I Didn’t Hear the Guard

Through the back door he came dressed in a gray prison jumpsuit. His ankles were shackled in chains as were his wrists at his waist. Escorted by two armed guards the men made their way down a narrow corridor and entered the audiologist‘s office. After exchanging polite greetings, the doctor motioned the three men into a testing room.

A 51 year old woman presented with progressive...
A 51 year old woman presented with progressive hearing loss. An axial MRI of the brain After gadolinium administration demonstrated a left cerebellopontine angle acoustic neuroma. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Tell me about your hearing loss, Mr. Rios,” began the doctor. The guards leaned against the wall and listened.
“I was outside. I didn’t hear the guard when he called me.”
He spoke with a southern drawl in perfect English with no evidence of a monotone hard of hearing voice.
As the doctor took notes, Mr. Rios went on to describe how he was born with one ear, profoundly deaf. In his better ear he had only a mild hearing loss but he never had to wear a hearing aid. As a young man while working on a construction site as a civil engineer with the state highways, he was caught in an industrial explosion. This started a high frequency hearing loss in his better ear that became progressively worse as he grew older. Now, he was 59 years old and severely hard of hearing and was serving a 20 year sentence in a Federal prison for computer child pornography. He was married and had two grown children.
After the incident in the prison yard, Mr. Rios turned in a “kite,” a request for a hearing test. All of this brought him in, 30 miles from the prison to the audiologist’s office.


Author’s note:
This is a true story. While in prison, Mr. Rios received audiology services. However, there are many more hard of hearing inmates in prison who have severe hearing and language impairments who are not getting services.
Interesting statistics on hearing loss in the prison population are provided by Andrea Castrogiovanni of the American Speech and Hearing Association. (http://www.asha.org/Research/reports/prison_populations.)
Castrogiovanni states that the majority of studies report the incidence of hearing loss in prisoners to be approximately 30%. But she claims that there is a wide variability in reported incidence ranges and this may be attributed to the limited nature of screening measures. She reports also that one possible explanation for the high incidence of hearing loss among inmates is that early loss can cause poor language skills, frustration, academic problems, and inadequate social skills. These in turn may lead to school drop-out, juvenile delinquency, and eventual criminal behavior.


Language impairments of juvenile and adult offenders were investigated by Michele LaVigne, professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin Law School. LaVigne, and her colleague Gregory Van Ryboek published a monograph called Breakdown in the Language Zone: Language Impairments Among Juvenile and Adult Offenders and Why It Matters in the UC Davis Journal of Juvenile Law & Policy, Vol. 15, 2001, Number 1. Clearly, there is a need for future research about hearing and language disorders in offender population especially juveniles and females as suggested by Castrogiovanni and LaVigne.

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