Imagine serving decades in prison for a crime your sibling framed you for. Now imagine doing it while profoundly deaf.
—By James Ridgeway
Illustration: Brian Stauffer
“This is a collect call from a correctional institution,” says the robotic female voice at the other end of the line. After a moment of confusion, I realize it must be Felix Garcia, whom I’d visited several weeks earlier in a northern Florida prison. He is serving a life sentence for a robbery-murder for which his own brother now admits to framing him. I’d sent him a card for his 50th birthday. It had a picture of flowers—something he probably hasn’t seen in 30 years—and some lame words of encouragement. Now he’s calling to thank me and to plead for help. His words seem surreal, relayed in the emotionless drone of a TTY operator: Four of his fellow deaf inmates have tried to commit suicide—one somehow managed to swallow a razor blade. It sounds like he’s thinking about doing the same. “Please,” the voice intones, “will you phone my lawyers? I can’t get through to them.”
Felix has been deaf, for all practical purposes, since childhood. For most of his three decades behind bars, which began when he was 19, he’s been housed in the general population with few special services for his disability. His experiences are the stuff of TV prison dramas: He’s ignored or taunted by guards, raped and brutalized by other prisoners. Last year, he tried to hang himself.
“Felix,” I plead awkwardly. “You are not going to kill yourself. Please, please, hold on.”
“I won’t do it,” he says finally. “I have Jesus.”
I repeat: “Do not kill yourself.”
“Yes, sir.” The call abruptly cuts off.
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