John Wilson is a loving father, grandfather & friend to many, and we are so excited to welcome him back home!
John Wilson is Deaf and uses American Sign Language as his primary language. In the early 1990’s police officers in Washington, DC interrogated John about a serious crime without an interpreter. Instead police officers used a police officer who knew how to finger spell to try to communicate with John and other Deaf signing people. Many miscommunications and misunderstandings occurred. In the end, because our criminal legal system does not afford justice to deaf/disabled people, John Wilson was sentenced to life in prison for a crime he always said he did not commit.
Like many other Deaf people in prison, while incarcerated, the Federal Bureau of Prisons denied him access to interpreters, videophones, vibrating alarms, and other accommodations. He also was denied protection from assault, and even placed in solitary confinement after assaults. He also was denied accessible medical attention and treatment. The Federal Bureau of Prisons did not even ensure that John Wilson had access to classes that were required for John’s release.
The United States Parole Commission denied John Wilson’s parole year after year citing that he refused to express remorse for the crime and that he had not participated in programming. Of course, when programs are not accessible, it is impossible to participate; and when you are not guilty, you do not express remorse. Through it all, and despite the civil and human rights violations and communication deprivation, John made sure to maintain connections with his children and grandchildren. John also refused to admit guilt even though he knew that that meant the Commission could continue to deny his parole for the rest of his life.
Here is a video of John way back in 2011 asking for help in contacting the parole commission:
In 2007, one of HEARD’s co-founders found John Wilson’s case and began to investigate the case to try to free him based on actual innocence. John is the key reason why HEARD was founded in 2011. Once HEARD** was founded, HEARD volunteers continued to work on his case to try to free him for altogether more than a decade.
This year, after many years of fighting and a great deal of community pressure the U.S. Parole Commission finally recommended parole for John Wilson!
HEARD is now asking that you donate any amount you are able to donate to support John in transitioning back into his community after twenty-five long and painful years away from his children, grandchildren and communities. All donations will go directly to John for food, shelter, and other survival expenses.
Please share this campaign using #DeafInPrison & #DeafReentry
Thank you in advance for your support, time, & generosity.
**HEARD is the only organization in the nation that works to prevent and correct wrongful convictions of deaf people; to advocate with and for imprisoned deaf people; and to support deaf people returning to society after incarceration. HEARD combats mass incarceration and all forms of violence, especially violence affecting multiply marginalized deaf/disabled people.
The artwork above is by John Wilson. He also is a very talented artist. Here is the artwork description:
there is a prison guard tower on the left with a light shining toward a very dark and dreary prison complex. In between the tower and the prison complex, the light from the prison tower shines on the finger spelled word HEARD. There are two shackled hands just below H E A R D. The hands are outstretched under the written English letters HEARD. The chain that is supposed to be connected shackling the hands is broken in the middle and the word FREEDOM is written in a script just under the chains. The tower has a light that lights the finger spelled HEARD and the prison is DARK but light touches hands and HEARD.
The hands holding up HEARD English letters are signing the word WANT. At the bottom English word FREEDOM is seen just below the chain being snapped. The sign together with the English and the art indicate that he WANTS FREEDOM & also could mean WANT TO HELP EDUCATE TO ADVANCE THE RIGHTS OF THE DEAF.