By Pat Bliss
It has been a while since I have posted anything, and I am certain that many of Felix’s supporters are wondering what has happened to him. I understand those thoughts so here, I will fill you in.
Since Felix received his transfer from Florida to Virginia last March, he left an environment of abuse and violence. An environment that left Deaf inmates out of everyday life. An environment where Deaf are misunderstood and marginalized. In a prison of their own. But, all that has changed. VDOC (Virginia Department of Corrections) will not allow fighting, yelling, or violence in his dorm. I no longer need to see that he is safe, or receives medical attention. Like I have had to for the past 19 years.
Of course, I’m not saying that he has always been content and happy. Felix has had to deal with frustrations and circumstances that he deemed unfair. He has yet to be assigned a job, or placed in a skill or self-improvement program. He feels by not getting into a program that he will reduce his chances for parole. That is not the defining reason, with the parole commission, but it does help.
Florida had jobs for anyone who wished to work – all unpaid unless working with PRIDE – and they offered many classes. Yet, without interpreters. But Virginia is different. VDOC offers a limited number of jobs and they provide compensation. They have designated programs for the Deaf and will furnish sign interpreters. Unfortunately, these positions are available, based on seniority. Felix is still considered a new inmate.
With time on his hands, he sends me emails. Lots of them. Oh yes, here in Virginia inmates can email. It is an internal system via JPay Email. He can email anyone who emails him first. But VDOC monitors email for inappropriate content or security matters. Each email averages 25-cents. People who wish to communicate with Felix need to buy blocks of email, in advance. For example, 5 or 25 emails. Great for the Deaf. They can type – which Felix is good at – and read at their own pace. No phone problems, no misunderstandings – since it is in print – and no waiting on a letter.
For those who are Deaf and want to reach a Deaf family member or friend, they have a Video Phone available. We tried a regular phone conversation with an interpreter there at the prison. She called me, and he would sign to her. She would tell me in English, what he was signing and when I responded, she would Sign back to him. But, it was confusing to the both of us, and we decided emails would be better. Felix has used the Video Phone once to talk to a Deaf friend, but it is so new to him, he was not comfortable with it.
Greensville offers its Deaf inmates ways to communicate, that are far superior to Florida, and many other states as well.
I have visited Felix 4 times so far.
Overall, 2016 year has been like no other for Felix since arriving in Virginia. He cannot remember being treated so kindly and having the peace and safety he does, here. Coming up in 2017, we have another parole hearing in November. There may be some action on our Clemency matter, as well. His attorney and I are always looking at opportunities to present his innocence claims. If there is any news whatsoever on his case, I will do a post to inform you. In the meantime, if you do not hear from me for some time, know that everything is going as smoothly as possible and Felix is in good hands.
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.