If anyone’s life warranted a movie, it would be Pernitha Tinsley’s. Poverty and a significant hearing loss could have stopped Pernitha from pursuing her professional goals. But they didn’t. The author and community activist created opportunities for herself when doors seemed to slam in her face.
Here is the email conversation Lipreading Mom recently had with Pernitha.
Hearing loss was diagnosed in your late teens. When did you first notice your hearing difficulties, and how did that diagnosis change your life?
Actually, I never noticed that I had a hearing loss. My friends at my high school brought it to my attention. They would talk to me, and when I did not respond, accuse me of ignoring them. I would never intentionally ignore anyone. I honestly did not hear them. While riding the school bus, on our way to a band performance, we would play this game called “telephone.” The person at the front of the bus would would whisper into the ear of the person seated next to them. That person would then whisper what the first person told them, in the ear of the person seated next to them, and it would go on and on until the message reached the last person, seated at the very back of the bus. I always passed along the wrong message. I did not hear the person clearly when they whispered into my ear. I would pass on what I thought they said. And by the time my message reached the person in the back of the bus, it had nothing to do with the original message. My friends and I would laugh it off and start a new game.
It was August 1994. I had just turned 19, and was due to leave for college on the 24th. My aunt suggested that I get a hearing test. “Your TV is always up too loud.” I went along with it. After all. “There’s nothing wrong with my hearing.” Well, I was wrong. “You have a profound hearing loss in your right ear, and a slight hearing loss in your left ear. If you continue in band, you will be completely deaf before you turn 30.” I cried. But not because of the results, my tears had nothing to do with the results. I was going to college on a band scholarship. It was my ticket out of the ghetto. I wanted out of the ghetto. I went to my aunt in tears, and she told me it would be okay. We agreed that I would not accept the scholarship, in order to preserve my hearing. My aunt checked me into a community college, paid for everything that I needed, and I was okay. I went on about my life as if I had never been diagnosed with a hearing disability. I was provided with hearing aids, but they did not help me. As a matter of fact, they interfered with my hearing. I put them back into their case, and never looked back at them. In 1998, I had to withdraw from college, after my car, along with my books were stolen. At the time, I was working at Jack in the Box, making just enough money to get by. I could not afford another car. I could not afford to replace the books. I had to drop out of college, and could not return until 2002.
Lipreading Mom recently posted a story about a concert pianist with hearing loss, and I know of others who continue to play with proper noise protection. Would you reconsider your musical ambitions if a device (i.e., ear plugs) could protect your hearing? What are your thoughts about a future in music?
My hearing loss was not diagnosed until I was 19. And to answer the question, no, I would not return to music. The only reason I joined the band was so that I could win a scholarship to college. There were only four ways out of the ghetto. Prostitution, getting pregnant by a drug dealer with money so that he could take care of you, death, and college. I chose college. I was twelve, wrecking my brains on how I could rescue myself from the ghetto. I was always considered mature for my age. Diagnosed as a speed reader when I was in 5th grade. Read a book of 500 pages in less than eight hours. I joined band in sixth grade, after one of my elementary school teachers mentioned during a school program, that a person could win a band scholarship to college if they applied themselves academically, and dedicated themselves to learning how to play an instrument. I mastered the clarinet in sixth grade. The rest is history. I won awards in middle school, did solo performances in middle school, and went on to become a marching pilot at Phinease Banning High School. I won a band scholarship, as planned, only for my hearing to take it away from me. My plan was aborted, thanks to my hearing.
That must have been difficult. Tell me more about your writing. How has it been therapeutic with having a hearing loss?
Upon graduating from California State University in 2006, with a BS in Criminal Justice Administration, I applied to take a test for several law enforcement agencies. The Los Angeles Sheriffs Department, the Los Angeles Probation Department and the Los Angeles Parking Enforcement. I passed each test with a 90 percent or higher. Part of the application process was passing a hearing exam. I failed the hearing exam. Although I could hold a conversation with the test administrator, without having to ask them to repeat themselves, they still had to write down on the exam that I failed the exam. I was working for the Department of Homeland Security at the time, and was very unhappy with my job. I was tired of working to pay bills, rather than enjoying what I was doing, and paying bills.
I fell into a deep depression. First my hearing tried to stop me from going to college. I got past that. Then it stopped me from getting a law enforcement job, which I am still experiencing. I will get back to that. One night I cried myself to sleep and asked God to help me. I asked God why was the devil riding me sooooo much. I could not understand what I had done wrong to deserve what I was going through. I chose Criminal Justice, after watching innocent children get killed in the ghetto, dreamed of putting an end to it, then the devil stepped in and took my hearing. It was just too much. Too much. I thought about killing myself. I was minutes away from jumping through a ceiling to floor glass window. I am trying not to cry as I type this. I was raised in the church, so why was I going through this?
God woke me up around four the next morning. He told me to get in front of my computer and just start typing. I recognized His voice. It wasn’t hard. I am one of His sheep, not the one that strayed…but I am one of His sheep, and I recognize His voice. I got up, sat in front of my computer, and just started typing. I did not have to think about anything that I had typed on my computer. Everything, from the plot, to the characters’ names, to the locations, to the turn of events, came to me as I was typing. And within one month, my first manuscript was born. I did not know what I had before me. I did not read over it. I knew nothing. I went on and searched through a book that I had previously read, in search of the author. Upon finding her, I sent her an email, and shared my story with her. I explained my hearing loss and told her about the manuscript. To my surprise, she responded. She agreed to read over the manuscript, but added that she could not promise me anything. After reading over the manuscript, she asked me if I wanted an agent.
I went on to write and self-publish two novels, and I co-authored a novel. My agent is submitting a manuscript to a major publishing company, in hopes of getting me signed with them. I will self-publish my children’s books. But I am hoping that I will get signed with a major publishing company for my adult fiction novels.
That is an exciting plan! Can you explain how your career path has shifted since your hearing loss diagnosis?
I left the Department of Homeland Security in 2009. I was just too unhappy there. I left, and became a full-time author. That was a very bad idea, because my first book did not do as well as expected. I had invested all of my savings into publishing the manuscript. And once the book was published, it only appealed to a certain audience. My first book was about what I witnessed in the ghetto. Not everyone wants to read about drugs, lies and murder. I found myself struggling to survive. There were times that I did not have food to eat. My sister assisted me with my bills.
I decided to try, once again, to get a job in my field of study. All jobs required me to answer phones. I enjoy conducting research and my own investigations. I have assisted a lot of people with finding long lost family members. I applied for research jobs with different companies. But one of the terms and conditions of the job was to be able to answer phones. I have a difficult time answering calls, and therefore, did not apply for the jobs.
My mother told me about Social Security Disability Insurance. At first, I said no. Here I am in possession of a Criminal Justice degree and a Fingerprint Classification certificate, I am very educated and talented, can do all work placed before me, with little or no supervision, and my mother was telling me to apply for SSDI? I looked down upon SSDI. I did not want the government to take care of me. I wanted to work. Well, after getting turned down by one employer after the next, and not meeting the “phone” requirements of the job, I went on and applied for SSDI.
My passion for working in the Criminal Justice field is still there. I do not want to pass over into heaven before I fulfill my dream. Next month, on September 21, 2013, I will start training to be a Crime Analyst at California State Fullerton. It is a two semester program. Once I have finished the program, I will go on to perform 400 hours of internship with a law enforcement agency. I am hoping to work with the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department. If I do a great job, and I will, they will hire me. I do not have to have 100 percent hearing for the job. I have reached out to the Department of Rehab to assist me with paying for the training. I was informed by my counselor that it is not guaranteed that they will be able to help me. I am very optimistic and hope that they can assist me. It would really hurt me if I could not participate in the training. I have finally found a law enforcement job that does not require me to have 100 percent hearing and now I have to worry about funds for the training. I just have to keep my eyes on God. He will make a way.
That is so true about God’s help. As for your volunteer work, I noticed you do much community awareness about cancer prevention. How did you get involved with Color Me Cancer Free? How can others join this cause?
Color Me Cancer Free is bringing awareness to cancer through makeup. I know several people with cancer, and it hurts me to see them suffering. It hurts me to see children suffering from cancer. I am working to establish a relationship with the American Cancer Society. Because I am working alone, I have a lot of work cut out for me. I have created Color Me Cancer Free tees. If the American Cancer Society picks them up, one will be able to purchase them directly from the American Cancer Society’s website. This is how one can support the cause. I will keep you informed of the progress.
Also, I wrote a book titled, A Mansion in the Hills of Heaven, which is dedicated to the children in the hospitals who are suffering from life-threatening illnesses. How do you tell a child that their souls will soon return to God? There is no easy way to tell them.
High above the clouds is a mansion in the hills of heaven. The six-story mansion in the hills of heaven was pure white. A spiral, crystal stairwell led from the porch down into the clouds. The oval shaped front door stood twelve feet high. Instead of one doorknob, there were six lined one above the other. The multiple doorknobs were for children three years old and older to let themselves in and out of the mansion. Six oval-shaped, stained glass windows sat on opposite sides of the door. Each window was the same height as the door. Images of angels, candles, a cross and multicolored fish were made within the stained glass windows. The windows were made of soft and dark colors that overlapped each image and merged into a beautiful blend of colors. Children of all ages lived in the mansion and were cared for by the Sisters. The children never aged. Their souls remained the same age they were when they returned to God. The Sisters are the keepers of the mansion. They were chosen by God from amongst the loving elite of women He pulled from the books of the Bible. It was the Sisters responsibility to make sure the children stayed out of trouble and followed the rules of the mansion. And for years, they were successful. That is, until Gabriel’s and Elisabeth’s souls returned to the mansion. Eight year old Elisabeth and eleven year old Gabriel lived for trouble. If they were not getting into the Carpenters paint, they were sneaking off to the Town of Samaria to the Oreo Cookie house where Mr. Doyle, the magician, lived. Elisabeth and Gabriel would fly to one of many lands and go fishing without the Sisters approval. They would fly through the mansion taunting the other children. One day, after Gabriel and Elisabeth were caught red handed in the Carpenters paint, the Sisters took them to stand before the voice of God, where they received the worst punishment ever…their wings were clipped. God refused to give them their wings back, but they were given a chance to earn their wings back. “There’s a child on earth named Jacob,” God said. “He is seven and will be joining us soon. The doctors have given him two weeks to live, but I am ready for him now. Jacob does not understand that he is about to join us. He does not understand the reason behind his parent’s tears. You are to reach Jacob through his dreams and bring his spirit to heaven. The assignment is to take the fear of moving into the mansion from his heart.” Elisabeth and Gabriel were excited. They would earn their wings and meet a new friend in the process. God placed Jacob into a deep dream, where Jacob was met by Gabriel and Elisabeth. “Hey, Jacob!” Gabriel called out to Jacob in his dreams. “You want to come to heaven and play?”
I have sent out press kits to nearly thirty hospitals. I have yet to have received a response. There is an organization called, NEGU, which means, Never Ever Give Up. I have been trying to reach out to them, to present them with the book. If you will go to their website, you will see why. NEGU has touched the lives of children all over the world, who are suffering from cancer. I believe that my book will ease the fears of the children who will soon pass over into A Mansion in the Hills of Heaven. I need help bringing attention to the book. I even wrote a letter to Michelle Obama. I sent her a copy of the book, and was blessed with a thank you card. I also sent a copy to Bishop T.D. Jakes. I received a thank you letter from his staff. I pray that someone, somewhere, can help me get this book to the children in the hospital.
Pernitha, thank you for chatting with me. Friends, learn more about Pernitha’s new book.
Readers—How Have You Overcome Obstacles to Pursue Your Dreams?
Share your story in the Comments below.