A Fight To Be Heard

A rare disorder left him deaf, blind, and quadriplegic. Then the county took away his voice.

"They were stuck in a catch-22," says Rosenfield. "On one hand, they didn't want the county to pay for it, because that would create a burdensome precedent for all the counties. At the same time, they couldn't claim that they had no responsibility to bear, because they were legally bound to defend the Grewach decision. So they decided to settle."

On August 1, 2001, Harmon received a call informing him that he was to meet with a representative from the Attorney General's Office later that week.

On a hot summer day, Harmon—flanked by his mother and Filek—waited at one end of a large square table. Representatives from the county, the Attorney General's Office, and the Department of Human Services explained that a federal program was on the books that gave those on medical assistance a lump sum to spend at their discretion. Although it wasn't likely to be implemented until at least a year later, the state was willing to make an exception for Harmon. He'd receive 70 hours a week of interpreter services fully funded by the state.

"We're looking at each other going, 'Pinch me, this has to be a dream,'" recalls his mother, Robin.

 

It was during the latter stages of this court battle that Harmon found inspiration to write.

"One night I was lying in bed crying and I asked God for death," Harmon says. "But he didn't give me death that night. He gave me a memory of 10 years prior."

Harmon remembered lying in bed as a black-and-white movie played on TV. To this day, he's unsure if it was his imagination or a burst of madness, but for a brief moment he saw the television clearly. Half-convinced his condition was miraculously cured, he tried to stand up, only to fall back down.

"I tried to remember what the movie was," Harmon says. "I found out it was Shirley Temple's The Little Princess."

Convinced the vision was a sign, Harmon bought a copy of the film and watched it over and over, his eyes inches from the screen. Set in Victorian England, the film tells the story of a young girl whose father is sent off to war. While he's away, the girl adjusts to her new life in a seminary. After her father is reported killed, the girl becomes a slave. But eventually, she manages to reunite with her injured father at a hospital.

Harmon couldn't help but draw parallels to his own life: Just as Shirley Temple's character longed to be reunited with her father while held captive in a seminary, Harmon longed for human contact while he was held captive in his own body.

Over the years, Harmon had written several stories, which he stored in a box under his bed. Now he thought he might be ready to write a full-length novel.

"Chapter one," Harmon mouthed to Filek as they both sat at the computer. "Enter. 'Locked in the Shadows.' Enter. 'October 31, 1934.' Enter. Tab. 'It's all there in the shadows. All the truths of who I am.' Enter. Tab. 'Maybe someday, I will know.' Ellipsis. 'Signed, Jessie Bell.'"

With the help of interpreters, Harmon worked 70 hours a week for four months on what would become Treasures of the Shadows, a 236-page children's book.

"I try to project my experiences and my feelings into the protagonists," Harmon says. "My imagination is all I have; I am able to live through the characters I create."

But Harmon wanted to do more than just echo the themes he saw in The Little Princess. He wanted to try his hand at writing his own screenplay.

He contacted St. Paul-based IFP Minnesota, a nonprofit organization that promotes independent filmmakers. Executive Director Jane Minton suggested that Harmon hire a veteran screenwriter to guide him through the process.

Harmon searched online and came across Doug Klozzner's homepage. A 10-year veteran of the industry, the 37-year-old musician-turned-screenwriter had written and directed a short film called "Take One" and now worked as a professional script doctor.

Harmon asked Klozzner if he would like to work with him. Klozzner was drawn to Harmon's vision, and when he discovered Harmon's bio, he realized his new client wasn't the typical aspiring screenwriter.

"Yes," replied Klozzner. "I'd be interested."

Harmon envisioned a story set in the 1800s. The protagonist was a young girl named Serena who is determined to reopen a boarded-up theater—the wellspring of her imagination—and provide costly medical aid to a young friend.

Klozzner suggested that the film be set in the present day, and to steer away from too much sugar by introducing a grittier backdrop.

And by July 23, Sparkle, Serena! was finally ready for a public reading.

 

Over at the Center for Independent Artists in south Minneapolis, the script's reading is almost underway. About 100 people show up for the event. Klozzner and Harmon excitedly note a few producers among the crowd. The food and coffee are in order. Harmon looks dapper in his light-blue polo shirt and Dockers. As he promised, they fit just fine.

Standing beside the semi-circle of eight actors seated in folding chairs, an interpreter reads Harmon's introductory speech. As she addresses the crowd, all eyes focus on him, for the words they are hearing are his.

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