Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘drugs’

After 21 years with US Steel, drugs and alcohol have left Michael homeless. (photo: Reed)

In the early hours of October 5th I had just given my money to Alexander and Phaze.  I was talking to Alexander and getting my things together to leave because it was about 1:00am and I had to be at work in a few hours. Right then a guy pulled up on a Trek bicycle.  My initial thought was that the bike might have been stolen since it was missing the seat.  In a soft voice he approached me and said, “You want the real story?” He claimed that Alexander’s story was not representative of those facing real hardships on the streets.  “I don’t choose to be out here,” he said.  Although he was critical of Alexander’s choice to sell

StreetWise magazines, I support it.  I have seen how Street Sense here in DC has changed the lives of many individuals here in DC.  Michael was telling me that he was deserving of the $10 because of the hardships of his life.

So to give you an idea how this went down, I was filming Alexander and just let the camera running when Michael rolled up and started talking to me. Here is the raw unedited (with the exception of one part where we were interrupted) video from that conversation.

Michael said he goes daily to the labor lines in search of day work. “I get work probably once a week,” he told me.

Michael showed me the scars from where he was shot in Seattle. (photo: Reed)

He also told me that he survived a shooting in Seattle. Michael explained that it resulted from an incident where some other man pulled up the skirt of the woman he was with. He stood up for her and ended up getting shot six times. Michael pulled up his shirt to show me the wounds.

Michael's seatless bicycle (photo: Reed)

Before leaving Michael offered to give me the money back. I don’t really know why and I told him to keep it and he did. He said he was going to use it to buy food that week.
Right as I was packing up my stuff, another guy named Tim came by and also asked for money.  What is going on here?  Did someone tweet that a crazy guy was handing out money at Michigan and Randolph? Anyway, I politely told Tim no and headed home.

On my way home a filmed the following video debrief.

Tomorrow, it’s back to DC.

Read Full Post »

Volunteers enabled SOME to prepare almost 400,000 thousand meals last year. (Photo: Thom Wolf)

Volunteering is an integral part of society.  It helps ensure that essential public services are provided, builds social capital and fosters cohesive communities all while benefiting the volunteer as well by giving them opportunities to acquire new skills, have sense of purpose and integrate them into their community.  I encourage everyone to find some volunteer activity to do at least once a month.  It doesn’t need to be formal either.  It could be as simple as raking your elderly neighbors leaves, helping someone learn to read, or offering to provide a professional service or trade that you are skilled in at no cost.  Former President Clinton said in his book Giving, “Almost everyone – regardless of income, available time, age, and skills – can do something useful for others and, in the process, strengthen the fabric of our shared humanity.” How true he was.

On Day 277 I was volunteering at So Others Might Eat (SOME), an organization that has impressed me tremendously.  For 40 years they have been feeding and clothing DC’s homeless and poor, treating the ill in their medical, dental and mental health programs, training individuals for jobs and housing those in need. 

It was a Friday morning and I was volunteering in their dining room.  They serve breakfast and lunch to a couple hundred people in a short span of time so things need to be done quickly and efficiently. 

Michelle will celebrate eight years of sobriety on October 16th! (photo: Reed)

This is where today’s recipient comes in.  In addition to being the Assistant Volunteer Coordinator, Michelle also is the Dining Room Manager.  In other words, while I am working in the dining room, she is my boss.  And let me tell you, she makes the place run.  She knows when not to take crap from someone but also knows when someone just needs a hug.  I even saw her take a minute to dance a little to the music that was playing and she’s got some moves!

Born in DC General Hospital, Michelle grew up in PG County.  She went to Largo High School and went on to study cosmetology.  But then things changed.  “I got into drugs and alcohol and let them override my education,” she explained.  “I was in and out of treatment, in and out of jail.  It was not a good situation.”  She became sober on October 16th, 2002 – same sobriety anniversary as Bob!  She worked a few jobs but really wanted to work at SOME.  “I applied and then was calling, calling, calling you know and I finally got the job!”

Michelle has three grown children and a grandchild.  She now lives on Capitol Hill, owns a vehicle and has a steady job that she enjoys.  “I am grateful for so many things.”

Michelle (right) with co-worker Brittany. (photo: Reed)

Michelle, who turns 48 in less than two weeks, says that it’s the little things that make her day.  “You know, sometimes people will come up to me and say ‘thank you, you helped me so much’ and that means a lot to me.”   She gets to know some of their guests very well.  “I’ve been to funeral services for some of them…in fact I’m going to one today.” 

She’s a people person.  “I think I’m funny,” she says with a smile.  She is and has a great smile, but she can be tough too.  “We don’t tolerate disrespect or disruptive behavior here.”  Just then a guest walks by and asks her a question.  She greeted them by saying, “Hello friend, what can I do for you?”  She calls everyone “friend.”  Michelle is one of those people that define the organization’s culture.  Weak organizations, especially service related organizations, lack people like Michelle.

SOME is located at 71 O Street in NW Washington DC. (photo: Reed)

The ten dollars I gave her would be spent on something small for herself.  “I’m going to be good to myself!”  She said she might get a sub from Subway.

If you are in the DC area and need a good place to volunteer, check out SOME.  Why not get a bunch of your friends or coworkers together and set up a day for you all to go and volunteer together.  More details on how you can help can be found here.

So Others Might Eat (SOME)
71 ‘O’ Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: 202.797.8806
www.some.org

Read Full Post »

I invited Bob to a coffee at a nearby coffee shop so Bob could sit down and rest his back. (photo: Reed)

I originally walked right by Bob who was holding himself up by leaning against a telephone pole and supporting the rest of his weight with a walker at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and R Street. I crossed the street but couldn’t stop thinking about what his story was. I turned around and went back and placed ten dollars in his hand.

“I’ve got a bad lower back which is inoperable,” Bob shared. “I fell down a flight of stairs in 1977…each year it gets worse.” There was something special about Bob, although at first I couldn’t put my finger on it. When I first walked by him I assumed that he was panhandling to get some money to buy booze. But I would soon find out that that couldn’t be further from the truth as he’s been sober for nearly 25 years.

Part of me doesn’t want to write anymore and just tell you to watch the video I shot of him. It’s one of the most moving videos I have filmed of all of the people that I have met. Bob opens up to me about being adopted, an upbringing void of love, 30 years of addiction to alcohol and a slew of drugs, family hardships, and 20 nervous breakdowns. His vulnerability and genuine candor will move you. I have watched this video probably a dozen times and forced my dad to watch it this weekend. He too was in awe.

Bob tells me that he has good days and bad days. Sometimes he spends weeks at a time in a depressed state. I definitely caught Bob on a good day. No less than six people stopped by, I kid you not, and said hello to Bob while we chatted. Two or three of them made a specific comment about how happy he looked. I’d like to think I was a part of that, but he might just have been having a good day. If you were curious how many people stopped to say hello to the guy who gives away $10 every day…that number would be zero!

Ruth is Bob’s birth mother. Ann was the mother who raised him. Bob would like to know what happened to his birth mother Ruth Lucas (photo: Reed)He goes into a lot of detail about drug induced binges he embarked on in the 60s and 70s.  “I just wanted to drink, shoot dope and have a little sex occasionally,” he told one psychologist in the early days of his recovery attempts.  After dozens of failed attempts at sobriety he finally succeeded with the help of others and will be celebrating 24 years of sobriety on October 16th of this year.  I asked him if I could see him on that day and he said that that would probably be OK.  “So what’s the secret to finally beating the addiction,” I asked.  Bob looked down for a second and then looked up and said, “Well, you just have to do two simple things: stop drinking and change your whole fucking life!”  He managed a smile and laughed softly despite him realizing the bitter and all too familiar truth of what he had just said.

At one point a stunningly beautiful young woman stopped by and said hello to Bob. “Are you going to play piano tonight?” she asked referring to an open mic session at an outreach ministry-based coffee-house.  She had hoped that maybe he would play some music that she was going to bring but Bob said he didn’t feel comfortable doing that. “I just know a few notes,” he humbly offered.  “I was hoping to play a song tonight that I wrote. It’s a love song I wrote to my daughter. I love her so much.” He went on to tell me more about his daughter and it was so clear how much he loves and cares for her. He lives in the basement of her house but their relationship is clearly strained. He says that she has an alcohol addiction. “There is always hope, look at me.  It took me 30 years though.”

I spent almost two hours with Bob. I learned so much and every topic we spoke about he had something interesting to contribute. I am so impressed with his overall attitude toward life. “Desire nothing and you will have everything,” he says referencing the teachings of St. John of the Cross. “Buddha said something similar, ‘Human desires are the cause of all human sufferings.’”

I caught a rare smile. Bob will use my $10 to help pay his rent. (photo: Reed)

I hope that you take the time to watch the video above. It’s worth it and if you know anyone who is struggling with an addiction or even well into recovery, I think they will find it very insightful. One thing he says about recovery at the end of the video that I think is priceless is, “It takes time and a lot of alcoholics don’t want to wait. It takes time, it’s a process, recovery is a process. They want what they want when they want it. They want it right now. They want 15 years of recovery in a month. It doesn’t work that way.  You got to be patient.”

As we said goodbye he left me with a single thought. “Tell someone today that you love them.”  Invaluable advice.

Read Full Post »

Jon gets a fresh delicious pretzel for a customer (photo: Reed)

 

On Sunday I said goodbye to Sweetie and Manassas and headed back to DC. On the way home I stopped at the Tyson’s Corner Mall. I got to admit that I have almost no willpower when it comes to Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. I succumbed to the cravings and walked over and got a pretzel. My favorite one is the jalapeno, but they didn’t have that at this one so I just got the original. Mmmm…it was devoured in about two minutes.  

As I was eating I thought that maybe I could give my $10 to the guy who sold me the pretzel.  I walked back over and introduced myself to Jon and explained what I was doing. He said he would accept my $10 and I chatted with him while he prepared the place for closing, after all the mall was closing in about 10 minutes.  

Jon (photo: Reed)

 

After four months working for the pretzel gods, Jon says that the original pretzel is the most common. “We also sell a lot of almond pretzels,” he says. I never knew they sold almond pretzels but he says that they are quite popular with Asian Americans. Which is interesting, because when I used to live in Brazil they had pretzel shops there too, but they never sold salted pretzels, mostly sweet pretzels. Brazilians like salty snacks; I’ve always thought that the original pretzel would be very popular there.   Maybe they would like the almond pretzel!  Anyway.  

Jon comes across as a professional, charismatic guy. I was a little surprised that he was working in retail at the mall. He shared with me that he had been convicted of felony drug charges in the past and it was hard to find work. “I was sentenced to 15 months in Arlington County jail,” he tells me although he later explains that the majority of the sentence he served in a rehabilitation center. “That’s in the past now.  I’m clean now. I was at a point in my life when I needed change,” Jon said.  

Now he is focused on other things. He realized he had to exchange his old lifestyle and friends for a new lifestyle that would allow him to live a productive life. When he is not working he says that he enjoys going to the gym, playing sports and rooting for the Redskins. He has also invested time and money into getting his A+ Certification for computer systems. He has done all the coursework he needs he just needs to take the final exam. He got interested in computers at an early age and has been building his own computers for the past four to five years.  

Jon attends to some customers (photo: Reed)

 

A family walked up and ordered three pretzels. “We have a special that if you buy two you get the third one free,” he told her. That made them so happy. 

I learned that three nights a week they give their leftover food to a shelter program. Very nice. I am not sure why they don’t do it every night but I suspect it might present some logistical challenges.  

“So what do you think you will use the $10 for?” I asked him. He didn’t waste any time to blurt out, “Bus fare!” He sometimes uses a scooter, but relies heavily on the bus system. “Right now my scooter is in the shop actually,” he said. “It was supposed be ready the other day but now it wont be ready until tomorrow at the earliest – that’s the kind of stuff that used to set me off when I was using, but now it doesn’t really bother me.”  

One of his colleagues showed up from the other location that Auntie Anne’s has in the mall. I told him that I would let him go and packed up my stuff and tried to figure out how I was going to get out of the mall because some of the exits were now closed.  Jon told me how to get out and thanked me and I wished him a good night. He smiled and said, “Thanks, I will. I’m actually meeting my mother for dinner!”

Read Full Post »

Carlton sometimes does as many as 10 paintings a day (photo: Reed)

Carlton is sprawled out on the sidewalk in front of Bank of America along Dupont Circle, his feet extending over the edge of the curb and into traffic.  His right hand, covered with paint, swiftly dances over the canvas of a landscape of a far off mountain accompanied by some trees in the foreground.  He pops up and talks to a man who approaches him.  He displays another painting that he has next to him to the man.  They talk for a few minutes and then the man takes his wallet out and pulls a twenty from it and places it in Carlton’s hand.  In exchange he hands him the painting.

I decided to go up to Carlton and ask if he would accept my $10.  He was genuinely curious about what I was doing.  We chatted about his past, the present and the future.  It was a pretty memorable evening.

photo: Reed

At 45 Carlton has been through a lot.  But painting here at Dupont Circle brings his story full circle.  You see it was here about 10 years ago that he used to sleep in the park and panhandle in front of the CVS.  He was a homeless out-of-work drug user.  One evening he went into the park and shot up with some dirty needles.  He suspects it was that specific night that he contracted the HIV virus.  He knew it wasn’t a good idea, but the addiction had blurred his judgment.  It reminds me of Rob from Day 117 who said, “The thing about addiction is that people continue these behaviors in spite of catastrophic consequences.”  Anyway, he went years without knowing he was infected until he started to get quite ill and lost a considerable amount of weight.  He went to the hospital and found out that he was HIV positive.  He says that his health is good these days thanks to three little pills that he takes every day.  He says he knocked his drug addiction although still drinks alcohol which I could smell on his breath.

It was only about a year and a half ago that Carlton started painting.  “I didn’t want to panhandle no more” he said.  He got started when a woman left him some paint by the bench where he was sleeping.  He decided to give it a try.  “God taught me,” he answers when I ask if he was self-taught.  The reason he chooses to paint at Dupont Circle is that he hopes that some of the same people who used to see him strung out years ago will see him today and realize that he has talent and that he has improved his situation.  He talks to me about why he likes to paint landscapes, how he has deals with being HIV positive and being homeless:

With the money that I gave him he said he was going to buy some colored paints.

Here is another few minutes of my conversation with Carlton. I asked him how others can help him and I thought his answer was beautiful.

I really enjoyed talking with him.  As it got late and he finished his last painting he said that he needed to catch the Metro.  “Hey, why don’t you take this painting” he offers as he pushes the painting you see in these pictures toward me.  I told him that I couldn’t receive anything in return for the $10 but I did appreciate the gesture.

 
If you would like to find Carlton, he is often at Dupont Circle in front of the Bank of America during the afternoons.  And sometimes he is there at night, like today.  His paintings range from $20 and up, depending on the size and type.

UPDATE: I ran into Carlton on June 1, 2011 and visited with him for a while.  You can read about my latest encounter with him by clicking here.

Read Full Post »

On my first day back in the US after my trip to Colombia I wandered around my neighborhood looking for a recipient.  I ran into Leonel from Day 56.  He was at Books-A-Million.  He said he was doing well and we agreed to try to meet up that Saturday to watch Team USA play in the World Cup.

I walked over to the Starbucks at Dupont Circle and found a few people sitting outside enjoying the nice weather.  The first man I approached refused to participate and even refused to receive my card.  I walked to another man outside and he shook his head and said no.  He was from Cuba and spoke to me for a minute or two but said he wasn’t interested in participating.  He kept my card.

Feeling a bit rejected, I headed inside to see if my luck would change.  It was there that I found Michael sitting on a stool.  He seemed interested in what I was doing.  After a few minutes, a man came out of the restroom and Michael said, “Hey listen to what this guy is doing.”  I explained the Year of Giving again and his friend said that this sounded interesting.  They agreed that Michael would receive the $10.

“I have been crying all day today,” Michael shared with me.  I imagined the worse and suggested that we not do the interview.  “It’s ok, they were tears of joy!”  It turns out that Michael was celebrating 80 days of sobriety after a two-year roller coaster addiction to crystal meth.  On top of that his friend that was with him was celebrating one year free of the drug.  

Michael is in active recovery and attends daily meetings and has a sponsor.  “I am in a very good place today,” he says.  It’s a day-to-day process though he admits.  “I am focusing on how to stay clean.”  As we begin to talk, Michael’s friend chooses to go outside as it becomes difficult to hear the painful story.

Crystal Meth user (photo: crystalmethaddiction.org)

His addiction started by trying it for the first time with a former lover.  “Meth is a huge problem for the gay community,” he tells me.  I can’t help but listen to Michael’s story without thinking back to Rob’s story from day 117 .  “I lost my job, my partner, my house, my dignity, my self-respect, and my self-esteem.”  A former 20 year alcoholic, Michael is familiar with addiction.  “Addicts are liars.  When I was using my immediate reaction was to lie about everything, even to myself.”  The situation got so bad that I decided to kill myself.  It took an intervention by an ex-partner and a family member that resulted in him going to a treatment center to save his life.

Given the sensitivity of his story, Michael preferred to stay anonymous and not have his picture taken.  He also didn’t want to offer his email address telling me “I will send you an email.”  Unfortunately I haven’t heard from him yet.

“I know exactly what I am going to do with this $10,” he says.  “I am going to donate it to Crystal Meth Anonymous”  According to the website, CMA is a free organization that brings together men and women who share their experience, strength and hope in order to help one another free themselves from their addictions to crystal meth.  Michael spoke very highly or the organization.

The support he receives has helped him stay sober.  He now has a job and is “starting to live again.”  He told me he used to think that he was the only one in his situation.  With the support of the group he now knows that his situation is not unique.

His friend came back and they shared a moment just smiling at one another.  He turned and looked at me and said, “This is the happiest day of my life and I got to share it with someone I love.”

Read Full Post »

I often get asked if I regret giving my $10 to anyone.  The question has always seemed foreign to me.  Sure, some encounters go better than others, but I don’t regret having met any of the people that I have come in contact with on my journey.  I find that even the people who I don’t feel a strong connection with teach me something.  Well, the person that I met last Tuesday comes the closest to being a regrettable experience. 

Lately I have noticed a woman sitting north of Dupont Circle at 1625 Connecticut Avenue during the day.  It’s very close to the Chipotle there.  Anyway, I have walked by this woman a couple of times now and haven’t had time to stop and speak with her.  But Tuesday I decided to introduce myself to Arlen.

The 29-year-old was dressed in an oversized sweatshirt sitting on some blankets with her legs tucked under her.  She looked like she had not showered in some time.  She had a considerable amount of somewhat long facial hair covering her face.  She sat almost motionless, staring out toward the street.  As I got closer she slowly moved her head to the right and up to look at me.  I crouched down in a baseball catcher’s position and introduced myself.  She took the ten dollars and slowly moved her head back center and looked downward and started to smile.

“Do you have a cigarette,” she responded in a slow hypnotic tone.  I explained that I didn’t smoke and she asked if I would go find her a cigarette.  I decided to try to speak to her a little more before I went on a scavenger hunt, but she seemed obsessed with finding a cigarette and managed to pull herself up and stagger over to some people and try to bum a cigarette off of them.  Although she seemed to be talking to them for a few minutes, she continued to another set of people where I imagine she posed the same question.  A few minutes later she returned with a lit cigarette and sat down.

She was so out of it that I thought I better cut to the chase and ask her what she was going to do with the $10.  She said she was going to buy food with it.  “Are you homeless,” I asked.  He head moved again slowly and her glassy eyes met mine “Now you’re being disrespectful!”

I apologized and explained that I was not trying to be disrespectful in any way but that I just wanted to understand her situation better.  “I make $10 a day and you ask shit like that,” she said.  I apologized again and said that I hoped my $10 would be of great help.  “Whatever, you’re a son of a bitch,” she snapped back. 

Although she seemed to obviously be completely drugged out of her mind, I could not control feeling offended by her behavior.  I responded back, “You say that you only make $10 all day long, I just gave you $10.  A thank you might be more in line than calling me a son of a bitch.”  She sighed and mumbled something under her breath.  We both sat there in silence for about 10 seconds until she got up and walked over to the people who had given her the cigarette.  I waited for her to come back for about five minutes but she didn’t even look back over toward me.  I decided to leave.

I try to focus on taking something positive away from this experience.  It’s hard to know what that is though.  She was not a likeable person although I know she was not in her right state of mind either.

So, do I regret giving Arlen my $10?  Not at all.  Do I wish it had went differently?  Absolutely.

Day 163 is the day I arrived in Manizales…so get ready for the Year of Giving to go international!  I give my first $10 away on an airplane too!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »