July 10, 2019 - 12:00pm
We don’t get to choose the life we begin with. Some of us are born into privilege while others are not. One opportunity or disadvantage can vastly change our entire life story.
“At the orchard I work at, my boss’s son has dyslexia and his mother fought tirelessly for him to ensure he got the proper supports in school,” says Eric Evans. “I wonder sometimes how my life would be different if I had someone like that in my life.”
At nine months old, Evans was surrendered to the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Evans was shuffled around to various foster families over the years. During his youth, he experienced physical and emotional abuse.
“I spent a long time believing that it was my fault for being abused and that I was stupid,” says Evans. “I had trouble reading and would get my words mixed up, so I tried keeping to myself.”
What was really going on for Evans was a learning disability – dyslexia.
“I went to live with a really loving foster family, but I didn’t understand how to accept it,” he recalls. “At that point as well, I was already using hard drugs so I was difficult to manage.”
Evans began using drugs when he was only seven years old and discovered harder substances by age 11. He recalls how heroin became his Band-Aid to everything.
“I wasn’t embarrassed to talk to anyone when I was on it and it took all my pain away,” he says.
While drugs provided temporary relief from his troubles, they also took away his life. He got into a “comfortable” routine of drug use, committing crimes to feed his habit, getting locked up in prison, then repeating the cycle. He’s spent approximately 17 years behind bars.
It took about 10 years for Evans to get sober.
“I didn’t blame drugs for how I was, I blamed myself,” says Evans. “The drugs didn’t do me, I did them, and I knew I had to internally fix what was going on if I was ever going to get clean.”
At 20 years old, Evans was living in a jail cell and still unable to write his own name. In prison, he had the opportunity to get a higher education, but because his literacy level was so low, the institution hired him a personal tutor instead of integrating him into the classroom with the other inmates.
“I had not been in the regular school system since I was in Grade 3,” he says. “When I was in jail, I first learned that I really wanted to learn, but at that time I still wasn’t in the right frame of mind.”
By the time he was released from prison, Evans was able to spell his own name.
Years later, during his time at a treatment center, Evans was inspired to continue his learning journey. He enrolled in Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) Adult Basic Education (ABE) program to complete his high-school diploma.
“Three years ago, he came to us at a basic literacy level and now he is graduating this year,” says Summer Crosson, one of his ABE instructors. “Eric is an inspiration to anyone who is thinking about coming back to school. He has worked incredibly hard, has faced the challenges of school head on, and has sought out the supports that he needed along the way. All of us at VIU are grateful to have been a part of Eric’s journey."
“I never thought I would graduate high school. Education was just never part of my life,” says Evans. “All my instructors at VIU voiced how they could see me moving forward and it made me feel like I actually was. Initially I was really unsure of going back to school, but they gave me the confidence that I can do this.”
Evans received an award to continue his studies and plans to apply for the VIU Horticulture Technician Foundation program.
As someone who has aged out of the foster care system, he is eligible for support through VIU’s Tuition Waiver Program. VIU was the first university in British Columbia to implement a tuition waiver program for students who have lived in care and it continues to be one of the few institutions in BC to have no age cap.
Evans could be 54 when he becomes a university student.
Rae-Anne Guenther, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University