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via The Daily Moth 3-5-2019

Deaf Man Who Was Incarcerated for 25 Years To Be Released On Parole Tomorrow After Activism by HEARD

HEARD, an organization that advocates for deaf people in the criminal justice system, said that a Deaf man, John Wilson Jr, who has been incarcerated for 25 years, will be released tomorrow.

HEARD co-founder and lawyer, Talila “TL” Lewis, who is hearing and fluent in ASL, said Wilson has been unfairly treated with a lack of communication access ever since he was arrested in the early 1990s.

Wilson was sentenced to life on a murder charge but has maintained that he is innocent, that he is not guilty. TL said they and another organization will fight for his exoneration after his release.

TL said when Wilson was first arrested and interrogated, police officers didn’t bring in an interpreter and instead brought in an officer who knew how to finger spell, causing many misunderstandings and miscommunications.

TL said on a GoFundMe page for Wilson that the U.S. Parole Commission denied Wilson parole year after year because he refused to express remorse and that he has not participated in programs.

TL said he couldn’t access the programs because they were inaccessible without interpreters, and that he can’t express remorse because he is not guilty.

TL: He always said he is innocent. He refuses to apologize because he said he didn’t kill anybody. Also, the parole board requires him to take classes but the federal prison systems never provides access to classes. Therefore, he couldn’t take the classes. Get it? It means they said he didn’t take enough classes, but he is frustrated and begging for access, but is denied. It’s a cycle that has gone on for years.

Alex: TL explained to me in an interview that it was very difficult for Wilson to work on his case from inside of a prison, because there was no access to videophones.

TL: I have worked for 12 years investigating, finding witnesses. I’ve done the best I can, but drawing information from him is difficult because he is incarcerated far away. I can’t afford flights or go on road trips. He needs simple access through videophone, but the prison system refuses to provide for 10 years. We’ve been fighting to get a simple phone call. It is the same for most deaf people nationwide. If they are innocent, how can we investigate without communication access?

Alex: Now Wilson will be released on parole tomorrow. TL said it is because of activism from HEARD and that letters sent by those who supported Wilson and HEARD made a difference.

Wilson will be walking from Schuylkill FCI in Pennsylvania tomorrow. He is a father to three children.

He is also a talented artist. TL said the motivation to start HEARD came from Wilson’s case.

TL: He represents so much of what we are trying to do, to show improvements and to stop oppression. It is very important to us at HEARD and we are proud and overwhelmed. We look forward to seeing his progress and journey. We will support him. But re-entry is challenging, especially for deaf community members because again, the system doesn’t provide access to interpreters or communication support. So our team is ready and prepared to support him and his family in their journey.

[For more information about HEARD:, Facebook/HEARDDC, Twitter @behearddc, you can also follow Talila Lewis on Twitter @talilalewis]