Jason Tozier, HEARD Advocate Speaks Out About Experience in Prison
To continue sharing news about HEARD and their hard working team, Mary Pat Withem is excited to introduce Jason Tozier who goes by JT. He is a Deaf Justice Advocate and a returned citizen.
Mary Pat : Hello JT and welcome to Dual Street Tidbits (DST)! Could you take a few minutes and introduce yourself to our audience?
JT: My name is Jason “JT” Tozier—I am a Deaf Justice advocate and returned citizen who hails from the Pacific Northwest. Deaf since birth, my passion for the Deaf justice emerged through personal struggles with obtaining access to those things that members of the hearing community often take for granted—education and the justice system, are just two examples. I work to educate others about Audism and universal access. I became the first and only in the family to graduate from a university where I received the highest academic honors—Sigma Tau Delta award. In my journey of Deafhood, I had been discovering two most important things in my life—American Sign Language and state of being Deaf as my own human rights. I am currently in process of writing a book.
Mary Pat: Wow JT, you’ve been busy! I understand you are a returned citizen? What does that mean?
JT: I was imprisoned 20 years ago—certainly changed my life forever. It was worst experience I ever tasted.
JT: I came from an abusive family. I was vulnerable and my childhood was robbed. During the divorce procedure, I became extremely vulnerable. No interpreter was available. No psychologist advocated my human rights. Instead they used old school thoughts and gave me wrong labels. I was caught in a wrong time. Only through education, higher learning, I will be able to save myself. What I did was wrong 27 years ago but I was taught to do wrong things. Now I am 39 years old. I came from a period when deaf people had minimal rights and respects. Again, I came from a broken home, two divorces, the second one was extremely problematic. No sign communication at home. So, I had incorporated Deafhood in my personal philosophy.
Mary Pat: Can you share what you experienced in prison?
JT: While imprisoned, I was the subject of a hate crime by prisoners even prison staff, too. My very first day in prison, I broke my right hand after being in a major fight with three big fellows. After I got out of the slammer, I went straight to Denny’s and had four full-served breakfast plates and I was only 102 pounds that time. My mother could not believe her eyes what she saw.
Mary Pat: You were only 102 pounds! A grown man weighing 102 pounds is almost unheard of! How did you get involved with HEARD?
JT: I tell this story with a building feeling of anxiety. At first, I had no idea about HEARD until somebody e-mailed me and told me to check it out but that time I did not really want to get involved because you see, I was scared. Yes, scared. Then in April 2012, somebody else told me about fundraising that HEARD was hosting that night. I checked e-mail about an hour before the fundraising, so I dressed up and went straight there, again, with anxiety and excitement. I was not shy at all that I admitted that I was imprisoned and introduced myself to the founder of HEARD, Talila “TL” Lewis. It was certainly a blessing. I realized that how much damages were done to me in the past. I believe that higher learning is what rescued me from insanity.
Mary Pat: OK and you became a Deaf advocate for HEARD through TL, what was your first experience?
JT: I became a guest lecturer since November 2013 when TL asked me to tell my story at American University Washington College of Law. Most recently, I was given a grand opportunity to be part of a wonderful law conference hosted by Yale Law School. It was full house with many ideas discussing media propaganda and I felt it was the best place to inform them what HEARD is all about. Again, the media propaganda in America is twisting with one-sided salacious stories without understanding what Deaf Culture entails. The goal is to stop personal attacks and lapses of civility that has no place in Deaf community including returned Deaf citizens, too.
Mary Pat: What is the biggest thing you believe HEARD has done?
JT: HEARD has done incredible things lately by informing the society that hyper-sensationalizing any news story about Deaf citizen that there are myth and fictions with real facts and stop dehumanizing Deaf people that made bad choices earlier in their lives. The myth and fictions that Deaf people are “experts” at lip reading and that is where the law enforcement and legal issues label Deaf people as “uncooperative” if they do not lip-read. Audism in jails and prisons do not exist in vacuum. It is a coinage that is simply a convenience, a road less traveled. It is real. I had read damaging letters by current Deaf prisoners and that breaks my heart. Not only that HEARD has done extensive research to minimize any form of abuses including verbal abuses, HEARD has done with great patience and tenacity to be successful as much as they can and improve legal ethics. The prison system needs to stop making Deaf prisoners’ lives anymore difficult in worst situations. Deaf returned citizens who had paid their debts to society deserve to live among Americans like every other law-abiding citizen without discrimination.
Again, JT is from HEARD as an Advocate for Deaf prisoners and his focus is on spreading awareness. TSG wants to take the time to thank JT for sharing his experience with us and also spreading the importance of HEARD’s work. Mary Pat wants the community to hear his story through his own words so we have chosen not to edit his segment so that our readers can see the message he is sending.