By Pat Bliss
In order to recap the events of 2015 I need to first start with Felix’s parole hearing in November of 2014. The results of the hearing were very favorable in contrast to what others received that day. No, Felix was not granted his well deserved parole, but nor was anyone else. He was however, given only a 3 year review period – versus the normal 7 years. He was also given a year off his Proposed Parole Release Date, and was directed to take special programming classes that would help him transition back into society. The parole board advised he be sent to Wakulla Correctional Institute, to receive the special programming that would best fit his needs.
The parole hearing was well attended by representatives of various media outlets. Felix’s case is high profile; known in Florida, and to the deaf community nationwide. One media outlet in attendance was FOX News Tampa Bay. After the hearing, Investigative Journalist/Political Editor Craig Patrick contacted attorney Reggie Garcia in Tallahassee. He then contacted me. He asked if he could interview Felix. We both readily agreed. Felix enjoyed Christmas 2014 at Marion CI with anticipation. He was eager to get started on these classes. In early January of 2015, Felix was transferred to WCI, south of Tallahassee, to begin special programming. After starting the classes, I would get TTY calls and letters telling me he was trying hard to understand the subjects. He had an inmate interpreter, to help for a short time. But most of the time he was taking the classes without an interpreter, and trying to follow what the teacher was saying.
March 6th was the day for FOX News to do the video shoot at WCI. I drove down to Florida for it. FOX arranged for an interpreter to be present. The video shoot lasted a couple hours. Felix looked a bit distraught but he did his best to answer all the questions. This was a Friday, so I stayed over and visited him that weekend. He told me he failed his test, and that really upset him. He said he couldn’t do it without an interpreter. He believed the parole depended on him passing. We later discovered it does not. DOC staff at WCI had refused his many requests for an interpreter and there were no inmates who signed. Because of his many grievances, things started to get ugly so we had to have him moved again. He was eventually transferred back to Marion CI. What occurred at WCI and the constant moves around the prison system, added to his stress. Furthermore, the ever present violence, harassment and discrimination, worked to make Felix distraught and fearful.
The FOX News video aired on two different occasions in May 2015, with so much expectation that it would be seen and touch the hearts of the Governor, Clemency Board, Hillsborough State Attorney and others previously involved with the case. It did not happen. Craig Patrick said he will continue to show it this year on his new program called Money, Power and Politics (shown locally in Tampa Sundays 11:30pm and Saturdays 4:30pm). Maybe we will have a positive result one day that will enable us to get this case back in court or seen early before the Clemency Board.
Prison life is unpredictable. Due to circumstances that threatened his life, Felix was put under protective custody, for 28 days at Marion. I must say his classification officer was the nicest I had ever encountered, and tried to help Felix get through this. However, they could not resolve the issue so, in late July, they transferred Felix. But DOC bungled the process. Felix was sent to two reception centers – one twice. He was then sent to the prison, and eventually – three weeks later – he ended up at Columbia CI to continue work on the special programming classes. Due to these many moves – which among other things, add to his confusion – and having no idea what was going on, the stress began taking its toll. He started to impulsively react to what was happening around him. He could not hear noise as his hearing aids were lost at this point, he was panicking from fear, he unintentionally disobeyed an order, he could not hear. He was given a Disciplinary Report. His punishment? Thirty days in confinement.
For the Deaf, confinement is a most horrifying place. There is no interaction with other deaf. Privileges such as going to chow, going to the chapel, watching TV or using the phone, are forbidden. Just paper and pen to write letters, read books if available, and time to do nothing but think. The deaf in prison, generally, will do just about anything to avoid this place, including not asking for interpreters and not grieving their rights. They will often acquiesce to any request given, or refrain from complaining about abuse, in the hopes of staying out of confinement.
I have Felix’s permission to continue on this subject. Early in September of 2015 Felix was at Columbia CI and in confinement, when the stress reached its peak. Unable to bear another minute, he tried to end it all. In past years as a deaf inmate, Felix had received no counseling or therapy when he went through hard times. He had no where to turn, but write me letters and they came often, crying for help. I would talk to medical and other staff members at the various prisons. I would emphasize that someone needs to talk to Felix. He can’t describe what’s wrong. This is where a certified sign interpreter should have been called in. Only an ASL interpreter can convey these subtle issues from a Deaf inmate to a Hearing administrator. Consequently, Felix would be sent back to his cell with nothing being done.
On this particular occasion, however, Felix did get help. Staff, counsellors and therapists were excellent at the medical reception center. Felix was properly diagnosed and when he read what the symptoms were, he was ecstatic to know what he was experiencing had a title. He amazed them by his fast recovery.
Felix was sent to Dade CI, south of Homestead FL, to finish the next step in his recovery. I drove down to spend Christmas with him. We had a 3-day visit over the Christmas weekend. Felix looked terrific. Smiling all the time and his mind and outlook positive. He is finished with therapy and counseling and is currently back in regular population. He has made new friends and even one or two of the guys can sign, which is great for him, being the only deaf inmate at the prison.
However, it’s still not a bed of roses for Felix, he continues to have issues because he is Deaf. But there is good news, too. In one of his letters written after Christmas, he closed with this statement:
“Yes, I was drug through that valley for awhile there and it got so bad I lost sight of God. It was terrifying. But I survived and came out of the valley and cried for days. Exhausted, I slept. But through it all as I look back now I can see God with me through it all. My faith was not strong then as it is now. HE never left me, Mom, this I did not realize until now.”
While visiting at Dade CI, Felix and I talked about you, his supporters and friends outside prison, and he sends his heartfelt thanks and wishes everyone a Happy New Year.
Sincerely, Pat Bliss
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.