BY HOLLY FISHER
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong
The Whalesong Newspaper is pleased to congratulate UAS’s own Brandon W. Johnson on receiving the Juneau Police Department Re-Entry Hero award! He was chosen as a recipient of the prestigious Challenge Coin in recognition of successfully completing parole and for his work to support those who are still in the system.
The Juneau Police Department (JPD) instituted the Re-Entry Hero award to recognize and thank those who have successfully reintegrated after their time in the system, becoming productive members of their communities. This distinguished honor has only been awarded to a handful of civilians thus far.
Brandon officially completed parole three months early, after which he chose to tell his story to those still in prison. He credits much of the early completion to the opportunities he had to give back to those he was incarcerated with. While in Cordova in November of 2015 to give a speech at the Sobriety Celebration, he met Lt. Ken Hoff. Lt. Hoff lauded Brandon for being inspirational to both Native peoples and persons still in prison. Shortly thereafter Lt. Hoff arranged for him to speak at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center. This sequence of events led Brandon to becoming an advocate for those involved in the system, especially for the reduction of recidivism in Alaska.
Recidivism is when those who are on patrol violate it or when those who are out (on parole or not) are arrested for another crime, resulting in a subsequent return to prison. Alaska has some of the highest rates of recidivism in the country, with roughly 63% of people returning to correctional facilities at least once. Brandon takes this issue very seriously after having returned to the system twice before his successful third parole. He feels that this experience aids him in his efforts to connect with those still in correction centers, addressing some of the ways in which the traditional system has not made enough inroads. As he says: “With such high rates of recidivism, you really have to go outside of the box.” He says he owes his effective advocacy to his personal understanding of what they are dealing with.
In order to improve his life he quit drinking. He has celebrated his sobriety birthday on February 28 every year since 2014. A next step was entering school, which he especially credits Marcos Galindo for making possible. Through The Flying University – a UAS outreach program in partnership with Lemon Creek Correctional Facility – Brandon and others he served time with are able to access higher education. Through higher education, they have access to a broader range of opportunities. Under the motto “Education is Liberation” they are each well on their way to completing degree programs. After Brandon graduated from UAS, he wants to go into Tribal Government. He plans to start here in Juneau to gain experience, and then move on to Yakutat in the future. Using the tools he is learning and gathering now, he will continue to give back and make a difference for the good of the community around him.
Brandon wants to continue telling his story to as many people as he can, stating clearly that both sobriety can be achieved and that there is life after a felony conviction. The Re-Entry Hero award is a symbol of what he has accomplished thus far, and we congratulate him heartily on the well-earned honor.