Deaf Jail

Can you imagine being held prisoner by people you cannot communicate with, with no idea why you are there or when you will be released? That’s what happened to Timothy Siaki, an American man imprisoned in a Colorado jail for 25 days without an interpreter. That’s almost a month!

How did this Kafkaesque situation come to be? Mr. Siaki was staying in a motel with his fiancée, Kimberlee Moore. Ms. Moore is also deaf, and the couple communicates exclusively in American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is Mr. Siaki’s only mode of communication; he can neither read nor write English.

The couple got into a spat that was apparently not that serious but was quite loud. When hearing people fight, they are able to hear themselves, so they know exactly how loud they are being and can tone it down as necessary. Deaf people, on the other hand, can’t hear their own voices. So, it’s easy for them to end up screaming bloody murder without even being aware of it.

According to the couple, that’s what happened to them. Other hotel patrons thought something was really wrong and called the police, who promptly arrested Mr. Siaki. With no interpreters provided, the couple was unable to tell their side of the story. So, Mr. Siaki had no option but to sit in jail until someone who could understand him came along. That happened 25 days later during his court appearance, where he was finally given an interpreter. The charges were dismissed, but now he is suing the police department that held him for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act-and with good reason.

As Mr. Siaki’s lawyer noted in an interview with the Denver Post:

“There were 25 days of his life that he had access to nothing — no information on why he was being held, no information about his case or what was going to happen to him…They need policies and procedures for folks who are deaf. People just assume that a deaf person understands what they are saying.”

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