San Francisco Documentary Festival 2023

Bay Area Shorts: Slice of the Bay + Q&A

Expired June 12, 2023 6:59 AM
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The short documentary is about Tommy Wickerd, a man serving 57 years sentence in San Quentin State Prison who is determined to use his time serving the deaf community.

“Ma and Pa tried,” in fading green ink is tattooed on the side of Wickerd’s shaved head, an act of remorse for his years living as a racist gang member. The courts sentenced him to 57 years, thereby deeming him unredeemable, unforgivable, and beyond rehabilitation. Some people in Tommy’s position committed suicide. Tommy found purpose by serving his brother’s community.

Tommy grew up using sign language to communicate with his older brother Mike Wickerd, who was born deaf. He wasn’t always the best brother. He tired of interpreting every little thing that happened, which sometimes left his brother feeling isolated in the mist of family events. Driven by remorse, he jumped at the opportunity to serve the deaf community after finding out that a lawsuit filed by the Prison Law Office prompted the transfer of 11 deaf people to San Quentin. Tommy decided to make San Quentin a friendly space by teaching everyone who wants to learn sign language, including the correction officers.

Friendly Signs, a film written, directed, and produced by Rahsaan “New York” Thomas, while he was housed at San Quentin, documents Tommy’s struggles to get a sign language class started through the red tape of a prison bureaucracy.

  • Runtime
    21 minutes
  • Country
  • Director
    Rahsaan "New York" Thomas
  • Producer
    Christine Yoo, Brian Asey, Skyler Brown