Stories of Reentry: Brandon Johnson

Brandon Johnson is a man you talk to for just a few minutes before you realize how intelligent, thoughtful, and articulate he is. You have to know him longer to know he went to prison and has had to overcome significant challenges. Johnson is the Juneau Police Department’s Re-Entry Hero for October, 2016.

As a child in Yakutat, Brandon thought it was normal to have multiple family members abusing alcohol. He thought it was normal to be raised by a grandmother because alcohol caused his mother to be in and out of his life. Brandon started abusing alcohol himself when he was 18.

Brandon is clearly a natural leader and he was a youth leader in high school and wanted to go to college. The data required for the forms, like his grandmother’s tax information, was beyond what Brandon could handle gathering on his own. Brandon did not get into college so he entered what he calls his extended adolescence, a period that lasted about ten years.

Brandon made good money fishing but he drank it up at the bar. He decided to move to Juneau and got a job here. He continued to spend his money on alcohol and one night, after breaking up with his girlfriend, he got drunk and got into a confrontation with a man with whom he had a history. The result was a felony conviction for Assault in the 3rd degree and a sentence of 36 months with 28 months suspended and four years of probation.

When Brandon got out of jail, he did not understand yet that there was something wrong with how he was making decisions. His probation officer did see the problem and when Brandon violated his probation he was offered substance abuse treatment. Brandon graduated treatment and set goals. He has met almost all of those goals and, for a while, seemed to be on the right path.

The death of Brandon’s mother derailed his progress. He started drinking again and it was the probation system that caught him, again. He went back to treatment but was not committed to sobriety. Ultimately, Brandon had to go back to prison in order to find the motivation to make a real, lasting change. In prison, Brandon met an inmate who was taking college classes through the ‘Flying University’. Brandon’s dreams of getting a college degree re-surfaced and he started think about a better future for himself.

A mentor helped Brandon with his college paperwork including the application. That same mentor also helped Brandon’s wife start college. Now both of the Johnsons are in school and raising a five year old son and a two year old son.

Brandon says that support opened up possibilities for Brandon he had not seen before. Brandon says being on probation, out of necessity, closes a person’s world. He could no longer associate freely with former friends and even relatives. His behavior had to be strictly controlled and that was very isolating. The world opened up for Brandon when he embraced an advanced education, and started leading a student group, ‘Wooch een’, a group whose activities are based on native values.

Brandon is now planning to go into tribal politics. He wants to encourage other native Alaskans to reach his or her highest potential, no matter how old they are. Brandon points out that he is a 32 year old college sophomore.

A profession in politics is not what is most important to Brandon, though his just re-acquired voter registration card is his most prized possession. His priority is that his childhood normal not be what his children experience. His highest priority is that his sons have two educated parents in a sober home that they own. JPD has no doubt that situation is exactly what Brandon and his wife will achieve.

Brandon Johnson’s young son helped his Dad accept a JPD challenge coin from Deputy Chief Ed Mercer.