There are deaf people in prison who shouldn’t be there, some who should, but for all deaf people, there are the additional problems in communication no matter how sophisticated and well educated they are. These may be the simplest things, like announcements over the intercom that the deaf inmate doesn’t hear – mail call, sick call, changes in schedule, new or abridged rules that if not obeyed are likely to get the inmate in deep trouble – not of his making.
There are customs in prison that deaf people are not aware of, and that they will not be told. It is well known that deaf people are extraordinarily sensitive to physical, gestural and facial cues. They have to depend on these, but in the specialized culture of prison life, staring and the intense gaze that’s normal to deaf people may result in a shiv in the guts.
Forget about the highly touted gift of lip-reading. Many people speak without moving their lips much. Many have idiosyncratic ways of forming their words. Beards, mustaches and mouth forms change the shapes of words, and sometimes make them unreadable. Beyond all this, the English language has too many sounds made back in the mouth, behind the teeth. Too many other sounds are similar on the lips. Married and buried look the same. Vacuum looks like fuck you. Get a mirror and try it yourself. Bid, bad, bed, med, mad, milk, and beer can all be confused with one another. Turn down your TV sound and see how much you get of the motivations in the drama or sit-com.