A few weeks ago, we had the privilege of meeting Drew, a deaf man, on the first day of his release from prison, after spending many years behind bars. Drew’s shorter sentence was extended while in prison because of altercations, including with prison guards. As part of Drew’s punishment, he was placed in solitary confinement for over ten years, with periodic intervals among the general prison population. While in solitary confinement, Drew faced an even deeper frustration and isolation than others, because Drew is deaf. When hearing prisoners are placed in isolation, there is an ability to apprehend sound outside of a solitary confinement cell. Drew was unable to hear conversations or sounds outside of his cell—a connection, however tenuous, to the outside world—because of Drew’s profound deafness. In an effort to better manage in isolation, Drew repeatedly requested a slightly larger window. Eventually, Drew was released from solitary confinement because of mental health challenges.
On the day that Drew left prison, there did not appear to be much support. Drew just walked out the doors, like in the movie, “The Shawshank Redemption.” Fortunately, Drew’s loving family members were present to greet him.
When Drew entered prison years ago, he had not yet purchased a cell phone (and certainly not a Smartphone), as there were far fewer cell phones as exist today. One of Drew’s first challenges, during reentry, has been to learn how to text, even though English is a second language for Drew, as American Sign Language is his primary language. Several weeks have passed, but, still, instead of sending a text, which is Drew’s intention, he calls us directly, although Drew cannot communicate by phone without a third-party interpreter on the line.
This season, Drew is living in a New York City homeless shelter and getting accustom to his life outside of prison. The law center assists Drew by providing answers in response to a range of questions; and we are also seeking to secure American Sign Language interpreters in places of public accommodation, where the law requires language access.
Tomorrow, Drew will be leaving the homeless shelter, where he resides, to join his family for a Thanksgiving meal—his first Thanksgiving meal outside of prison in a long time.
We wish you an enjoyable Thanksgiving and we are grateful for your abiding support for the law center over the years.
The Law Center’s annual event takes place Tuesday evening, December 4th, beginning at 6:30 p.m., at the New York Athletic Club. We invite you to join us this evening where we will introduce you to several of our clients and celebrate the work of the law center.