Remember We Are Picture People

By Pat Bliss

Image: Pat Bliss
Image: Pat Bliss

I just came back from my third trip to Florida in 4 1/2 months. Each trip had a purpose as a step further to show the innocence of Felix Garcia and towards his freedom. Felix may not be fully cognizant of what all these meetings/interviews      mean to him but he certainly participates with all his might, and answers questions to the best of his ability.

This trip involved Felix being interviewed by a reporter for a major Florida newspaper. Our scheduled appointment began at 9 A.M. But, there are procedures one must go through up front. Before being allowed into the prison, we gave the staff at the outside window, our IDs. They checked these IDs with their computer roster. When it was Okayed, and because we were going in as media, we all got special badges. The heavy metal gates clinked open and we went on inside – first, to be searched; all rings, bracelets, watches, eyeglasses accounted for. Oh yes, cannot forget the car key. The reporter had a pen and pad and of course, the camera equipment for taking pictures. Staff led us into the visiting area for the interview. The visiting area at Tomoka comprises of one enclosed large room with a canteen. From this room, you can go through double doors to a fairly large semi-enclosed room with barred windows. this room opens to the outside area, where there are concrete picnic tables. Everything is enclosed in barbwire. We settled for the middle room with its large picnic type tables.

A generic visiting room, not the one at Tomoka.
A generic visiting room, not the one at Tomoka.

As per past interviews we’ve had, it was a very emotional time. Felix is so open and expressive. In my title, I said picture people, meaning that the deaf relate to pictures – not words – in general. Felix told me the reason for this, is the Deaf dictionary and the hearing world’s dictionaries are inches apart (he showed me the difference with his fingers). So, Felix tells much of his story to the reporter by demonstration. He is so precise, as to exactly what took place, that no one could misunderstand what he was saying.  Sign interpreter, Cheryl Santana from Interpreter Source in St. Augustine, was the conduit between us hearing people and Felix in understanding one another.

[Editor’s note: ASL interpreters view their clients with the same level of confidentiality as do doctors and lawyers. Generally, they ask that we don’t print their names. To facilitate those seeking interpreter services, in the Florida area, I have left the company name intact. –BitcoDavid]

Felix can read lips and speak pretty well but he’s not wise in formal settings for legal visits or media interviews – room for misinterpretation comes into play. During the interview, the camera operator was clicking away. She must have taken at least a hundred pictures. We were limited as to where the cameras would be shooting so not to include any wire fences or other inmates in the background. The interview should be in print in about 2-3 months. I will definitely let know when it comes out, so it can have a link available to you readers.

I stayed over the weekend with a friend in Daytona Beach Shores and visited with Felix. The procedure as a visitor is the same for access inside the prison except there is a hand scan machine to put my right hand in to identify me electronically.  Once Felix arrived and we found seats, we talked about what is going on with his supporters, his prison life and anything else we could think of. The acoustics are very bad in these rooms. The noise (people talking loudly) around me was unbelievable to the degree that I was “deaf” in understanding much of what he was saying. There is also the fact our communication is not perfect and misunderstandings do occur. So Felix was thinking ahead. He had a pen handy, grabbed a few white napkins, and what I could not understand, he printed in brief sentences to get his point across. Or, if there was something I needed to remember, I would write it down and show him to be sure I understood what he said.  Nevertheless, one thing stood out. The phrase he repeatedly said many times. “Remember, we are picture people.” I took note of that and was quite aware then, as to why he drew diagrams a lot – it was in order for me to better understand what he was trying to convey.

On my way home, I was thinking about the phrase “we are picture people” and realized over the years, that Felix was in the habit of drawing – he would draw for clarity. Strangely, it wasn’t until this past weekend that I fully understood this was a Deaf trait in communication. I have come to appreciate the pictures in a new light.

Pat Bliss is a retired paralegal in criminal law. She continues to do legal work for indigent prisoner cases showing innocence. She is a Certified Community Chaplain, Certified as a volunteer for CISM (Crises Intervention Stress Management) and involved in community events.

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