One Small Voice Through the Wall
by Martin G. Gann
In this writing I hope to convey my experiences as they relate to two things. The first is
dealing with a disability and trying to survive or exist in the Washington prison system where
empathy or compassion does not exist. The second experience being the most important thing
to me while I serve my time and that is my family.
I preface this writing with a short description or back ground of myself for a better
understanding of who I am, where I was, and where I find myself now.
I fell 2 years ago at the age of 56. I was at the time married, am still married and have
now been married for 18 years to a wonderful wife that has remained spiritually and mentally
by my side. We both have children from previous marriages, but have none together. We love
each other totally and she is the only stable element in my life. Therefore, she is the most
important thing in my life.
I had always been an upstanding citizen and a contributing part of society. I started
working when I was 14 years old and had never been unemployed until I fell. I have been a
property owner and tax payer. I served my country in the U.S. Navy during the last years of the
I have been a member of several fraternal organizations and was an active
member and participant of our church.
During my lifetime, I have worked and played around very noisy equipment.
Navy, I worked on and around attack jet aircraft.
I ran chain saws for many years cutting
firewood. I shot many guns for sport. In my many years in the hydro industry I worked around
extremely loud equipment. All of these items combined have resulted in a profound loss of
hearing for me. I was fortunate enough to be working for a responsible employer that was able
to provide me with good quality hearing aids a few years prior to being incarcerated. Without
using my hearing aids it is very doubtful that I would hear well enough to understand what is
being said to me. Because I had never been in any correctional system of confinement, I was
not, and could never have been prepared for what I am now experiencing. That brings me to
the first of the two subjects, ·living or existing in a correctional institution with an extreme
Being hard of hearing is tough enough for anyone, anywhere, anytime, but being hard of
hearing in jail or prison is enough to drive a person into a constant state of nervous fear. If you
don't hear or if you misunderstand something said by a fellow inmate or a corrections officer it
can result in immediate reprisal or unexpected discipline. rn county jaif, r was denied batteries
for hearing aids. They 'allowed' me to keep my hearing aids, but refused to give me any new
batteries when the ones I came in with went dead. This is like letting someone have their
glasses to see, but then removing the lenses. I was finally allowed to have batteries, but only
after my wife supplied batteries to be passed on to me. I then had to give up the old set of
batteries and wait sometimes more than 24 hours for someone to bring me the new batteries
from the properties room where they were stored. During those times without batteries to
work my hearing aids, I was at the mercy of those around me to know and/or remember that I
am unable to hear. I made the choice, out of fear, to mostly keep to myself to the extent I
could in a small confined area with three people that was designed for two.
Even now, here in the Washington state correctional system, at times I find myself
without the use of my hearing aids due to dead batteries. AHCC policy does not allow me to
keep a spare set of batteries. When hearing aid batteries go dead, there is but a mere few
minutes notice. They are unlike batteries in a flashlight that as they lose power they 'dim'
giving me warning of the pending lack of function. To me, a spare set of batteries only makes
sense. That way, I would always have hearing abilities, even while I awaited the specified times
for battery exchange. Before incarceration I carried spares in my wallet, my vehicles and my
wife's purse. I have been told that I cannot have any spare batteries because a person can get
some kind of high from ingesting the contents of the batteries, and someone could use the
batteries to energize a tattoo gun.
My batteries are a mere 1/8th of an inch wide and
depending on the quality will only last 5-7 days. I personally believe neither ofthese reasons to
be true. It is my opinion that it's nothing more than a power and control decision that no one
on the staff is willing to question.
At this time, I am allowed to exchange (give them my old batteries for new ones) at the
issuables pill line at noon or 6 pm Monday through Friday provided the line is not too long or I
am not at work, visiting or programming. Outside of these times, I am also allowed to make the
exchange in the normal pill line on Saturdays or Sundays.
Additionally, there are other times that I am unable to hear. I remove my hearing aids
when I'm in bed and when I go to the shower. If an emergency occurs it is during these time I
can only hope that someone will let me know what is going on or that a corrections officer does
not speak to me and assume by my lack of response that I am being disrespectful for which I
can be punished.
When I became a ward of Washington State and I was issued a picture ID the words
"HEARING IMPAIRED" were printed clearly and visibly on the bottom. This was great in that
both inmates and correctional staff are aware of my disability. I have been told that the facility
I am currently assigned will not add anything like this to my new ID. when my original ID is no
longer usable leaving me without this simple notification.
This is another example of anunreasonable restriction.
The personalities or behaviors of the officers and staff range from power hungry and
narcissistic on one extreme, to somewhat compassionate and caring on the other. Fortunately,
there are fewer on the narcissistic end that I come in contact with than I can count on one
hand. Still, the majority of the officers and staff are heavy on the power hungry end with just a
few landing on the caring end. I must say I am fortunate enough for my assigned counselor to
be one of the few on the caring end.
For this I am grateful and it has made a difference.
Recently the 'block' or living unit I am in had a fire drill. This caring counselor made it a point to
go to everyone's cell that has a hearing disability to make sure we were aware of what was
happening. It never even occurred to the corrections officers to facilitate something like this.
I now move on to the second, and by far the most important subject of my writing; my
wife, my family and my friends. Visit days are what I live for. I am blessed in that the location
of my correctional center is about a 20 mile drive for my wife. Here at this facility, the inmates
are allowed to have an approximately 3Yz hour window of time for visiting each Friday,
Saturday, Sunday and Monday. As long as an inmate is not 'programming' (programming is
working or going to any class or organized assignment), he is allowed to meet with his visitor(s).
When my wife and I first began visiting, we found that I could not hear or understand
most of what she or my other visitors were saying due to the volume and constant chatter of
the other visitors that completely surrounded us. Hearing Aids are not selective for what they
amplify. They amplify all voices on all sides of you. They are not directional and therefore
make crowed environments such as restaurants, meetings and informal gatherings of groups of
people uncomfortable and annoying.
The visiting room is exactly like a restaurant environment.
On our second or third visit, we were placed at a table in a corner where there were
other people on only 2 sides out of the four. I found, or should I say, we found that being
seated in this area made all the difference in the world, and we were able to carry on a
somewhat normal conversation. My wife began requesting this type of seating to the assigning
officer. This was accommodated several times. Then she was told by a different officer that
they don't take requests for seating. After explaining the hearing situation, my wife was then
told it isn't a medical reason and that there was no difference in hearing ability wherever we
I then sent a 'kite' (written communication with the staff) to the Visiting Sergeant
explaining the situation and for the next three or four visits we were placed in seating that
affords better hearing due to several factors (lower ceiling, acoustical tiles and other visitors
not on all sides). This was great until the Visiting Lieutenant got word of this accommodation
and put a stop to it. The reasoning was that no one could receive special seat assignments
except for medical reasons. We explained that lack of hearing is a medical reason to no avail.
At the time there was a sign at the assigning desk explaining that a medical reason would be if a
visitor or inmate had an allergy to someone's perfume. It was immediately after questioning
this that we began being seated directly in the center ofthe visitor's room. Here again, another
action of power and control for no reason.
After attempting communication with the facility superintendent my wife was so
frustrated with the situation that she went directly to the Washington State head of the
prisons, the Secretary.
Her correspondence was directed to a designated Family Visiting
After several weeks of discussion between this facilitator and the institution a
decision was made and we are now seated in the area where hearing is best accommodated.
This entire process from first reasonable request to intervention took almost 5 months. During
this process we felt the Family Visiting Advocate cares and her actions on our behalf made this
apparent. It was not long after these events that another Lieutenant was assigned to visiting
and she did everything possible in her short tenure (she has recently been transferred to
another facility) to make the visiting environment more efficient and friendly for all. My wife
currently serves on the local facility visitors committee and is working directly with the staff in
attemptingto improve the atmosphere in visiting, but in all aspects for maintaining the inmate
and family connection during incarceration.
A couple of months ago another situation that relates to family and visiting came about
and is still ongoing. I was and am currently employed in a correctional industry job working in
the optical division making glasses. My hours of work are 7 am to 3 pm Monday through Friday
with some sporadic overtime until 5 pm and some Saturdays. Until a couple of months ago I
was also attending college credit classes studying interactive multi-media and the 3 other
required support classes. I have maintained a 4.0 average for these classes for which I am very
proud of my accomplishment. Once I began working, the 1-media class available to me was
Monday through Friday evenings from 6:20pm- 9:15 pm. I had been regularly excused from
Friday evening class by the teacher to go to my regular visits with my wife and friends as the
visiting time and class time on Friday coincided. I never missed an assigned deadline despite
attending these visits.
One day an internal memo went out to all work locations and schooling advisors stating
that inmates cannot be excused from 'programming' to attend visiting. At this time, my class
instructor regrettably informed me that if I did not show up for class on Friday evenings that I
would suffer the consequences of an 'infraction'. Since this class was not required I was forced
to drop the class in order to keep my record clean from any infractions and to be able to visit
with my family and friends. I was put in the situation of making a choice and naturally my family comes first.
I am still actively pursuing my return to this educational class, but on a Monday through Thursday basis with needed family and friend visits on Fridays.
This is a cumbersome and time consuming grievance process for something that seems such a 'no
brainer'. That being, let an inmate that is not only working fulltime, but is also using his down
time to further his education and nurture the family relationship to its fullest continue to
accomplish all these things as he has been.
My wife and I continue to work toward improving these situations not only for
ourselves, but the others that find themselves in similar situations. If only a few narcissistic
individuals could be moved to positions where they can't abuse their power and control these
strides to improve the outcome of incarceration would be so much easier.
If you are working on an APWA-related project, please let us know how you plan to utilize the Archive. We hope to share information about your work with our readers and, whenever possible, with relevant APWA authors.
APWA is an open access archive. We encourage use of the writings for research, course planning, and projects engaged in examination of the criminal legal system. Reproduction of essays in their entirety infringes on author copyright without their explicit consent from the writers. Please contact us if you plan to reproduce entire essays; we will do our best to put you in contact with the authors for consent, and their compensation for any project that is profit making.