The Fall and Rise of Tyler Johnson – Based on the journals and actual events of a young man turned fugitive By Patrice Johnson
Disclosure from P.C. Zick: I grew up in the same small town as the author. However, I have not seen her in nearly fifty years. My sister-in-law showed me the book on a recent visit. I immediately downloaded a copy and read the lengthy book in two days while traveling.
Riveting. Horrifying. Thrilling. And unbelievable, yet the book is not a work of fiction. This is the story of Patrice Johnson’s son, Tyler, and the choices he made while in panic mode in a post 9/11 world.
Once I began reading this nonfiction account that includes the journal writings and scientific ramblings of a young genius, I read late into the night and risked missing a family reunion. The story captured my attention at first because I knew the author. But the writing of both mother and son kept me glued to my Kindle whenever I could steal away from others on our recent trip to Michigan.
Tyler Johnson wasn’t a typical college student in some ways. His future lay before him as a physicist with papers published on quantum physics and artificial intelligence. But in other ways, he was typical. A last night of revelry at Caltech before he headed to the University of New Mexico to enter into a doctoral program led to some misguided decisions fueled by alcohol. One of his buddies, Danny Blair, threw a gasoline-filled bottle into a car lot filled with SUVs as a protest to the gas-guzzling vehicles. When several Hummers burn up in Danny’s stupid act of a drunken activist, the full force of the newly implemented national security laws come down hard on the head of Tyler, and he suddenly finds himself labeled as a domestic terrorist.
He panics, and his fear led him to the life of a fugitive on the island of Corsica with some furtive trips to Paris and Marseilles to seek a way out to another country that wouldn’t extradite him.
The story is about this young man’s journey told through his journals and his mother’s superb prose. Tyler and his girlfriend Yuki tremble in the dark shadows of crags, mountains, and woods. Survival in the most elemental way becomes the overriding agenda for each day. Not being captured sits on their shoulders and weighs much more than their hastily packed backpacks.
Through the creative nonfiction of Tyler’s mother, I became engrossed in the details that few of us ever have to think about. Where will they hide next? How will they find jobs without papers? Will they have water? These become the overriding thoughts of everyday life for the two. There are times when Yuki’s sanity seems in jeopardy, yet she always pulls through. Tyler keeps his sanity through his physics and math. The book includes his sketches of ideas and theorems far beyond anything I will ever be able to comprehend.
Most of the time while reading the book, I forgot who wrote it. I forgot everything except wondering if the people who sometimes befriended them could be trusted or if they’d ever find their beloved mutt that had adopted them while traversing the Corsican landscape. Sometimes, it came as a jolt to realize a grieving mother wrote this loving tribute to her son who became a victim of his own poor choices. I’ve made a ton of them in my lifetime, particularly when I was Tyler’s age. We all have. But most of our mistakes can either be swept away by moving forward or revoked through an apology or two. Tyler’s poor choice to flee the country rather than staying and working through the consequences with the support of his loving family ended in disaster.
At first, I thought the book ended abruptly. It left me with more questions than answers. But as I absorbed his story, I realized that Patrice Johnson ended a hopeless story with a note of hope. Then I read the title again, which I originally thought was The Rise and Fall of Tyler Johnson. But it is not. It is The Fall and Rise. Word order matters.
The love of a mother for her son shines through every word of this story focused on four years of his short life. I admire Patrice, Tyler’s father, and Tyler’s sister for bringing his tragic tale to the public. Since finishing the book, I have thought about the choices I’ve made in my life. And the poor ones almost always were made from a place of fear.
It is my sincere hope that others will read this book and learn from Tyler’s life. That’s the very best legacy of all.
Please note that a portion of the royalties for The Fall and Rise of Tyler Johnson will be donated to Longmont Community Justice Partnership. LCJP is an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system and works with individuals such as Tyler if they are willing to take responsibility for their actions. Tyler’s sister, Kelsey, wrote the Foreword for the book and states, “To all of us who have made mistakes that seem irreversible, let us trust that repair is always an option. While we cannot take back our mistakes, we can mend the harms, and all parties may heal. No matter how badly we might mess up, potential for repair always exists. Like refuse composting and transforming into healthy soil that nourishes new life, our mistakes may fuel deep learning and relationships and wisdom.”
To purchase The Fall and Rise of Tyler Johnson, click the links below.