The Ultimate Bullying Target: Deaf in Prison

David Greenberg was the film editor for the Stop Hearing Loss Bullying Video. He also created one of the most compelling blogs Lipreading Mom has ever read—Deaf In Prison. It follows the stories of various inmates—deaf, culturally Deaf, or hard of hearing—serving time in American prisons.

The link between bullying, crime, and imprisonment is at the center of many Deaf In Prison stories. Deaf and hard of hearing inmates live in violent confinement without the ability to hear and are targets for the worst bullying scenarios. I asked David to share some of the heartbreaking stories and how positive change still can be possible in these situations.

Lipreading Mom: How difficult is it to find communication resources for people who are deaf/hard of hearing in the prison system? Do such resources readily exist? Why or why not?

David Greenberg: The primary area where communications resources are kept from Deaf and HoH people in prison, is in the unwillingness of prison systems in the U.S. to allow access to videophones. The feeling is that these devices may pose a security threat. The Deaf do have some limited access to TTY phones, but since many Deaf in America have reading and comprehension problems, these phones are often useless to them. Furthermore, since TTY calls take longer to make, the Deaf prisoners have to spend far more money on calls, than their hearing counterparts.

Another issue is access to qualified ASL interpreters. Although most Deaf do get (sign language) interpreters during their trials, they don’t get them once incarcerated. Imagine going to the doctor, and not being able to hear his advice – or for that matter, being able to tell him your symptoms. I have even heard of cases where guards who did sign, were not allowed to do so, with Deaf prisoners, because it could be used as a secret code.

Why did Deaf in Prison start, and who started it?

Advocate and writer, McCay Vernon, read an article by Solitary Watch publisher, James Ridgeway, on Felix Garcia – the Deaf man who has now served 30 years for a murder he didn’t commit. Vernon thought the plight of Deaf people in prison warranted a book, and contacted author Joanne Greenberg (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden; In This Sign). Ms. Greenberg believed that a book would not garner a large enough readership, since the issue is largely an unknown one to the public. She contacted me to learn of ways to build awareness of the issue. I suggested a Blog. Ms. Greenberg, commissioned me to build the site.

Do you have any hearing loss/deaf bullying insight within the prison system that you would like to elaborate upon?

We have a plethora of letters, oral and signed statements documenting the worst kinds of abuse and harassment of the Deaf in America’s prisons – rapes, beatings, robberies and even murders. I’ve heard of cases where guards would refer to inmates as dummy, cases where food and clothing were withheld, etc. It isn’t always simply guard on inmate, either. Many cases of inmate on inmate violence and sexual abuse exist. Remember, a Deaf person can’t hear someone coming up from behind. This makes them especially desirable targets. Furthermore, they are even less likely to report such behavior, than are hearing inmates. Even if they do report it, the violation often goes unpunished because the guards tend to see the Deaf inmate as a troublemaker and a complainer.

How can readers support the work of Deaf In Prison?

Well, read and follow the site. We need all the followers we can get. From the perspective of building awareness,’s posts are secondary to our sidebars. I have worked hard to find links, RSS feeds and other information that can provide insight into this issue, and the issue of prison reform in general. We currently have over 50 separate feeds, and links to other sites, on deafness / HoH, prison reform, ASL, juvenile justice, domestic abuse, the ADA and wrongful incarceration. Included in that list, of course, are Lipreading Mom and Deaf Insight. We are constantly seeking authors, contributors and guest bloggers. If any of your readers has a story to tell, we would be all too glad to publish it. Beyond that, they can join H.E.A.R.D.

Are there any advocacy projects tied to Deaf in Prison that you would like to mention?

Most desperate of the projects we’re involved with, is the case of Felix Garcia. Felix is a Deaf man in Florida’s Tomoka facility. His brother, his sister and her husband framed him for a murder some 30+ years ago. His brother is now dead, and his sister refuses to clear him. The state of Florida has received confessions from Frank (the brother), before he died, but they refuse to allow that confession as evidence. Our contributor, Pat Bliss – a retired paralegal – has been working on Felix’s case for over 10 years.

During his three decades in prison, Felix has been raped, repeatedly beaten, held in isolation, stripped of his clothing, maced, sprayed with a fire hose, starved and refused medical treatment. They have refused to fix his broken hearing aids, and at one point – after he managed to fix one himself, they took it away from him. He has attempted suicide, and he tells (in an extensive interview series on that a guard actually gave him a sheet and told him – you’d be better off killing yourself.

In conjunction with Ms. Bliss’s work from the legal standpoint, we have created a petition, which – upon receipt of 1000 signatures – we will be forwarding to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Florida Governor Rick Scott. People can find links to that petition, all over, but for convenience, I’ll include it here:


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12 thoughts on “The Ultimate Bullying Target: Deaf in Prison

  1. Hi Shanna

    I am about to share your blog address and your FB contact with a lady I met online. I think she lives in Pennsylvania. Apparently her sister has hearing loss and both are involved in the Hearing Loss Assn in that area. Just letting you know. Her last name is Hayden, I think. (We were playing a game of Scrabble.)

    I’ll wait till this afternoon, in case you don’t approve.

    Paul Nichols

  2. Pingback: Super Huge Digest Post – 6/14/2013 | deafinprison

  3. Pingback: A First for Florida Deaf Prisoner Felix Garcia | deafinprison

  4. Pingback: Over 400 Signatures for Felix | deafinprison

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  9. Pingback: HEARD’s #DeafInPrison Campaign – Day 2 | deafinprison

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