One of the hardest decisions I would face in this writing is choosing whether to walk away or stay still. 22 years ago today on June 18, I walked out of jail at 7:00 AM while my mother, brother, cousin, and aunt were waiting for me outside. Then we went to Denny’s for breakfast. I had four plates and three glasses of tomato juice. I remember that morning I was so hungry more than anything. I weight 102 pounds that day. Yeah, wild.
After I was back to live in society, eight years of probation has been unbelievably harsh and difficult times of my life ever. Always check in with probation officers every first day of the month despite the financial struggles, sometimes, I’d walk all the way from home. The probation office was in central town.
Sometimes, I’d ride city bus on tight time schedule and find a way to get there. If I miss an appointment with probation officer, I’d face eight years in prison. The worst part was that about 97% of appointments resulted without ASL interpreters. I’d have to write down on notes. If I do not comply even without interpreters when I am Deaf and had asked to lip-read or write down notes or I’d face prison. Eight years. It was unbelievably oppressive.
I also had to deal with polygraph known as lie-detector tests every six months for eight years. The questions, up to 50 questions—most brutal questions. The ASL interpreters were always presented for polygraph tests. The last polygraph test, the question was repeated twice or three times with same 50 questions trying to crack my truth. If I fail polygraph test, I would face prison for eight years without a break. It was mentally, physically, and emotionally challenged.
I was 29 years old when I ended probation. My lost life started when I was 21. My youth life was robbed and taken away for the benefit of cruel punishment. It was also the same day I passed the very last polygraph test and was discharged from probation. I remember a probation officer, writing down on the note, “you are free to go.” and all those pursuit of happiness I thrived for had been robbed. When I walked out of probation office, I caught a city bus and was riding back home crying and wondering what would I do with my life after this. I have many, many, many stories.
But, you know what? Also, today, June 18, 1996, I made a serious commitment to myself to work harder and find a way to contribute back to the society. When I was back in society, it was also one of the most challenging life tasks I’d ever experienced. Dealing with bullies, hate messages, physical attacks, rumormongers, verbal attacks, and hate-mongers has been affected my life greatly for the last 22 years and counting.
The best part I’ve done after making promise to myself in 1996 and never be back in jail, after making a bet with a Deaf inmate that I’d graduate from university one day. I kept my promise. I ended up being the first in the family to graduate from university.
One of my old roommates, he was hearing and he was one credit short in English Literature graduating from Portland State University. He mocked me badly that I could never graduate from university. That gave me extra motivation. Funny thing is that I have not seen him for six years until a week right before graduation;
He was sitting in my English professor’s office, waiting for her to come in and I saw him there and he was surprised to see me there and I told him that I was about to graduate next week. My old roommate did not even graduate yet. One credit left. It was one of best parts that gave me extra motivation. Oh, you should see his face!
I was accepted a scholarship in graduate ASL/Deaf Studies at Gallaudet, I felt the right track to be a professor like I promised myself. After forced to lose my scholarship just because I am Deaf returnee, I was not given due process of law. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments protect everyone’s right to due process of law. When Gallaudet University denies fair treatment for me, makes it impossible to be protected by the Constitution. It is very important for everyone to learn and protect their rights to due process at Gallaudet University.
Yet, unemployed ever since. Being Deaf returnee has dealt with 100 times more oppressive and hostile environment.
22 years later, the bridge of tears continues to live. It has been incredible, but difficult journey. Several heart attacks, including massive one that resulted in death two years ago. I continue to contribute back for Deaf community with something very important avenues. I want to thank people I know for believing in me. I believe in higher learning, I believe in empowerment, I believe in support circles, I believe in awareness, and I believe in motivation.
I am very proud to be a lecturer where I had given more than 15 lectures around country and Canada. I have soon to have 240,000 hits on my blog after written 750+ posts from challenging the cycle of hate crimes in Deaf community, the impact of anti-bias and anti-bullying, challenging incendiary hate speeches, human rights, sociological lens in Deaf community, controversial cochlear implant industries, Deaf returning citizens awareness, and the awareness of Deaf Studies.
22 years later, I never thought I’d do something like this. I was a young man struggling for better journey. Living on 40 dollars for ten years has been difficult enough. On the advice of books I’ve read all these years, I used my time on the western fringes of literature to write my stories and collect stories as well, or as Yeats once said, “express a life that has never found expression.”
When I got at an apartment I shared with my cousin and brother that day in 1996, I slept the longest time ever I could remember and woke up in the morning, wondering if I would ever get better journey and wondered if I’d express a life that has ever found me expression at least. Whatever it is.
It is important to share your story as I am. As I continue to search for my stories to be completed including at ACLU National Conference 2018 in Washington, D.C.; The pursuit of happiness continues to be found. 32 years ago, as a 12 years old kid, I lost my life right there and tend to get my life back rightfully.
Copyright © 2018 Jason Tozier
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4 thoughts on “A Deaf Returnee’s Journey: 22 Years Later”
Breaking my heart reading your story. Thank you for sharing your difficult story.
DR. CANDACE A. MCCULLOUGH
Thanks for reading. I haven’t slept that long until now. 🙂
You have made it far! You have many more. Forgive yourself and love yourself.
I look forward to the day I see you wearing another graduation cap. You looked really happy in the picture above.