By Pat Bliss
It took me 5 1/2 hours to drive to Jarratt, VA to see Felix at his new prison camp, Greensville Correctional Center. I spent the night on Friday May 6th, and visited on Saturday, May 7th. He was very excited because it was not only our first Virginia visit, but also Mothers Day weekend, which means a great deal to him. The hug said it all.
With him, he had a pen and pad for us to communicate with, because talking over the noise is difficult, even for Hearing people. In most cases, Felix can read my lips. But most of the time we wrote back and forth on paper. To say Felix is happy in his new home, is an understatement. Felix looked good. The gauntness in his face was gone, he has gained some weight, his face was radiant. And he is still in prison! But not all prisons are alike and Virginia DOC has proven that people with disabilities can be well treated, and that it can be done in a fiscally sound way. It has to do with proper training and a compassionate staff. It is not pandering, it is giving all prisoners equal access to programs and services that the particular camp offers. Here, they keep gangs, the mentally ill and Deaf/Blind – all in separate dorms. Felix said he feels safe for the first time.
There came a time during our visit he would push his cheeks in to make sure the smile on his face wasn’t frozen and said “I am so happy my face hurts.” He said there is no violence, no fights, no gangs in control. Felix said “they have so much stuff here for the deaf it is astounding.” His dorm has a washer dryer (they provide a machine to buy detergent), microwave oven, ice machine, hot pots, and irons for ironing their blues. Yes, he irons his own clothing and apparently loves it, so proud to show me the creases. And above all, because he loves church and singing his heart out to God, Felix is now able to enjoy with understanding the church services with the aide of an interpreter on a regular basis.
Felix has already gotten acquainted with the new technology offered. The ear specialist said he no longer needs hearing aides to be able to hear noise or use the pocket talker, so the opportunity to use a JP5 Tablet came at the right time. With it he has access to things such as email, over 200 college classes, music, clock, radio and photo gallery. He has access to a video phone and relay service right there in his dorm. The prison has jobs and the prisoner gets paid for what they do. Felix is able to use his creativity. For example, Felix found a rock. He made a hat, arms, legs and drew a face on it and named it “Rock”. Someone immediately wanted it. He sews for the guys who have a button loose or want their slacks shortened. He makes roses with paper. This is amazing to the guys in his dorm that Felix has these abilities. May not sound like much out here in society, but it’s the little things that are appreciated inside the walls.
Then there is the food. VDOC serves him real eggs three times a week, real milk daily, and regular servings of fresh fruit. What he buys at the canteen or vending machines is quite reasonable compared to where he was before.
However, we mustn’t forget it is still prison, and our goal is freedom. Our clemency attorney Reggie Garcia and I are still working on Felix’s clemency action and parole. We will continue to attend hearings or meetings to further that cause. But in the meantime, I cannot be happier or more relieved to have Felix in Virginia closer to me. To have an ADA Coordinator who understands, and is patient with Felix. Felix is still in the learning phase and the rules are different, as are the schedules. He’ll have disagreements, there will be mistakes as he has already experienced, and change is tough but he will learn from it and go on. Yet most importantly, Felix must shake off his past life in the Florida prison system for the last 34 years. This will be a challenge for awhile.
If you care to write Felix, be sure the envelope does not contain over 5 pages nor weigh over 1 oz. He can receive emails but that is something that you need to set up with JPay. His address again is Felix Garcia #1805390/HU4-221-B, Greensville Correctional Center, 901 Corrections Way, Jarratt, VA 23770.
I thank you all so much for your continuing support.
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.