By Lizzy DeGanga
The evil that men do lives after them is evident in the case of 26-year old Brryan Jackson, whose father Bryan Stewart injected him at 11-months old with HIV-infected blood because he didn’t want to pay child support. Twenty-four years later, in late 2016, Jackson arrived at the Missouri Department of Corrections to ensure his father was denied parole.
Stewart, a blood tester at the time had been fighting over child support payments with his estranged wife (Jackson’s mother) who moved out when she could no longer take his physical and emotional abuse. It was not always like this for the couple. They fell in love during training as medics at a Missouri military facility but with time, Stewart became a different person to the extent of attempting to kill his only son.
When Jackson’s mother found out she was pregnant in 1991, Stewart was genuinely excited. But everything changed when he returned from Operation Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia, Jackson told the BBC.
Stewart tried to kill his son (pictured as a baby) so that he wouldn’t have to keep paying child support, Jackson said Suddenly Stewart was claiming that Jackson wasn’t his child and demanded a DNA test. That’s when the abuse began. Jackson’s mother left Stewart, but the brutal fights continued. Jackson said his father would tell her: ‘Your child’s not going to live beyond the age of five’.
Contact between Stewart and Jackson’s mother ceased, but when the boy was hospitalized with an asthma attack his father found the perfect opportunity to strike. Investigators later discovered Stewart had been stealing samples of infected blood from the laboratory he worked at and was storing them at his home. He had even joked with coworkers about infecting someone with one of the viruses, saying ‘they’d never even know what hit them’.
When Stewart visited Jackson on the day he was scheduled to be discharged from the hospital, his mother was surprised. ‘He wasn’t a very active father, so everyone thought it was strange when he showed up,’ Jackson said. Stewart asked Jackson’s mother to grab him a drink from the cafeteria. When he was finally alone with his son, Stewart injected the boy with the infected blood.
Jackson, who had just been nursed back to health, immediately began to deteriorate. ‘My vital signs were all out of whack because it wasn’t just HIV blood he had injected me with, it was incompatible with mine,’ he said. Jackson was sent home after his vital signs were restored, but his health continued to worsen. ‘That’s when I started to feel isolated and alone,’ Jackson said. ‘I felt like there was no place in the world for me.’
Things didn’t become any easier when Jackson realized what his father had done to him. ‘At first I was very angry and bitter,’ he said. ‘I grew up watching movies where fathers cheer on their sons from the sidelines.’ ‘I couldn’t wrap my mind around how my own father could do that to me. He didn’t just try to kill me, he changed my life forever.’ Jackson contemplated suicide but found comfort in his newfound Christian faith, which led to him forgiving his father. ‘Forgiveness isn’t easy,’ he said, ‘But I didn’t want to lower myself to his level.’
Jackson, who was born Bryan Stewart Jr, changed his name in 2016 and adopted his mother’s surname to cut any association with his father. And when he saw Stewart for the first time, Jackson avoided making eye contact with him. ‘I recognized him from his mugshot, but I have no connection to him,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t even recognize him as my father.’ ‘During the parole hearing, he kept calling me his son. I tried to raise my hand to request he refer to me as his victim.’ ‘I thought, at what point have I ever been his son? Was I his son when he intentionally injected me with HIV?’
Jackson found out shortly after that his father had been denied parole for another five years, a verdict he said was ‘very empowering’. ‘There have been times I’ve woken up from nightmares, scared he might come back to finish the job,’ Jackson said. ‘I may have forgiven him, but even in forgiveness I believe you have to pay the consequences.’
Now Jackson, who works as a motivational speaker while nursing his dream of a chance at one day becoming a father. ‘I would love to be a dad,’ he said. ‘A dad is one of the things in life I think I am meant to be.’ Jackson said he is healthier than ever, with an above average T-cell count and an undetectable HIV status. ‘That gives me virtually no chance of passing the virus on,’ he said. ‘I’ve gone from taking 23 pills a day to taking one.’
Jackson is still fighting against his disease’s stigma, saying worried parents have ended multiple relationships.
But he still looks forward to the future, and being the kind of father he never got to have. ‘I’d like to root my kids in hope,’ he said. ‘I want to give them a vision that the world is a peaceful place and I am always going to be there to protect them.’ ‘Through bad things, great things are possible.’
Lizzy DeGanga is a Dallas, TX based Writer on a mission to impact the lives of others.