Prisoner-led sign language course gets go-ahead
After submitting six proposals over seven years, Tommy Wickerd is teaching a sign language class in the most unlikely place — his prison of residence.
Motivated by his relationship with his Deaf brother, Wickerd has sought to bridge communications between hearing and non-hearing people during two decades of incarceration.
The first American Sign Language (ASL) class at San Quentin, taught with Wickerd’s own curriculum, began in mid-February with about 45 incarcerated students.
“Having an American Sign Language class at San Quentin is important for many reasons,” Dr. Worthington, Vice Principal of San Quentin’s Education Department, said. “It can break language barriers and provide access to communication.” Beyond that, “it allows hearing and non-hearing people to give help to each other as well as receive help, making winners on both sides of rehabilitation,” she added.
John Gutierrez, 36, has been incarcerated for about five years, the last two at San Quentin. His job assignment is to assist fellow residents with disabilities. He wears a gold smock bearing an Americans with Disabilities Act label, to show that he is an ADA incarcerated worker.
“When I got here, I noticed that there was a Deaf community [in my housing unit] and I didn’t know how to communicate with them,” Gutierrez said, especially since the men in his unit don’t always carry notebooks for written communication and “hearing aids give some of the guys headaches, so they don’t wear them all the time.”
Gutierrez imagined that not being