisoners' hearing aids have been stolen, and the thefts grieved about, but staff has not responded to these grievances. Additionally, DOC sent hearing aids "out to be fixed" more than a year ago, but never returned the devices to deaf prisoners. These prisoners cannot hear call out for chow, recreation, chapel, etc.
89 year old deaf non-verbal, wheelchair using prisoner was held in solitary for four months after reporting physical and sexual abuse by four gang members. He was transferred out of Tomoka a couple of months ago, but was abused by staff at Tomoka prior to being transferred out. There were numerous instances of abuse, including being thrown face-first from his wheelchair while in handcuffs, being forced to lay on cold steel in solitary confinement; and on February 13, 2014, during an intense freeze, this prisoner was wheeled out into the cold with no jacket or blanket. As he sat shivering in the cold, waiting for the bus, an officer poured ice water down the back of his neck onto his bare skin.
ADA grievances frequently receive no response
Gang-related stabbings occur frequently
Staff and prisoners physically and sexually abuse deaf, deafblind, blind, elderly, and chronically ill prisoners
When ADA “inspectors” come around prisoners are “threatened and intimidated with going to the ‘hole’ and being beaten and/or maced, if they attempt to ‘talk’ to the ‘ADA people,’ and complain.” The ADA personnel do not “privately confer with certain inmates to learn what the real and true problems are.”
Hearing aids not supplied to prisoners even where DOC “ear specialists” have determined that hearing aids are necessary for deaf and deafblind prisoners
DOC has stated that even if it does provide a person hearing aids, it will only pay for one hearing aid, regardless of if the “ear specialist” deems that two aids are required
Staff will not allow blind or vision impaired persons “to learn braille, get jobs, pursue educational opportunities, job skills opportunities, recreational activities,” so they sit on or by their beds, in overcrowded dorm filled with “general population (of all ages, crimes and sentences)”
Wheelchair users are unable to maneuver in certain places on the compound due to the fissures in sidewalks leading to the dining hall and other facilities
The “recreation yard that has a dirt walking/running track, so all that’s available to wheelchair-bound inmates is to just ‘sit’ outside, while non-medically-challenged inmates have access to games and other recreational activities. . . . This despite the fact that Gulf Correctional Intuition Annex is calling itself a ‘medical compound’ for ‘ADA inmates’ especially those who are ‘wheelchair’ bound.”
Prisoners are charged $5.00 plus a “handling fee” every time they go to medical (even if medical does nothing for the prisoner), but prisoners can only discuss one medical issue per visit. This is a prison for people with medical ailments, so how is that acceptable?
Guards in rain gear with umbrellas make sport of ensuring prisoners get drenched going to and from chow halls and other locations (prisoners recently turned in jackets until next winter)
One prisoner who had had a major heart attack did not receive an “inmate impaired aid” to push him to different locations at the prison as required for many wheelchair users in the DOC. After some time, he decided to try to get himself to the canteen to purchase toiletries. He made it to the end of the building and had a heart attack. It took a nurse more than twenty minutes to get to him whilst guards laughed and joked that “another one bit the dust.” Guards did not let another prisoner render assistance to the wheelchair using prisoner. The man died.
“If the Gulf Annex is to be considered a ‘medical facility (which is a joke considering its overall condition and the large majority of gang-related inmates housed here) then why isn’t at least one of the dormitories or one of the T-Buldings set up for just ADA medically challenged inmates, and/or those 60 years old or older to provide at least one safe haven, open bay dorm for ‘ADA medically challenged inmates’ and/or especially those over 60 years of age so they won’t be continually abused, harassed and intimidated by the much younger gang-related inmates? ”
DOC refuses 89 year old non verbal deaf wheelchair using prisoner a Tinnitus masker and any method of communication. The prisoner has DOC records dating back to the 1980s documenting his disabilities and prescribing a “Tinnitus Masker” as a reasonable accommodation.
This prisoner previously had a white board and dry erase marker attached to his wheelchair to communicate but staff at Tomoka destroyed this board in retaliation for reporting abuse and discrimination. DOC has not provided a replacement so this prisoner can communicate effectively.
Elderly deaf wheelchair user was transferred to Santa Rosa and is not receiving accommodations. According to DOC's website, the prison is not "hearing impaired" compatible.
The prisoner who is now at Santa Rosa (above), was housed here after Tomoka shipped him out with the other wheelchair using prisoners. According to DOC's website, Mayo is not "wheelchair compatible" or "hearing impaired compatible." This prisoner who has had a clear record for decades in the FL DOC grieved conditions and ADA violations and disciplinary reports immediately followed, including an allegation that he created and hid a weapon. The prisoner said that this weapon was planted by a guard in retaliation for reporting violations. Medical then "lost" this prisoner's records and he was not provided an interpreter for the disciplinary hearing regarding the weapon found ( Prisoner reports that medical "deliberately" lost medical his files to ensure that he did not have an interpreter for this disciplinary hearing).
No access to TTYs or interpreters
Living space was not accessible living
Showering facilities not accessible
The prisoner was unable to get hearing tests/aids or any other auxiliary aids
The prisoner had no telecommunication access
Medical condition of prisoner ignored despite ongoing pain. This prisoner's wheelchair is old and falling apart but he has not received a new chair despite numerous requests.
ADA coordinator threatened elderly and mentally challenged prisoner
Corrections officer abused prisoner and prisoner was placed in solitary confinement as punishment for speaking out
Deaf prisoners denied access to TTY
Deaf prisoners denied closed caption access
"No accommodations for deaf inmate, not able to communicate with attorneys."
Deaf prisoner not being provided hearing aids or interpreters and has not received accommodations at this prison for several years
Unequal access for deaf & disabled inmates to basic facilities (toilet, medical services, recreation, television, etc.)
CENTRAL FLORIDA RECEPTION CENTER
Facility not deaf/hard of hearing compatible. "Inmates denied access to TTYs, videophones, and all communication."
Pat Reflects on Working on Felix Garcia's Case for 15+ Years
I’ve been asked in the past what it has been like to be close to Felix, a deaf man who started out being a complete stranger; and me with no knowledge on how to deal with the deaf. That part did not bother me. I just pursued his case like I would any other defendant. I saw innocence and I wanted to see justice done. Later, it went beyond the normal professional relationship. I cared for this young man. I will highlight some of our extraordinary times . . .
We were in court in 1999 after ten months of depositions, hearings, meetings at the jail, testing by a deaf expert, and gathering of facts. It was finally the day of the Evidentiary Hearing. Felix was in handcuffs sitting in the jury box along with other inmates. He could read body language, expression and lips together. He put all of this together to read from the Judge, ‘denied’. He saw me sitting behind the defense table and with anguish in his face said “Why? I am innocent! Why?” My heart bled. I mouthed back, “I will see you at the jail in a few hours.” I told the pro bono defense attorney, Richard Watts, “no.” I cried to the attorney, “my heart is so broken, this is not right.” He told me to go on and see Felix. When I walked in the attorney room at the jail, Felix was already sitting there. I said “Felix, it broke my heart to see you alone, I will be a mom and stay with you until the day you walk out a free man.” A big smile came on his face and he called me “Mom.” It made me cry. Then we hugged.
Felix’s letters would be up and down in emotion, and it took a while for him to be completely open with me, to trust me. I mean years! He was angry, depressed, hurt, betrayed, misunderstood by guards, ill with migraines and passing out; and would lash out at me for not getting him out. I would be lying if I didn’t say sometimes I was very hurt he’d lash out at me like this but it never daunted my passion to keep on his case. I was frustrated at the courts for not seeing the truth.
Then out of the blue, in 2002, I started getting affidavits from different inmates telling what Frank Garcia said to them about putting his innocent brother in prison and in a few said so he would not face the death penalty. I was overjoyed! Here was the evidence in black and white. I had affidavits from both Frank and Tina declaring Felix’s innocence, and had corroborative evidence backing up what Frank (and Tina) had done. Hope came alive. I dug into this case with more fervor than ever before.
From the beginning Felix was reading my lips, watching my expressions, along with my body language as to what I was saying. I could tell by his expressions if he understood what I was trying to convey. If he needed clarification, I would repeat myself or restate what I was saying until he understood. I had tried desperately to get organizations for the Deaf to help. They would not touch a criminal case. It was trial by error as to how to put across the injustice of this deaf man. Reading what I could find in case law was my main source in understanding. Help finally came after we could go no further in the Florida State courts.
I came in contact with Dr. McCay Vernon who was quite supportive. He referred me to Investigative Journalist James “Jim” Ridgeway. Jim wrote an article for Mother Jones Magazine, that was the first publicity this case received. TL read this article and contacted Jim. Jim relayed the information to me and I contacted TL. TL explained that she also worked on deaf wrongful conviction cases, invited me to join HEARD's Board of Directors, and offered to help as much as she could. Solidarity.
From there the world of the deaf have opened up to me and to Felix. What is so exciting, this is just the beginning of what is yet to come....