The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

From prisoner to president, student helps disabled

By Marley Malenfant/se news editor

TR student Tom Bradford has found redemption in assisting elderly deaf and blind people every week.

Every Friday, Bradford goes to Heritage Square, a senior care and nursing home in Fort Worth, to take deaf and blind residents shopping. Bradford said he takes enough of the residents to be considered his entourage.

“Sometimes, we take as many as 15,” he said. “But most of the time, we have anywhere from 5-10 residents go with us.”

Bradford is president of the American Sign Language Club. The organization was originally on NW Campus but was moved to TR Campus in 2009.

Bradford has been with the club for a year. He said he has become close with some of the residents but never forgets the first day of shopping.

“You talk about terrifying, I’m taking elderly deaf people shopping at Target and basically interpreting for them and helping them find stuff,” he said. “I knew very little sign. Man, I was terrified. It helped that they were laid back and very patient with me because I was new.”

Bradford recalls a time when he couldn’t understand the sign language of one of the elderly deaf/blind.

“A lot of people use the wrong sign,” he said. “This one guy we were working with was deaf, and this was the only time I worked with him. There was like three or four of us trying to figure out what this guy wanted. We had to put everybody else on hold just to get these eight or nine items for this one guy.”

Bradford said the club had some problems early on before he became president.

“The club seemed to be in disarray,” he said. “There was little communication from officers to the members. Some of the officers just seemed to be there to pad their resumes. I believe it is up to the officers to make this thing work. I know each of the officers personally, and I talk to all of them on a regular basis. I believe this group that we have now has the right motivation, and I believe that we can make a difference in the deaf community and in the lives of the students in the ASL program at Trinity River Campus.”

Bradford has studied sign language for a year and has taken finger spelling, which focuses on the dexterity of the hand and visual gestures. Bradford said his interest in sign language started when he was a child.

“My parents had left me in a car, and a guy walked up to our car and had these cards,” he said. “The guy was deaf, and he said, ‘I’m trying to sell these cards.’ So I gave him the money. He gave me the cards that had the alphabet. I was maybe like 7 or 8 years old. I learned the alphabet off the cards, and that was how I got interested in sign language.”

Bradford plans to major in social work focusing on substance abuse.

Bradford said social work is a way to deal with his past drug addiction and three years in prison. He served a year in prison in 1996-1997 for possession of crystal meth, then again in 2006-2008. Bradford said he started abusing drugs at 14.

“I dropped out in the ninth grade,” he said. “I thought school sucked like most teens do.”

Bradford said the first year in prison was mentally the most difficult.

“The first year is the hardest no matter what,” he said. “The way I coped with it was I got a job in the kitchen working eight to 12 hours a day, and I read a lot. I did a lot of crossword puzzles and played a lot of Scrabble.”

After getting out of prison, Bradford said he went back to smoking meth.

“Everyday I was doing it,” he said. “Six weeks out of prison, I got a job at an apartment complex. My boss there was selling meth. Six weeks later, I was smoking meth again. The thing about addiction is you go right back to where you left off.”

Bradford started selling drugs in 1999 to support his own addiction and to get fast money. Bradford said his meth addiction hit its peak when he was selling drugs.

“By that time, I was probably smoking $200-$1,000 of meth a day,” he said. “The money goes as quick as it comes in.”

After seven years of selling drugs, Bradford went back to prison in 2006 for possession with intent to deliver.

“Someone got caught and snitched,” he said. “That guy got caught and set me up. I guess I was the bigger name at the time.”

During his two-year stay in prison, Bradford earned a diploma for computer science, considering it a step in a positive direction.

“It felt good to finish something,” he said. “Nobody can take that away.”

Bradford was up for parole and released from prison in 2008. Bradford admitted that he wasn’t sure what to do when he was out of prison. After talking to a close friend, Bradford decided he would go back to school. He started to take classes on SE Campus.

“When I first got into it, I was just taking a foreign language for credit,” he said. “I started talking to people and thought maybe I should become an interpreter, which could be a good way to make money for the work they do.”

In the fall of 2009, Bradford ran for president of the ASL Club.

“They moved from NW Campus to TR Campus, and they had to start the whole program up again,” he said. “They had elections, and then the first president had dropped out after a month. So they had an election again, and I thought, ‘If you’re going to do this, do it right.’ I ran for president, and I won.”

SE student Dolan Wagstaff said in his 20 years of knowing Tom, he has come a long way from being taken away from his son to having the SWAT team raid his house.

“I told Tom I was proud of him for running for president of the ASL Club and for all his academic achievements,” he said. “I have seen Tom truly turn his life around, and I know from personal experience how rare that really is.”

Bradford said he plans to transfer in the fall of 2011 to UTA and finish his degree in social work.

“People used to listen to me because I had dope,” he said. “Now people listen to me because I have something to say.”  

Donate to The Collegian

Your donation will support the student journalists of Tarrant County College. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Collegian