DeafHope’s Lavender Film Festival

DeafHope

Around a month ago, I wrote, performed, and edited (with a help of Terri’s filming talent, thank you!) and submitted my début film to the DeafHope’s Lavender Film Festival. This video is very special to me not only because it is my first film that I edited entirely by myself, but because the subject is very heavy and sensitive and painful. If it never happened to me, I would not have a gut to create something like this, but it did and I just felt I had to do it. When the project was finished, it’s like I underwent an emotional purging and it was a really surreal experience.

Thank you DeafHope for making me do it. It’s truly a great honor being part of something remarkable and meaningful. I applaud to all other who submitted in their films, even through I haven’t seen theirs yet, I know they are brave enough to spread awareness that it is okay to speak up. Also thank you everyone who’s involved in this film, without you, it will not happen. Thank you again!

“Accept no ones’ definition of your life; define yourself.”

Deaf Inmates and Videophone Petition- Please sign before Friday!

*Please show your support and sign the petition here before Friday the 13th! Thank you very much!*

This was brought to my attention just recently. I intended to post about it last summer, but I decided to hold it until some day and that day is finally here.

On July 10th of 2013 in Washington, D.C., the Federal Communication Commission hosted an all day workshop on reforming prison phone calls. It was headed by acting chairwoman of the FCC, Mignon Clyburn.

At the opening of the workshop, she commented, “The inmates went to prison because they broke laws and they deserved to be punished, so why should we care? We care because of two set of numbers: 700,000 and 2.7 millions.”

We’ll get back to those numbers in a moment, but here is some background information.

Why should we reform prison phone calls and how did all of this get started?

Ten years ago in Washington D.C., a grandmother named Martha Wright got tired of spending hundreds of dollars on monthly phone calls with her grandson in prison. She filed a petition to the FCC about reducing long distance calling rate. After 2003, the calling rates between inmates and their families skyrocketed and tens of thousands of people complained to the FCC. Their response: nothing. In fact, this workshop was their first actual response to the matter in a decade.

To get an idea how expensive a phone call to an inmate can be: 42 states that have limited or no reform on inmate phone calls can charge as high as $4 for just connecting the call on top to their established rate of $.89 per minute. A family of an inmate in a Pennsylvania prison will have to shell out 11 dollars for a 15-minute call.

The folks at the correctional institutions said they are just abiding the security protocols while making outgoing calls outside of the prison.

However, the inmates in the eight states with the reform bill such as New York can have 15-minute call for less than a dollar. How fair is that?

Those eight states with the reform bill still abide proper security protocol while keeping the rate low, proving that it is attainable to maintain secure phone lines without charging the families extra. The independent phone companies working with those states with limited or no reform bill already knew that and yet they still turn a blind eye to make a profit off them.

Of course the legislation doesn’t just sit around doing nothing, but their pathetic efforts to work with the independent phone companies to improve the system ended up worse than a Lifetime Original movie.

Delegate Patrick Hope, a Democrat representative of Virginia, talked about his failed endeavor to introduce a legislation to reform prison phone rates in Virginia, the state that rakes in about $3.5 million in revenue each year from prison phone calls. The reason is self-explanatory.

The next part of the dialogue turns for worse.

Charlie Sullivan of CURE suggested that the FCC should look into Skype technology for prison calls. Talila Lewis of HEARD agreed and emphasized that FCC needs to pay attention to ever-advancing technology that is making communication cheaper or practically free.

Delegate Hope responded that Virginia is already charging for Skype usage in prisons.

The last time I used Skype was last week. It was for a video conference with my seven classmates and it was FREE. With the way the legislation and money-grubbing phone companies are running the business, we are on the express lane back to the Stone Age.

The dialogues in the workshop briefly included a discussion about the issue that hit closer to our home: the deaf inmates.

Lewis said, “A deaf prisoner faces isolation apart from solitary confinement that hearing inmates experience. Deaf prisoners pay higher rates for phone calls.  TTY communication requires at least 4 times as normal vocal communication. A deaf prisoner’s fiance paid $14 for a local phone call. That same call is free for hearing inmates. Affordable and accessible calls for deaf prisoners is a must because: 1. It’s the right thing to do and 2. because the federal laws mandate it.” She’s right, TTY is the outdated technology invented during the Stone Age and no Deaf person I know still use it.

She stressed that providing deaf inmates with videophones is very easy and cost effective. The video relay services provide videophone devices for free. Prisons only need an internet connection. It’s so simple I could cry. Alas, many prisons won’t install videophones in their institutions for the same reason they charge outrageously high rates for their “security protocols” purpose.

So why do we still care? Back to Mignon Clyburn’s numbers: 700,000 and 2.7 millions.

700,000 inmates are released into the general population every year.

Numerous studies demonstrate that having significant contact with people on the other side of the prison walls can promote rehabilitation, reduce recidivism, and strengthen the family and community ties. Most prisons are hundreds of miles away from where inmates’  families live, including myself, so phone calls (beside writing letters) tend to be the only way of keeping in touch.

2.7 millions children in the United States have at least one parent currently incarcerated. 1 in every 28 children (3.6%) has a parent incarcerated, up from 1 in 125 just 25 years ago. Two-thirds of these children’s parents were incarcerated for non-violent offenses.

Those children are affected. The teachers and school counselors say they do notice the difference in the children’s academic performances and social behaviors and attitudes when compared with those children who do not have a parent in a correctional institute.

Ask any family members or guardians of those affected children and they will agree: Yes, it does affect their relationship with the children and how they take care of them, from an emotional standpoint to a financial one.

Accessible communication is essential because it can be helpful with coping with the anxieties and insecurities of having a parent in prison. The daughters and sons want to talk with their parents, but families suffer economics hardship because they have to pay the high price of calling their imprisoned family members.

The Impact (facts from the Pew Charitable Trusts and Find Youth Info)

• Children of incarcerated parents mourn the loss of their parent.

• Witnessing the arrest of a parent intensifies the child’s loss, sense of helplessness and creates additional trauma.

• Many children of incarcerated parents exhibit symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

• Social stigma causes families to avoid discussing the absence of a parent. Being kept in the dark can influence children emotionally and psychologically and impact the restoration of parent‐child relations when the parent in prison is released.

• Literature suggests that parental incarceration can have profound consequences for children including:

*feelings of shame, grief, guilt, abandonment, and anger;

* social stigma;

* disconnection from parent;

* poor school performance;

*impaired ability to cope with future stress and trauma; potential addiction; negative perceptions of police and other authority figures.

• Children with parents in prison need support and there are very few programs and social services specifically designed to serve their complicated and layered needs.

• Approximately half of children with incarcerated parents are under ten years old.

I understand the importance and support for reforming inmate phone calls. It is not only because I desire to keep in contact with Renny- his actions were inexcusable and not entirely forgivable- but I want Liam to have the option of having a connection with his father. I have moved forward. I have written to Renny less often than before and the last time I visited him, it is clear we are in two completely different worlds. However, one day Liam will ask about his father. When that day comes, how am I supposed to answer? He will eventually face the very small Deaf community who will know and ask about his father. It becomes much more complicated.

Liam has a great family support system and positive upbringing. He is thriving so well that perhaps he doesn’t have to have a connection with a father that he doesn’t even know, but I don’t want to be the one to make that decision. He may be too young right now, but after seeing the numerous studies stating that having constant and stable contact with incarcerated parents will help their children cope better in life made me really think. I want to empower Liam so he can stand up for himself. How will he react to the facts about his father? I don’t know. It’s my responsibility to raise him the best I can. Like every other parent, I’m constantly thinking ahead about the stuff that could likely harm him and what can I do to protect him, yet at the same time, allow him to become his own person.

I support reforming inmate phone calls for families in general and especially for those who are improvised or enduring financial hardships. It’s up to each family to decide if it will benefit them to maintain regular contact with their imprisoned family member through phone calls. However, every one of us has the right to keep in touch with our families no matter what or how. If it happens to you, you would want that too.

Please show your support and sign the petition here before Friday the 13th! Thank you very much!

*You can go to these links for more information about the FCC’s actions on the matter and more statistics about the children of incarcerated parents:

HEARD (Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf)

Federal Communications Commission Prioritizes Prison Telephone Reform

Campaign for Prison Phone Justice: Live Blog of the FCC Prison Phones Workshop

Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

International CURE: Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants

My (and every other domestic violence survivor’s) Rude Awakening

My new (and absolutely dear) friend, Jon Savage, made this video for DeafHope, an amazing organization founded by a group of Deaf women in the Bay Area in northern California with the mission to end domestic and sexual violence through empowerment, education and services.

When I watched the video, I realized how little I really knew about domestic violence. I had to watch it again and think about what I went through during those years with Renny and it’s frighteningly true that I experienced nearly ALL of what Deanne Bray mentioned about the power and control abuse, and yet I stayed with him that long. I thought I understood domestic violence, but I was in denial for a long time. I’m stopping that and at least what I can do right now is to share with you all this valuable video. Thank you Jon and Deanne!

Toronto International Deaf Film & Arts Festival

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Catherine MacKinnon, one of my dearest friends, is the co-founder and director of the Toronto International Deaf Film & Arts Festival. The first festival was hosted in 2006 and it is still going strong. This year, the jury board received a record number of film submissions and selected over twenty films, both short and feature, of the wide range in genres from around the world. I’m very proud of you, Cats!

Please check the website out and contribute in any way you can. TIDFAF is one of the fastest growing Deaf festivals in the world, but it is not just a festival. It is also the non-profit organization that promotes the public awareness of Deaf artists and filmmakers from Canada and other countries and strives to build a bridge between them and the mainstream arts and film world. I’m all for that! Please share this post with your family and friends, your support is greatly appreciated! Thank you!

The Reality Blog Award

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A big THANK YOU to DeafInPrison.com for the Reality Blog Award nomination! I’m truly honored to receive this nomination and I’m more than happy to answer the questions that usually come with the nomination.

1. If you could change something what would you change?

I would change the way Deaf people are portrayed in the media. The hearing people’s pathological point of views and discriminations (audism) hinder us to achieve on the high level in the working world. I’m not blaming every hearing (and deaf) person for labeling us with the inaccurate and offensive stereotypes; there are some Deaf people who live up to those stereotypes, but they are only small in number in comparison to the rest of us who have huge potentials to make valuable contributions to the society. There are many intelligent Deaf people who want to make connections to hearing people and promotes their works, but are oppressed by assumptions, lack of understanding, or fear that we will bully you for not respecting us and our culture. We know better than that.

2. If you could repeat an age, what age would it be?

I just turned 30 a couple of weeks ago, so I thought a lot about the last 29 years of my life and given that where I am now, I wouldn’t repeat a specific age because it is all about cause and effect. Most of times what you do now will impact your life years later. We usually don’t realize that until after it happened.

3. What one thing really scares you?

That we are losing touch with nature.

4. What one dream have you not completed yet and do you think you will be able to complete it?

I have many, but it’s skydiving for now.

5. If you could be someone else for a day, who would you be?

Kate Middleton. I want to see her home at the Kensington Palace!

And now for my nominations:

Jules Dameron

Clara Baldwin

Leila Hanaumi

Leala Holcomb

Time For a New Look

I felt it’s time for my blog to get a new look so I updated the appearance and content on all pages. I found this awesome background image that perfectly represents me and what my project is all about.  n Like I said in the Working Documentary page, my visions for this project are constantly changing.

Good news, the Rise From the Ashes website is up! For some reason it didn’t work before, but now it does. The progress of filming the original documentary is all in there. The last post was never finished because Rex was born around that time and we had to move back to Austin.

Even better news, I’m on www.deafinprison.com‘s blogroll!  Deaf in Prison is a resourceful website filled with news and references about the deaf people and criminal justice system. Tons of information about the correctional systems in the US and around the world can be found here. If you want to know more about your rights to communication accessibility and interpreters, this is the place to go.

I have one more cool news I’ll share with you on the next post!

I’m still here! Part two

When Rex and I returned home in Austin last July (thank you all for your sweet comments on the photos posted on my Facebook wall and Instagram!). I felt much better as a whole person. I could just drop the entire project and move on with my life, focus on Rex and go back to school and find a job, etc., but there’s something deep inside me that just flat out refuses let me give up.

I spent the entire month doing serious soul searching to find the answers to my questions about my film project. Why am I doing it? Will doing it and reliving those memories be good for me emotionally and mentally? Do I want to just shut him out and banish him from my memory forever? Does Renny deserve to have a movie about him? Indeed, he is center of the story, but it’s my story. It’s also the story of many other women and men who experienced or are experiencing the life with substance abuse and domestic violence. It’s easy to look down at drug addicts and dismiss them, but ask anybody who knows, addiction is a disease. It is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde disease. I survived it, I may as well as use my film as the method of telling my story.

I know there are many more people out there who went through similar experiences, but sometimes I feel like I am the only one because I’m a full-time mother and I have to stay home most of time. I have to admit that I haven’t been to Al-Anon meetings. Renny encouraged me to attend one when he was attending NA meetings back then. I thought I could handle it. Man, I was wrong. I know I should have went to the meetings. I should also see a counselor, but I’m not comfortable with sharing my experiences through an interpreter. It doesn’t matter how good he or she is, I don’t like the fact that a third party is involved. I can’t always be sure all my information is conveyed 100% accurately to the counselor. It is already hard enough just talking about this on my blog post; I still have a harder time talking about this in person. I have to swallow my pride before I explain to somebody who asked. The shame is still inside me and I am trying to let it go. I saw this quote somewhere and it can’t be any truer. “There is no shame in making mistakes. All we must do is get over our pride and admit we were wrong.”

To many of you who wrote to me about your experiences: Thank you for sharing with me. I’d like to reach out to other people like you. Your letters help me building my confidence to make my film project happen. I also want to get in touch with the advocates too. If you know of any good support groups in the Austin area, please share in the comment space below. Catherine, my awesome producer and friend, and I are planning something really cool. We’ll make the announcement in a week or two. Last, but not least, please Like on our Facebook page and follow our blog! Thanks so much!

I’m still here! Part one

The storm is over. The ocean’s merciless waves gave away to the smooth horizon of still water. The sky is clear of dark massive clouds that hovered over like shadows. Everything is quiet. Perhaps too quiet, but definitely peaceful, a complete opposite of what happened last autumn.

It’s funny how I used this metaphor to describe my life right now because fishing is one of Renny’s favorite things to do. Last October was the last time we did something together with our son as a whole family. We went fishing at Matagorda, a small and quaint fishing town just off the Gulf of Mexico. It was Rex’s first time playing on the beach and Renny caught a flounder.

Last March I visited Renny at the Travis County Jail after four months of silence. It was painful seeing him behind the thick glass window. He seemed fragile; he broke down crying and apologizing, but there was nothing I could do for him anymore. There was a little left inside me that missed him, but I had to leave him there. Last April, I wasn’t home when the judge sentenced him to the state prison in Huntsville, around seventy miles north of Houston. I wasn’t even in Texas when he rode in the inmates’s bus to his home for next several years or so.

Renny and I still write to each other. It was hard reading his letters. His words frustrated and angered me and I replied with ugly words. The letters became more civilized as time went on and we understood each other better. Of course, too much damage had been done and we will never go back to the way it was in the beginning of our relationship.

I got many opportunities to travel this year, hence the reason why I haven’t been keeping up with my blog. I know a lot of you who read my blog in the beginning are curious about what’s been happening to me in the last six months. I had to put a hold on my film project because my wounds were still fresh, but my desire to see it on the big movie theater screen is still strong.

In my travels, I met a lot of awesome people and when they asked, it was hard for me, but I told them my stories. They were impressed by how positive I sounded when I recounted the dark and frightening moments, but they didn’t know that these moments still sometimes sneak up on me unexpectedly and I become scared for a few seconds. I became resentful toward Renny for that reason. But I learned on my journey that letting go is the best thing to do.

Goodbye, Chuck

The memorial service yesterday for famous Deaf artist Chuck Baird was touching and special. It seems that there are three kinds of people that connected with him: those who are closest to him and have personal relationship with him, those who are art lovers, and those who are Jesus Christ followers like him. It is obvious he was a very well-liked and well-renowned man. Not only was he a great artist, he was also a great storyteller. He touched thousands of lives, including mine, in one way or another, and for that reason, he will be forever remembered.

He died a simple man, yet he showed the abundance in everything- especially in his paintings. He was profusely creative and his love for art was endless. He showed his love and his beliefs in all of his artworks.

He stopped by my home twice, the first time in October and a second time in December. The first time, Renny was living with me. That time I didn’t think Renny would relapse again a week later. Chuck talked to us about his faith in Jesus Christ and how he found love through Him during his long battle against cancer which was ravaging his body and eating away at his bones.

Sitting in a recliner, Chuck told us about the power of praying. I’ve read and heard about how powerful group prayers could be. I am not a church-goer, nor is Renny, but Chuck told us that his church was praying for Renny’s recovery. We were very grateful for that. After a hour or so of talking, we thanked him and he left. We pondered about him for the rest of that evening but eventually his visit moved to the back of our minds and we moved on.

After Renny’s relapse, Chuck stopped by my home again. I was surprised, but, of course, always pleased to see him. I noticed he had lost a lot of weight as I led him to the recliner. His appearance changed drastically in a short time since the last four years he’s been fighting his cancer. We chatted a bit and then he paused. He said, “I was in the area when I thought I’d stop by to see how Renny’s doing. But the real reason I came is that I want to tell you how much I admire Renny.” To him, Renny was an unique man with a great vision. Chuck saw the glow in Renny’s eyes as he talked about the things that excited him and noticed how Renny had the charismatic ability to attract people. I was in the midst of grieving and feeling angry that it took Chuck’s observations to remind me of the good things I’ve forgotten about Renny. Despite the few times we met, his description of Renny was spot-on.

We spoke of forgiveness; that we can only move on in our life if we forgive others for their wrongdoings. The concept is universal, found in every religious book out there. I learned, “Forgive the person, not the action.” While I agreed with Chuck, the wound was still so fresh that at the time, forgiving Renny wasn’t in the picture.

After I left for my parents’ house in Ohio for the holidays, Chuck’s health deteriorated rapidly and when I got back, he was always in and out of the hospital. Last Friday, my friend broke the news of his passing and I was heart-stricken. The fact that his physical being is gone forever finally sank in. He was thoughtful for paying us visits and I wish I could say the same about visiting him. That’s why I felt the urge to write this blog post as a way of remembering our conversations. It’s been almost three months since Renny went away and I still have mixed feelings about forgiving him, but I know that deep inside me I will forgive him one day. After seeing Chuck near his final days, I can imagine that his soul is out there right now, cancer-free and among the angels, celebrating the amazing life he had on this earth. With this thought I can’t help but smile.