Archive for April, 2013

Pearl Williams part one

April 20, 2013

Note to Readers: I have been working with mentally ill clients over the past five years, all of whom have been mixed up in the criminal justice system. I have been writing down thoughts of what life is like for these men and woman. All the writings are fictional but based on the real experiences of the people I interact with, thus protecting their privacy and my professional relationship with them. These are, a composite of people who interact daily with the criminal justice system in this country, all are survivors who have withstood brutal experiences but because of their situations have little ability to tell their stories. My goal is to shed light into many of the people we interact with, whether its on the sidewalk, in the Metro section of our newspapers, the television, or maybe they are our family members. I was partly inspired by David Shipler, whose book, “The Working Poor” should be required reading for every American.

Pearl Williams part one:

Pearl Williams:

Collapsing in the cracked faux leather chair, with the bottom splitting from approximately fifteen thousand and twenty, tired asses of various makes and models, she looked up, then side-to-side, “whoa, I’m tired.” Shaking her head she took a wadded up Wendy’s napkin from her purse, smoothing it out along her massive knee, trying to make the rough paper into something soft she then wiped her brow. Glanced at the moisture on the napkin, shook her head again at her damp napkin and said, “Shit is hot up in here.” Her young grand-daughter put her hands on her knee, “Mamie, when can I have some water?” She breathed deep again, “shoosh child, let your Mamie get her breath. Right over there, you see where my finger is? There’s a water fountain behind that man who looks like your uncle Leroy, the one in the purple hat. Boy, that’s an ugly hat” she said to herself.  “now look, you go get yourself a drink and fill this cup up for Mamie” handing the young child an empty water bottle, itself as dented as the old chair she sat in.

Her granddaughter, checking to see if her grandmother was telling the truth, nodded silently and scampered to the other end of the hallway, weaving through clumps of people, some conversing, others talking on the phone. Most of them had pained expressions on their faces, some of their bodies tense as they paced back and forth, staring out of the twelfth story window overlooking the city. Birds flew by, a large cloud crossed over the sun in an instant causing a shadow to cover the next nearest building, an oblong line split the nearest sky-scraper in half with gray. A sociologist would have a field day in this hallway as over half the people gathered in the hallway had the hall markings of the poor, clothes that dipped past casual into the realm of obnoxious, make-up applied too heavily–as with a paint brush, sweat pants, sweat suits and the largest majority of people black. The others who kneeled down to their eye-level wore suits, ties, pant-suits, long skirts and classy high-heeled shoes that smacked of money spent with an eye for the importance of appearance. Watching intently as her daughter carefully filled the bottle, her tongue sticking out oneside of her mouth in pure childhood concentration, the grandmother sighed deeply. She had taken three buses to get here, left her small two bed-room apartment two hours ago, in the rain and now her knees ached. Her back ached, ached from the birthing of eight children and the raising of five grandchildren and of the worry of what the day would bring.

“What’s wrong Mamie? You look tired,” said her granddaughter climbing on the seat next to her, “Mamie is tired but we’ll get out of here soon. Mamie has to meet a man, and then we can leave, here I brought you some potato chips to eat and a book.” The book was bent, stuffed into an oversized purse, the cardboard cover had seen better days and the pages were filled with the scribbles of eight different childhoods who had all listened intently to the words about the scrappy little puppy. “I know that one already, can I look out the window?” “Yes, child.” Looking to the side she saw several people who she had known years earlier, a man who had dated her sister some twenty years ago, sat with a young man, whose forearms were covered with tattoos. The two nodded at one another. Another woman, the same age but more haggard, more tired and more beaten shook her head to an unknown song in her head, when she opened her mouth one could see the misery she had endured as the spaces of hollow gums told a story that she could relate to. “Who’s that Mamie?” “Oh someone your grandmother used to know a long time ago, don’t stare–it’s not polite.”

Pulling out a watch from her purse, the band split in half, but it still worked band or no band, and that’s all the mattered. She glanced down, groaned and stood up. Moving slowly she turned to her grand-daughter, “wait her a moment, I need to let them know I’m here.” Opening the swinging doors she stuck her head into a small office, “hi there, I’m Pearl Williams, I have an appointment at one o’clock. Is it ok that I brought my grand-daughter?”  A white woman dressed in a blue blouse, navy pants and heeled shoes, smiled up at Pearl, “oh good, you’re here, wow you’re early. Just have a seat, I’ll let him know you are here, I’m not sure if it’s ok to have your grand-daughter in the assessment but we can watch her for you.” With that she reached into the second drawer in her desk, and as she pulled out some crayons and a coloring book filled with  princes, princesses and dragons she asked, “how old is your grand-daughter?”  Pearl smiled, “she’s four. thank you.” She turned and sat next to her grand-daughter.

Pearl shuffled back to her seat, her grand-daughter standing on the warped chair, with tippy-toes plunging into the worn vinyl, she was gazing over the city—“here child, why don’t you color for a while.” The young girl glanced at the crayons and coloring book, thinking for a moment, she tilted her head sideways then this way–“ok.” As she made herself a workspace easily on the floor and her grandmother shooed her up, “get off that nasty floor, you can color here, next to me.” Pearl grew quiet as her booming grand-daughter scribbled away, giving life to the black and white princess on the page, the infusion of waxy pinks, purples and greens bringing the characters to life, an odd life filled with giant butterflies and purple skin but a life never-the-less. Ruminating to herself, the elder of the two thought back in her life, how many times had she sat in a government or social service agency? To be picked and prodded by invasive questions about how she had lived her life, the decisions she had made and the awful things that had been done to her. All done in the sterile offices of white walls and fluorescent lights that hummed like a small purring engine, and for what she asked herself? To be reminded of her failures, as a child, as a woman, as a mother and yes, even as a grandmother? She loathed this process, as she gazed down the hall to a man she once new, sitting next to what was undoubtedly his grandson who was yammering away on a cell phone, crooked ball cap and full of tattoos, pants slung loose around his ass. The man wore a suit, ironed with shined shoes, a quiet dignified presence in the midst of chaos. She grew jealous of him, “he’s probably here for the boy, and he probably thinks I’m here for my daughter or son or someone.” Disgust filled her, with herself and she shook her head.

After a short while, enough time for Althea to grow bored with princesses and dragons, a man with thin silver glasses that matched his graying hair poked his head out of the double doors, “Pearl?”, his head swiveled and he gazed down the hallway then pivoted back to her and Althea, “Pearl?” she smiled up at him, he was also smiling.  The man was medium built, with the look of education encompassing him and of course he was white, and it looked like he might need a shave. And he was grinning, looking into one of the other offices, his blue and red striped tie rocking back and forth as if it were a grand-father’s clock, cracking a joke although there was nothing amusing for her today. As she strained to rise she called down to Althea, “come on girl, put them things away, we got’s to follow that man.” The child gently put crayons carefully back into the box, and gathered the coloring book up in her arms, “Grammy, I’m hungry, when can we go?” “Shhhh, we just got here, drink some water.” Althea shook her head, “that don’t do nuthin but make me more hungry. I don’t want no old water.” The man with the tie was holding the door open, he was handsome in a white boy’s way she thought to herself, it looked like he enjoyed life. The other woman appeared, “hey we can watch your little girl in the courtroom, it’s not going on now, the Judge is in another courtroom for the morning, so I can get her something to drink. If it’s ok, the judge brought some bagels in this morning? She can have one of them.” Pearl nodded, gazing at her grand-daughter, “you wanna bagel?” The girl nodded shyly.

 

The office was small, smaller than what she imagined, with a narrow passage between two separate entrances, and a bookshelf lined with books, almost all hardcover, some with cracked spines and others with shiny sides the suggested that they had never been opened. “can I make you a coffee?” he asked her, she turned behind her, “who me?” “yes, this will take a little while, I can make you a coffee or I can get you a water or something.” Her lips bent down for a second, “hmmmmm, coffee, eh?” She slid the large black bag from around her shoulder, “ummm, sure, I think I would like that.” She looked him in the eye as he motioned for her to sit down in a chair next to his desk. “you know, I ain’t never had a white man in an office ask me if he could make me a coffee” smiling subtlety, “now, that’s funny. thank you very much.” She looked over at his desk, there were photos of children taped to his computer and behind that some postcards of some Eastern religious icon, “who’s that?” she asked looking beyond him. “Those would be my kids, well except the black kid, he was my daughters first friend” he answered without looking up from the coffee maker. “no, not them, I figured as much, that guy on the postcard, it that Shiva?”  He turned around, “oh the card, no, that’s not Shiva it’s Milarepa,  a Buddhist figure.  He was kinda like the Apostle Paul of Buddhism, he did all this crazy bad stuff and then changed and became enlightened.” Nodding, “oh, I used to know some folks who believed in Shiva and that stuff, they were vegetarians’, had all this nice stuff in their house. Oh my, it always smelled good in there. They was nice folks….so, are you one of those?” Sitting down, moved his keyboard in front of him, clicked a few buttons and looked at his computer screen. “one of what?” answering absentmindedly. “A Buddhism person?” “Oh, it’s really not important what I think, I suppose everybody believes in something.”

Handing her a coffee, along with creamer, “How many sugars do you want?” he asked, “how you know I want sugar?” she looked at him skeptically, “well, I don’t for sure but most of my clients take sugar with their coffee a few younger ones drink it black. I just thought you would prefer sugar.” Smiling broadly, “you right, I’ll take five, and thank you.” Stirring her coffee with a plastic knife, she took a few deep breaths and removed her coat. She was wearing a dark lavender blouse and black pants, and silver and imitation gold ear-rings.

He asked her age, “I’m fifty-six years old, a tired fifty-six, sometimes I feel seventy and other times I think I can run like a chicken especially after that little grandbaby out there.” She smiled into herself, “but I’ve learned life isn’t about being easy, it’s been rough but at the end of the day, we all blessed. At least that’s what I think.” He kept typing, “and why are you here, today, in my office? What happened?” Shifting in her chair, taking a pull on her fingers, she scrapped the end of one of her fingernails, “well, I took something I shouldn’t have, up at Wal-Mart, and I had another charge from last year that they gonna bring to you also.”

She blew on the coffee, undid the purple vinyl coat that hung off her as if it was tent that had blown into her body and stuck. She pulled it back, revealing chunky rolls of fat from her neck, there were sores on her shoulder where her dress stuck tightly to her skin and he noticed she was wearing purple sweat pants with gold racing stripes along the side.  On her hand she wore five rings on five different fingers, several garish gold ones and three silver ones, each with a single pearl.  Upon closer look he realized that they were all the same ring. “this coffee is good, much better than that canned crap I get at the Save-A-Lot, I could drink this all day,” she said mostly to herself.  He smiled at her, clicking things on the computer and explained, “this may take a while if you need to go smoke a cigarette, use the rest room or just take a break let me know. One minute here while I open up the document I need. Do you mind if I play some music?”

“No sir, you do whatever you want to do” she had pulled her sleeves up and was rubbing Noxzema up and down her arms, the white greasy cream made a shiny contrast to her dark skin. The room was engulfed with the scent, he immediately thought of his grandmother.  “What you smilin’ at?” Fidgeting with his keyboard, he smiled again, “oh, my grandmother used to use that cream. I was just reminded me of her and her car, it smelled like Noxzema.” “ohh, you probably like that then? I bet she was a nice woman, because you nice also.” “Thanks, shall we get started?”

“so, tell me Althea, what brought you here today—-I mean I understand you have a theft charge but why does your attorney think you need to be part of one of the specialty courts?” Another deep breath, one that held her thoughts at bay, she wasn’t expecting this, so up-front as she blew out she laughed, “boy, you get straight to the point, don’t you? Well, you could say I had a hard life. Real hard and while that ain’t no excuse, I done made a lot of stupid decisions but sometimes a person don’t even know right from wrong when they grew up like I did.” He leaned back, “it was tough, it sounds like it.” She nodded, and her eyes turned far away as if she were peering down a tunnel. “yup.”

Where to start? She rubbed her hands on her bulging thighs, picked an imaginary piece of fabric off her  purple coat, breathing again, always breathing when it seemed too much to do, “welllll,” drawing the word out as if were fourteen inches long and stuck in her throat. “let’s see, I was born here in Columbus, over there by where Children’s Hospital is, that neighborhood. Near Sullivant and Parsons, although that house is gone, they tore up that whole damn neighborhood when they put the freeway in. Knocked that house down and hopefully all the bad shit that went on in it. I was six then they did that. My momma cried but I didn’t care. Always hated that place. Anyway, they moved us over to those projects by that hospital OSU now runs.” She took a sip of coffee, and looked at him, “you probably wanna know what was so bad, don’t you?”  Rubbing his chin, the white bristly hair that poked out like miniature fence posts, reminded him of his age, “its up to you to tell me what you want, the more you disclose the better I can help you find the support you need and the more information I can provide for the court would impact on how the court views you case.” Althea nodded slowly.

It was hot out, the sun seemed to splinter the fraying wooden porch in real time, the paint was so hot in places if bubbled and cracked and stuck under her bare feet. “Momma, its hot out here, can I come in?” From the back of the house her mother bellowed, “Listen child, your momma said you need to stay out there, it’s hot in this damn house and your momma is busy, you need to shut your mouth before I come out there and shut it for you!” “But, I gotta pee, and I’m thirsty.” “there’s some Kool Aid on the porch for you! drink that.” The girl looked at the pitcher of Kool Aid, it had formed a thin layer of grim at the top, like a country pond melting in the sun. “But momma, it ain’t got no sugar in it! Plus it’s all warm!” The mother ran from the back of the house, she could feel her mother’s feet stomping across the floor even as she stood on the porch steps, big angry steps full of agitation, she was already flinching. The screen door, whose screen hung as if it were a torn flypaper, drooping forward, burst open. “Get your little ass in here and go pee!” She ran up the stairs, her hot feet making a tiny rhythm of childhood, piddle-paddle, piddle-paddle. She opened the door to the rest-room and a man was standing in the middle of the bathroom, slightly wavering, it was as if he were being blown by a strong wind, but there was no wind today, especially in the stiffling house.

“uh, sorry.” as she crept back towards the stairs.

“Its ok, what, you gotta use the rest room, little one? I’ve just finished up.  You can use it.” His smile was large, his teeth were yellow, almost the color of dried corn cobs. She would never forget that. He was missing half of his lower teeth.

“no, I was looking for my mamma, I hear her downstairs.” and she turned to go.

“Hey! I said go ahead and use it!” he bellowed at her, his voice pointed like a stick. She felt a large hand on her shoulder, it was firm, strong and it pinched into her back.

“yes sir.” She silently climbed onto the toilet and she stared straight ahead, the sink was dripping, it had two faucets, one for hot water and one for cold. Except half the time there was no hot water but the cold faucet dripped. Bink..Bink..Bink. She heard the door shut and felt him standing above her, glancing up she felt his eyes looking down upon her. They were dark, almost crooked in a way and they seemed to be made of wax. He was smiling at her, with a chunk of his teeth out, she could smell his breath. It was old , the aroma of old liquor, of how her daddy used to smell when she would hug him in the morning. His hands wrapped around her head, he was mumbling and she heard not word he said. He stuck it in her face, it smelled as well, she wouldn’t forget that either, musty and dangerous. She cried, but he tried to soothe her and the sensation of his hair on her lips caused her gag and he cursed her. That’s when it started, she later learned he was her mother’s cousin.

Afterwards she hid under the wooden porch, as ants crawled up her legs, she tore at her skirt and cried into the hot dirt. Later that night, she woke up to her mother calling for her. It was late and there were police cars parked out front and swarm of people in the front yard. She crawled from under the porch, streaks of brown dirt stuck to her face where she had wept, her hair with filled with clumps of leaves and trash. Walking to the back yard, her mother spotted her and hugged, “where have you been child? We have been looking for you. What happened to you, you a mess.” She fell into her mother’s arms, as if felled by a gun, “momma can we go to bed, why all those police cars.” “yeah baby, we can go to bed, let’s get you cleaned up. Your uncle and some of his friends got to arguing and that’s just what happens sometimes. People yell and the police show up.They are leavin’, don’t fret.”

Sighing, rocking her left leg she said,  “well it went bad from the get go. My daddy was never around, momma liked to get liquored up and sometimes she would disappear and I’d go to my grannies’ or auntie’s house. Grandma was ok, but I liked when we went to my Auntie’s, she was a school teacher. She later worked for the school board. She went to college, her house smelled nice and they were the first ones to have a microwave and a color television. But, my mom would leave us alone and that’s when the bad stuff would happen. My uncle at first, but he wasn’t really my uncle more like a cousin, then his brother and later my mom met a man who did stuff to me and my little sister. One of my brother’s was slow, you know what I mean?”

He nodded. “Well he was slow and some of them boys in the neighborhood would put him up to stuff, you know get him to do shit. Anyway, one day when I was walking back from the bus, I seen my brother, the slow one. We called him Charlie, he was nice, he would do anything for anyone and he loved to sing that song by the Supremes, the one that goes, “I need love, love.” Her voice turned childlike, chirping the words and a slight smile crossed her face, for a moment she was eleven, walking down her street, singing the Supremes and letting the water from the fire hydrant splash her ankles.

“yeah, I know it, it’s a wonderful song.”

“yeah, Charlie loved it, I think he secretly wanted to be Dianna Ross,” she laughed to        herself, “we would actually put on a show and wear my momma’s bathrobe, those fluffy          ones they made back then, you could pretend you were royalty or something.”

“or Dianna Ross” he offered.

“yeah, or the Dianna Ross. So, I’m walking home and there was this store we would go     to, to buy candy or cigarettes for my momma, and I turned the corner and there was this          alley there and the police had blocked it off. There was a bunch of cops there, they had          their guns out and in the middle of the alley next to the store was Charlie. I remember         him as if it were yesterday, and he is standing there with a knife in his hands, I don’t             know how he got a knife, he wouldn’t hurt nobody-he couldn’t. He was just sweet            Charlie. And he was crying, he was scared and I called him and he turned and looked at     me, and he walked forward and this police man yells at him. I don’t know what was going           on with him but he kept walking and they just shot him. And he was dead. Just like that.         He wouldn’t have hurt nobody.”

“That must have been very difficult, how old were you?”

She looked up, tears had started falling from her cheeks, big round droplets, sinking into the carpet and onto her purple pants. “I was eleven or something, supposedly those boys told him to go into the store and rob it. He didn’t know what he was doing. After that I went to my Grannies’ for a while, my momma lost it. She went to Akron for a while and she never really got right, I quit school when I was fifteen. I got pregnant, I was running around. you know?” Nodding again, “you want to take a break here?”

“Sure, I’ll go check on my grandbaby.”

 

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Dan the Surfer

April 9, 2013

Note to Readers: I have been working with mentally ill clients over the past five years, all of whom have been mixed up in the criminal justice system. I have been writing down thoughts of what life is like for these men and woman. All the writings are fictional but based on the real experiences of the people I interact with, thus protecting their privacy and my professional relationship with them. These are, a composite of people who interact daily with the criminal justice system in this country, all are survivors who have withstood brutal experiences but because of their situations have little ability to tell their stories. My goal is to shed light into many of the people we interact with, whether its on the sidewalk, in the Metro section of our newspapers, the television, or maybe they are our family members. I was partly inspired by David Shipler, whose book, “The Working Poor” should be required reading for every American.

 

Dan the Surfer:

With long blonde hair, the hangs down past muscular shoulders built from lifting heavy circular iron rings while breathing time away, Dan shuffles through an apartment that has seen its better days. Built in the nineteen seventies, the building houses 24 apartments, stacked on top of one another as if they were modeled after a grocers shelf, these units are sparse, smelly and, at times unfit for the cockroaches and bed bugs that inhabit them. All come with one bedroom, a sliver of a kitchen and a bath room that adheres to the taste of a Motel Six, small, cramped and musty. Many of the apartments house families with children, it would appear to be an unaccountable number as when one walks around the exterior of the units there is a bountiful supply of children, most with tan and brown skin, hurrying and hiding here and there, their loud excited screams punctuating the sad filth that surrounds them. It is not uncommon to see five children poking their head through the iron bars that line the mini-balconies when leaving the safe confines of a car.

This is Dan’s first apartment in over seven years, prior to getting into this subsided housing he lived sporadically on the land in Columbus, Jacksonville Florida and San Diego, he ended up in Columbus, five years ago, to be nearer to his son who resides in a city roughly 100 miles away, he has not seen his boy in over eight years. The walls are filled with his artwork, haphazardly taped, hither and dithered to walls once painted white but now a dull gray. In the corner is a coffee canister filled with the ashes of rolled cigarettes and placed next to a jar of paint brushes and charcoal that he uses to help ease the intensity of the “angels” that speak to him. The carpet is worn, frayed in spots and littered with spots, a clever game one could play would be, “guess the stain.” Some look like coffee, food or blood and in this complex it would be easy to assume that all of these stains are indeed the ingredients to variety of colors on the weathered carpet.

Dan steps from the kitchen, a soiled mess of damp counters, egg incrusted pots and smelly standing water in the sink. There is a calendar tapped haphazard to the wall next to the sink, with appointment cards placed on the respective days where Dan is supposed to be present. Somewhere. On the side of the yellowed refrigerator whose paint actually appears to be peeling he has placed a nude center-fold of Ms. June 1998, whose breasts appear constructed out some Hollywood special effects team, she has gleaming soap bubbles dripping off her shoulders and chest, and a thought comes to mind that asks if she would actually realize that this moment in time for her, as she sucked in her stomach, aching to be sexy under the hot glow of photographer lights, thinking of how posing for Playboy was a dream she harbored long before she had implants. Would she still want to post nude if she knew that her photograph would be stuck on the side of a failing refrigerator by a man who could eat fried eggs, brush away insects and roll his cigarettes while dreaming of those bubbles floating off her tan torso. Her teeth are perfect.

Tilting his head, he shakes his hair loose like a carny version of a young David Cassidy, “hey man, whatcha think?” as he waves his hand through the air. This is one of the very few times he has met me without being drunk or behind bars, he has had nary a drop of alcohol in nearly two months and the effects are startling. His blue eyes, cleave through the lines that frame them, they are undimmed yet offer a glimpse into the suffering he has witnessed and the inner softness of his essence is present as well as the steely hardness of a life on the streets, in jail and in mental institutions form a competing visual battle over this ragged face. His forearms are huge, as if he were a lumberjack instead of city dweller who has survived on beaches and asphalt; there is a faded turquoise tattoo on the back of his forearm, of a twisted woman holding her breasts as a single tear drops down her face. An odd juxtaposition of the silicon enhanced beauty in his kitchen. “It’s nice, I see you have been drawing a lot” I metion, motioning to the large circular drawings that are hanging on the wall, next to five different pencil and charcoal drawings of people he has torn from various magazines. One of whom is Ben Vereen. “Ben Vereen?” I think, “Hmmmm.”

In the corner is a sleeping bag and a pillow constructed of several jackets, old newspapers and towels, next to this is a small thrift store digital clock that still has the masking tape price sticker on the top. “50 C” is written on it. The clock along with a half empty plastic bottle of diet Pepsi sits on top of a red milk-crate. There is a single chair in the room that is slightly cracked in the seat but otherwise fine. Seeing me eye it he explains, “yeah, check it out, I was walking across that field over there,” pointing towards the window where a field now sits where one of the first shopping malls in the Midwest once stood, “and I got this premonition that I needed to go back about fifty feet. So, my angels then told me to turn around, so I did, and I found that chair, a coffee table that’s in my bedroom, and this.” He saunters over to the closet by the bathroom, pulls out a coffee-table sized book of Matisse. “Matisse, in a field?” goes through my mind. “Look at this, this book, was carefully wrapped in a plastic garbage bag and taped off, it was stuffed in green army bag or something, I had to throw that out cause it has some worms and shit around it, plus, you know it stank.” Lighting a cigarette he mumbles, “I always liked Matisse, although I prefer his drawings to his paintings, they are pretty playful, you know. Did you know that Gertrude Stein introduced him to Picasso? I knew that already, I learned in when I was a kid when I was obsessed.” He doesn’t explain obsessed with what.

Blowing smoke out of the side of his mouth, “this place is crazier than the west side, than the camp I was staying at” nodding towards the door. “shit my first night here, some chick bangs on my door and asks if I want a blow job for five bucks, I was like whatta yah think, of course I do, shit I just got out of fucking jail but I tell her I don’t have five bucks, then, check this shit out, she walks into my apartment and puts her hand on my fucking cock and says, ok, just get me high and that will be enough. I nearly shit my pants.” Blocking out the image, I ask, “So, what did you do?” “Shit, what could I do, I told her I don’t get high and offered her some Diet Pepsi” he laughed, “and you know what she said?….she said, “fuck you god-damn cracker! And left. Then I heard her pounding on the door upstairs.”

Dan can’t drink or use any drugs; if he does he will go back to jail. He is looking at nearly two years for a variety of what I refer to as knuckle-headed offenses, drunk and disorderly, menacing, burglary (for stealing a twelve-pack of Heineken), public intoxication and resisting arrest. Most of the charges happened on one bad day, but he has an extensive record all but one of them knuckleheaded charges, the one that landed him in prison was a domestic violence, assaulting a police officer and destruction of public property. His life at this point in hyper-vigilant as the law requires him not to part-take in the one release and companion he has leaned on most of his life, one thing that has brought him a community and a way of survival but has also condemned him in the eyes of society as he has continued to use this tool he has bludgeoned and bruised many of the laws laid down.

Dan was introduced to alcohol at an early age, five to be precise, sucking out the remnants of his father’s Hudepohl and Pearl beers, when his Pops was in a good mood. Liking the top of the aluminum cans, Dan quickly grew fond of sitting on his father’s lap, sipping the beer out of the thin rim and watching old westerns. Soon enough though, his father’s mood would invariably turn and the ghastly behavior that Dan would later turn to was taught by his drunken father whose rages could be titanic. Splitting Dan’s head one evening when Dan had laid out a long-line of Matchbox cars across the living room, with the wobbly gait only ten hours of isolated drinking can bring, his father stepped on them, and in one quick motion threw his blond haired boy across the room where his head cracked against the riveted steel fireplace screen. When Dan’s mother rushed from the kitchen her husband snatched the forged iron pyroclaw and walloped her on the back, telling her “let that boy think about where he puts his crap!” Dan, dropped out of school in the ninth grade, already a proficient surfer in and around the surfing hot spots of Cocoa Beach, he quickly fell into the punk rock and goth scene, finding part-time work at painting signs for local pizza shops and beach front stores that coddled to the tourist. By the age of fourteen, he was huffing gas, smoking marijuana and using LSD almost daily. He quickly gave up huffing when a friend burned half his face off after lighting a cigarette under the numb daze of the fumes.

Taking to sleeping on the beach and on friends couches, Dan never went home after the age of fifteen, his father had been sentenced to a year in prison for assault and his mother soon left Florida for the green pastures of West Virginia to have her mother help raise his little sister. His mother, who could not keep the flames of heroin addiction from overwhelming her, succumbed  to the drug when Dan was twenty-one, he has not seen his sister since the funeral of his mother. “She’s out there somewhere” he says to the air, his hands wrapped tightly around his biceps. “Man, that time was crazy, living on the beach, I moved up to Jacksonville, Flagler Beach, Palm Coast, and there were some crazy motherfuckers. This was in 1982 or so, and shit was just happening. We would drop acid nearly every day, go surfing, try to get laid, all that shit. I fell in with some skinheads in Jacksonville, although I ain’t racist, I sometimes just needed a place to stay and they liked good music. You remember the Specials? We liked them and the Dead Milkmen, Agent Orange…. All that stuff.” Dan, looks at the ruddy floor, cigarette burns that are like tiny demarcations of mistakes made, some are older than the internet, “I got busted the first time in Jacksonville, on night we broke into this surf shop I had painted a sign for. The fucker didn’t pay me saying that I took too long. He thought he could get away from it because I was a punk, you know, just a dirty homeless surfer kid, so me and my friend Freebie, we called him ‘cause he never paid for shit, not even booze. So we climbed in through the skylight, I was just gonna take enough shit to get what he owed me” adding, “I may be a thief but I’m an honest thief.” Pulling a drag off his rolled cigarette, cobbled together from a litter of disposed cigarette butts he has gathered and stuffed into a discarded sandwich bag, he explains, “I mean, all I took was a skateboard, some t-shirts that was it. Anyway, we should have left through the ceiling where we crawled in at but we went out the back door, and get this, the alley backed up into this Jack-in-the-Box and we walked right in front of these cops where were feeding their fat fucking faces. Easiest bust they ever had.” He was still a minor, seventeen but they put him in the county jail for two weeks before he saw a judge. In the jail he explains, “that some big nigger tried to get me to suck his dick, but I fucking bit his leg, you know, I was strong so then I punched him when he kneeled down. I knew I didn’t want to go to prison, shit I was seventeen had hair nearly down to my ass, if you saw from behind I looked like a fuckin girl, I knew what would happen to me if they sent me to prison, so I was gonna do whatever I could to stay out of prison.”He pleaded guilty and got two years probation but left Jacksonville, moving north to Washington DC, back to Florida, this time south of Daytona Beach and finally Miami. Working odd jobs, usually as a painter. In Miami, he got married to a woman from Ohio, he was thirty years old and had started to attend AA meetings after completing a short stint in Jackson County Hospital after blacking out and waking up on the beach with a broken arm.

Dan stayed sober for nearly two years, and he and his wife had a son, he learned a trade and went to art school, he soon found steady work in Miami, doing an assortment of work for bars, restaurants and specialty shops. Dan had wrestled with mental illness and had managed to keep his “angels” at bay. “They were talking to me, although it didn’t seem as bad when I was married, I don’t know, I just didn’t have the stress-I had my kid so, you know, the voices were ok. They have always helped.” Dan started drinking again, giving up on AA, “It didn’t give up on me, I gave up on it, I just like to drink, I guess”. Soon after this his wife packed up the baby and put her things in order and drove off one Sunday afternoon, back to Ohio, while Dan was on a bender. He had left on a Thursday and came back on Monday to an empty house, “She didn’t leave anything, just a pile of clothes in the middle of the floor, she even took my tools, the stuff I need to make the signs and make money with. Shit, who would even want that stuff, sodering and glue guns, old paint brushes.”

Dan soon moved back onto the streets in short time, and it was then while he suffered a serious brain injury. “I had met one of my old friends from Jacksonville on the beach, and we were crashing at this abandon house, and he knew these dudes who would do PCP and shit, real violent guys. I don’t know, I called one them a pussy or something and later that night, I was walking down near the beach and they jumped me. Kicked my head in, literally, they split it wide open, I was in a coma for a few weeks when I woke up, I couldn’t remember my name. It was fucked up.” It was then, at the age of thirty-four that Dan heard his angels constantly, chattering and whispering in his ear depending at various times of the day and night. Although, he quickly found out that beer kept them quiet for the most part, so he moved back up north when he was healthy enough and soon applied for disability.

Moving to Central Ohio was different for him, for a period he reconciled with his wife and son but again, she could not handle his drinking so he spent a few years chasing down the ghosts in his head up and down High Street and the Short North bars, at times endearing the bartenders with his gift of sublime humor and at other times getting banned from nearly every bar on a three mile stretch. “I’ve been kicked out of every bar on High Street and half of them, I made their fuckin’ signs, painted their walls, took out the garbage,” he says indignantly as if his, at times violent behavior out should be accepted by his ability to turn glass and copper tubing into a beer sign. His wife moved to Southwestern Ohio after two years and Dan again found himself homeless.

“I knew a lot about survival, I did it in Florida and for a little while I moved to San Diego and that’s a tough place to be homeless. Shit if guys think the cops here are a fuckin’ drag those bastards in San Diego will kick your ass without thinking of it. They even make it a fuckin’ crime to be homeless there, I was like, what the fuck?” Dan, is now sitting across from me at downtown coffee shop, walls decorated by stiff paintings of dull figures and price tags that not even the artists mother would pay. Smoke is billowing from his mug, “this is good coffee, wow, it really is” he murmurs, “you know I made some the stuff in this shop, when I was sober, to decorate it. Since your with me I don’t think they’ll throw me out. Besides, I’m acting cool.” He gazes out the window, at a bike messenger chaining his bike up. “I lived against this chain link fence in San Diego for about eight months, it was behind this row of bushes  just up from one of the beaches, nobody could see it, you would have to climb into these bushes and then around them and nobody did that, they never trimmed the fuckers. I just had my bag and some clothes, I always felt safe there except for the cops, they would get to know you were homeless and harass you but the other weird thing there, in San Diego, was there were a ton of kids who were homeless, a lot more than here and some of them could be pricks. You had to know who to trust. A lot of drugs but that was never my thing, I just like booze.” Dan got a felony charge in San Diego for stealing a bottle of wine, apparently the laws are stricter in California, and moved back to Ohio before his court date. “There was no way, I was gonna do time in California for stealing a four dollar bottle of wine, no way. So, I came back.”

By this time, Dan was collecting Social Security, roughly $840 a month, not great but better than the standard $674 most disabled homeless people collect. There are two types of Social Security a person can collect, Social Security Disability Insurance which is based off the income a person has made and regular Supplemental Social Security which is the minimum anybody can collect, this amount varies by state depending on cost of living and in Ohio it is set at $674. Most homeless people, because they do not have a good work history collect this bare minimum which is not enough to pay rent, heating and food. Food stamps are usually cut to only $40 a month for someone who collects the minimum. Some of the homeless men move into the downtown YMCA, which charges $330 with all utilities included for a room and community bathroom, and there are other small studio apartments and one bed rooms available for under $400 but almost all are in drug infested and high crime areas where the mentally ill are more prone to be taken advantage of. Because of Dan’s mental illness and propensity for getting arrested2 he goes for long periods without his Medicaid. He automatically qualifies because of his disability but he fails to re-sign up when it expires and/or it gets turned off when he goes to jail for over a month.