Many magicians have had difficult childhoods. The industry is filled with stories of angry, alienated young men and women using the art to confront and overcome all kinds of personal problems. Few can say they’ve faced the same challenges as American magician and illusionist, Jason Bishop, whose brutal childhood was detailed in grim detail in an excellent profile in Southwest: The Magazine. 

Born Jasane Castro to a pair of heroin addicts, the child who would eventually become Jason Bishop spent his early childhood picking through garbage for food and shivering in abandoned buildings with his five siblings. He remembers feeling relief when child protective services finally took him from his neglectful parents at the age of six.

“Even though I was a little kid, I had this sense that I had to get out of there,” he said. “It may sound harsh, but I wasn’t sad to leave them. These people had never acted like my parents. They’d never even taken care of me.”  

He would spend the next twelve years of his life in the system, bouncing from foster home to foster home. He found a family in the home of foster parents, Paul and Suzanne Ernts. It was in their care that he learned his father had been stabbed to death and his mother was being sent to prison. Bishop says nothing about those events, save that they’re “very related.”    

Bishop attended a handful of state-mandated visits with his birth mother in prison, before deciding to cut her out of his life completely. At the age of eight or nine he told his biological mother over the phone that he didn’t want to see her anymore.  

“It was a turning point for Jason,” says Suzanne, who Bishop identifies as his true mother. “Some foster kids hold on to the idea that their parent is going to come back for them, but he severed ties early and it allowed him to move on. He always had this determination within.”

At 12, Bishop was taken away from the Ernst family for unknown reasons – he puts it down to agency politics – and placed with a number of foster families until his 18th birthday. It was during this period that Bishop discovered magic. He started by studying sleight-of-hand and illusions using books from local libraries, but eventually started attending International Brotherhood of Magicians meetings. In 9th grade he started performing at birthday parties and holiday gatherings. In his senior year he met his longtime partner and assistant, Kim Hess. The pair have built an enviable career in the years since, with Bishop being considered one of the most successful grand illusionists currently touring. 

For a more in depth look at Bishop’s past as well his and Hess’ climb to magic success, I strongly suggest you read this profile.