STREET VOICE: AN ONLINE JOURNAL FOR AND ABOUT HOMELESS PEOPLE – KEY WEST VARIATION

I know this young woman somewhat. This photo was taken on Duval Street, Key West.
Erika Biddle, also of Key West, told me that she wanted to start a homeless news website, or a homeless newspaper, where homeless people could have a voice and other people could chime in, too. There are homeless newspapers in some American cities, but I don’t know anything about putting together a newspaper. I said as much maybe 2-3 years ago, when someone I don’t remember (not Erika) brought this up. Erika said if it was a website, homeless people could go to the library and log onto an online computer and log into the website and type in their story or news or poetry or whatever. I said I could create a page at goodmorningkeywest.com for homeless writings. As I recall, I made the same suggestion when this came up 2-3 years ago. Erika said he really liked the idea and she would send stuff for me to publish.
Me on Smathers Beach, Key West, after I was homeless and lived across the street in a tent next to the mangroves

That’s how this evolving journal got started. The way I decided to arrange on this page was first in from Erika went to the top. Next in went below that, and so on, with the last in at the bottom of the page. That way, anyone who reads the contributions reads them in the order I received and read them. I decided to separate them by a double line. Some are short, some are long, some are in between. They are unedited, verbatim. They are not critiqued or answered by me. They simply are.

Veteran’s Day Ceremony, Key West Cemetery, I knew this homeless man somewhat
Mean-spirited, homeless-bashing submissions will be published only if the submission contains the name, email address and Key or  city and state of the person making the submission. Beating up on someone just because he/he is down and out creates very bad karma. Very bad.

Apologies for the 10 point font size. It is hard to transfer new material into my website with any other font size and hold the font size. So pretend this really is a printed newpaper, which is about the same font size. I try to put a space between paragraphs, but this website is cantankerous about formatting it receives from elsewhere – maybe this website was a jackass in another life, or maybe it was me and this website is that karma.
Please submit stories, poetry, and comments by straight email, not by attachment to an email. Text attachments are disagreeable to my laptop and to this website. Photos and art can be sent by attachment. Send to sloanbashinsky@hotmail.com   I generally post/publish submissions the next day. Or, if you wish, send your submission to Erika Biddle: erika.b@earthlink.net
homeless Rivera on Higgs Beach, where I sometimes slept when the city still allowed it
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Hi and Good Morning America how are you? You know me! Every day u see me and u turn in disgust.as to who I am- I’ m that homeless person who tries to make a living. I don’t drink any alcohol or do any drugs and yet you call me all kinds of names.you know them. You tread me like an abandoned stepchild.you spit at me,beat me up kill me and nothing gets done.not one person there to protect me.yet when i fight back,for my rights you find something in the your law books to arrest me and lock me up.you don’t let me get up,you keep me down.thats easier then to help me.thats so frustrating that i go and get drunk and high just to for get.but that pain you inflict on me will never go away,no matter how hard you try. You are only one step away from coming on my side of town on the other side or the tracks.you are only a big bill or one paycheck away from me.staying at a shelter and or eating at a soup kitchen. How you like me now?i thouh you like to know.and you know what? I still love you and respect you.nomatter how you treat me.

 

Chris G Morgan – (unedited from his FB page)

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ODE TO THE DESTITUTE

 

The destitute are a strange lot;

hangin’ out in parks

riflin’ trash cans.

Quiet and humble they be –

’til they get a bottle in their hands.

 

Then they laugh and shout

cry and sing!

They can be anything

they want to be!

 

Look out!

Here comes one now.

Weaving and swerving

tilting backwards

losing momentum.

A few quick back-pedals –

uh oh, lost equilibrium.

Back he falls! On his seat.

A moment’s rest

then on his knees and to his feet.

 

He’s coming again

empty bottle in hand!

Is he coming to kill?

What’s his plan?

 

With a trash can, he collides

into the maw, a wine bottle slides.

 

So, over the destitute, don’t be bitter.

When dry they’re shy, like you or me.

They do get drunk, in a bid to get free

but even drunk… they try not to litter.

Allen M.

That submission was from Allen Meese,  the keeper of the Key West Poetry Guild for a very long time.

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Once upon a time, as I stood in a long church Sunday soup kitchen line at Higgs Beach, a person from the church told us we wouldn’t be homeless if we accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. Far as I could tell, everyone but one Jewish man in the line already had done that. I said, loudly,  “What’s wong with being homeless? Jesus was homeless!”
While I ate my meal, grateful to have it, Pastor Mark, the young assistant pastor assigned by that church to minister to homeless people came over to me and said Jesus wasn’t homeless. I said sure he was homeless, he said so right in the Gospels. Mark asked where Jesus had said he was homeless? I said when the man said he wanted to Jesus and Jesus told the man what that would be like: “The foxes have their dens, the birds have their nests, but the son of man has no place to lay down his head.” Mark said Jesus had a home. I aked where was that home? Mark said hs mother’s home, he could stay there. I asked where did it say in the Gospels that Jesus ever stayed at his mother’s home? Mark said Jesus stayed at his mother’s home when he wanted to be inside.
I marveled again at how people twist the Bible to suit their perspective. I should have told Mark, maybe I did and just don’t remember now, that Jesus made it very plain to this mother in the Gospels, and to others,  that he didn’t care much for her. Why would he stay in her home, therefore?
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A homeless fellow on Big Pine Key, generally known as “Bench Bob” because he spent lots of time sitting on the bench in front of CVS, reading paperback books, recently became the target of very mean comments on bigpinekey.com’s Coconut Telegraph. Imagine how this comment on yesterday’s CT went down: =========================

Then, this was on the Coconut Telegraph:

[The bum from CVS] You know not of what you speak. I have known Boggie Bob for many, many years. He’s not a bum at all. Boggie Bob has been around for a long time. He ask nothing from anyone. He has a very sweet sister who, like Bob, does not have to work. You see Boggie Bob Is a trust fund baby. His choice is to sit in the sun and read. No more, no less. I find it amazing that anyone has time to mind Boggie Bob’s business. You may want to watch your mean words. He may buy the house next to you just to put several benches on the lawn. Which he or may no keep trimmed and start a book of the month club. You just can’t tell a book by the cover. “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
=========================
Then came a letter to the editor  in The Key West Citizen
=========================
Take a closer look at  the guy begging change
Everyday I hear something about the homeless here in our beautiful community and how we should do something about them. I agree. Take a stroll around our island and you will certainly see the multitudes of men and women with bikes loaded down with all of their belongings. Just navigate down to Truman and look at the park. Key West is a wonderful tropical oasis for those seeking refuge from Mother Nature’s wrath in the north. No wonder the homeless enjoy the great weather and atmosphere. Don’t you? It’s annoying to attempt to walk down our streets without being accosted by a homeless man who reeks of Natural Ice and vodka, asking for change or a cigarette. Take a look at College Road near 6 p.m. Try leaving a bike unlocked here. If you are like me, you are tired of all the problems associated with these particular individuals. So now that we all agree what a nuisance the homeless can be, what can we do about it? I say let’s get to the root of the problem. Many of them are addicts and alcoholics in a town that will devour them if they don’t seek help. Each homeless man or woman should be individually assessed before placing them in the category of homeless men and women who pose a problem in our society. Too often we just see a homeless person and assume that they have always been like that. We neglect to think for even a second that the fellow playing the violin for spare change on Mallory Square attended Juilliard and has done things we could only dream of. Imagine being 23 years old and marrying the woman of your dreams. Imagine having four wonderful daughters. Imagine owning nearly $1.2 million in property and assets. Imagine the perfect life. Imagine losing it all in less than a year. Imagine all of the turmoil that surrounds a young man who had it all and then lost everything. Imagine being David Wilson. Imagine being homeless in Key West.
David Wilson Key West
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In some ways, David’s story reminds me of my own past and of being homeless in Key West. I never begged for change or was drunk and obnoxious on the streets, but I saw lots of drunk and obnoxious people on the streets, who were not homeless, as well as a lot fewer homeless people who rose to that level of behavior. Perhaps Erika Biddle can find a place for the above stories in her upcoming homeless art, poetry and music exhibition at Studios of Key West November 15-December 15.

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Then came this poem about Bench Bob to lead off the Coconut Telegraph.

(chorus)

bench bum bob

bench bench bum

bob never hurt no one

smoking an a reading reading

till the day is done

bench bum bob

bench bench bum bob

Verse: hes got no phone,or email spot

hes got no bills,like we all got

waking  up at the crack of noon

aint no job that hes willing to do

(chorus)

bench bum bob

bench bench bum bob

never hurt no one smoking and a reading

reading till the day is done

bench bum bob

bench bench bum bob

Verse:

he aint no wino or a drug kinda guy

just a book and a bench is his kinda high

he goes on his own little mental trips

filling his mind with the pages he flips

repeat chorus

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This is a longish autobiography, which the author gave to Erika Biddle:

 

My Name is Lance B.I was born to a middle class military family. I’m the youngest of four kids. (A half sister-on my mothers side, an older sister by two years and a twin sister.) Mom pretty much ran the show, as far as us kids were concerned. Dad worked and paid the bills.

 

 

I don’t remember much of what life was about before I was 9 years old and much of the next few years are pretty vague. I do remember that I felt out of place in almost every situation, except when I was in the woods out behind the house. I seemed to understand things out there. The only chore I had around the house was taking out the garbage, which for some reason I could never remember to do. I used to get the switch or yelled at regularly for not taking it out. I didn’t have a problem with that chore. I just couldn’t seem to remember to do it.

 

 

I remember once when I was seven or eight years old, my Aunt Marlene and Uncle Jerry were down to visit. The whole family went to Bush Gardens. We were walking around looking at the animals and things. I got lost. I didn’t know that I was lost. I was just walking along checking things out. Evidently I was missing for a couple hours. When we got home I was put on restriction in my room, for ruining the day, as mom put it. I couldn’t think of anything that I had done. We were just walking along, looking at the animals in captivity and the next thing I knew, I was being asked why I did that. I didn’t know what it was I had done.

 

One day a few years later, I came home from school in the early afternoon to a note that said, “Your mother is in the hospital, a baby sitter will be here at 4 o’clock. Stay in the house and out of trouble”. Looking back I believe this was a turning point that sent me down a dark road in my life. We had just gotten a TV that winter – don’t know why we didn’t have one before, all my friends had one. Some had one in they’re bedroom. I sat to watch TV and wait for the baby sitter. I started watching a western movie. I decided to belly up to the bar, just like they did in the movie and taste the different bottles of liquor. After tasting several types. I remember thinking ” If I don’t stop drinking this stuff, they’ll see it missing.” The next thing I know, I’m waking up in my bed and it’s daylight. I get up and walk down the hall and hear some people talking about me in the living room. I stopped and listened. They were talking about taking me to the hospital for alcohol poisoning. When I walked into the room they all turned and started asking me if I was OK. I don’t remember much else, except that I didn’t get the beating and yelling that I expected. It seemed that reprimand was always waiting for me. Most of the time I didn’t know what I had done to deserve it. This time I didn’t understand why I didn’t get a beating.

 

Mom stayed in the hospital for the next two years, except for the couple of times she came home. She just lay in the bed and slept most of the time. I learned later that she had so much morphine in her for the pain that she couldn’t do much else. Some times she would ask to see us kids. When we went in she would say, ” These aren’t my kids.” I remember thinking, at the time, that she was delirious or something, from whatever made her sick. I didn’t know that she was dying.

 

 

One day, a Friday I think, Dad didn’t come home. He was there Saturday, when we got up in the morning. The day went on just as every other Saturday, since Mom went away. With out Mom there, nobody pushed the chores. It was like having a vacation from Mom’s rule. That night, as every Saturday night, we were to go visit Mom. We all piled into the car and drove to the hospital. Coming up to the last turn, when you could see the hospital, Dad told us that Mom was dead. That she had died the night before. I remember being really pissed off at Dad, because he didn’t tell us that night and that he didn’t even come home either. I understand that I was being pretty self-centered. My Dad had just lost his wife. Although we’ve never talked about it, looking back, I’m sure Dad had no idea how to handle us kids. Mom handled us kids. She died and we were dropped in his lap. We didn’t help much, either. With Mom gone, we had no direction and with all that free time, we had no Idea what to do with our selves. With dad coming home late every night, some time after midnight, we started running around till late with a bunch of the older kids.

 

There were a lot of people at the funeral. Most of them I had no clue who they were. There were the Stricklands, Maxwells, Davises and Mr. Helwig. The rest were strangers. Most every one was crying, even Dad. I tried to cry too, but couldn’t seem to bring up one tear. I thought there was something wrong with me. I spent the next two weeks, sitting on a mound – instead of going to school – trying to cry. I couldn’t bring up any tears. I knew I should be crying. Mom was gone and she was never coming back. There had to be something wrong with me. I would always catch bits of conversation about me when they didn’t think I was around. They would be saying poor Lance, or what can we do about him. So, there had to be something wrong with me. I never cried again for many years. At the party afterwards, one of the older kids stole a bottle from the house and some cigarettes. I remember thinking after the second swig of the bourbon, “Wow, this is what I’ve been missing.” I got pretty drunk that night, stealing beers later when the bourbon was gone. They gave me one of the cigarettesafter a while and said that I’d get sick if I inhaled. I inhaled and didn’t cough or get sick either. I felt a little lighter after smoking that cig. I knew that these things, the booze andcigarettes, were going to be in my everyday life, from then on. The fear was gone when I drank. I didn’t feel like an oddity. I became accepted, invited to a part of the world where the people were. I didn’t have to be alone.

 

Things had changed around the house. Dad stayed out late every night and would have cereal and milk for us in the morning. He would give us lunch money instead of making lunch for us as Mom did. My older sister left home after a few months. My oldest “half” sister didn’t live with us. She did when we were little. But I never remember her living with us. After a while Dad started staying out for the whole weekend. My twin sister left home about then too. We’ve never talked about that time in our lives, my sisters and I. This went on for about a year and Dad only came home once in a while. I would come home and find a bag or two of groceries and a note that said “clean this #$%^ house” , I don’t think he knew that Leila had left too – my twin sister. The foodstuffs were mostly TV dinners cereal and milk and what not’s. I didn’t like the TV dinners and started to learn how to cook. On the TV whilst eating a TV dinner I saw the Galloping gourmet. I started to get the hang of cooking then. I missed Mom’s lasagna and Dads chilli. It took me a while to get the taste and texture I remembered. I had plenty of people around that would buy groceries for me and get the meals I cook in return. They all seemed to like my cooking. Today my sisters say the lasagna tastes just like Mom’s. I learned how to wash and fold clothes and the other household chores.

 

I was just finishing the 6th grade, failed and had to go to summer school, when Mom died. I failed the 7th grade too the next year. After summer school they told me – Well the letter was addressed to Dad- that I had to go to a reading class at night if I was to attend the 8th grade. The class was at the other end of town. So I hitchhiked across town and enrolled. I was late for most of the classes and didn’t show on other occasions. Dad was still fairly absent from the house. He would come home and be there for a while. He would try to set some discipline and order to my life. But most of the time he was gone. The police found my twin sister and brought her home. She stayed for a while and left again after a huge fight with Dad.I intercepted another letter to Dad, from school. It said that I had failed the *eighth grade and that I would need to enroll in the 7th grade next year. and that I was expelled for the remainder of the year. That was my cue. I left school and home.

 

I had hooked up with a bunch of hippies that were in the area. I had several over to eat my dinners, take showers and just generally party. This one woman – Mia, pronounced, as she would have it, Mee-ha (I didn’t think that was her real name. I never asked about that, as I usually didn’t pry into peoples pasts) had taken a shine to me and was always there to make sure no one took advantage of me. I don’t know how hard that was, as I had acquired a good connection for pot and was selling the best pot around. I found that I was good at that. I sold cheaper than any one else and made lots of money.

 

After quitting school and leaving home, Mia and I took off hitchhiking around and ended up at Woodstock for the festival, that year. After that, we went out west to Utah – to a commune – we ended up in RocklandKey Florida after that. We stayed there for a couple years. I got a good connection with some shrimpers and was back selling the best pot for less. I had been told once by an old hippie “Don’t get greedy and you wont get caught.” I couldn’t help but make money though. I turned 17 years old whilst living there. One day all the hippies at our little gathering of trailers and tents decided to go out to San Diego and protest the soldiers coming home. I couldn’t see the point in that and said so. I suggested they go to Washington and protest the Politicians who sent them there. I said they had no idea what those poor sods had gone through. I decided to join the Navy at that gathering, to see just what they went through over there. Mia tried to talk me out of it and I would have none of it. She disowned me at that juncture. I never saw or heard from her again.

 

I went back to Tampa to find my Dad. The navy wouldn’t let me join at 17 without his consent. I went to the old house and knocked on the door. Some man answered and told me that Carl didn’t live there. They were just renters. He would not give me my Dad’s address or phone number. Looking back I can understand why, as I had hair past my shoulders, bare feet, the start of facial hair and raggedy bell-bottoms. I remember the name of the place my Dad had worked when I had left. I hoped he still worked there. I found the place and sat across the street and watched till I saw my Dad. I followed him as far as I could on my bicycle and lost him when he turned into a neighborhood near the one I had grown up in. I searched the neighborhood till I found his car the next day. It wasn’t hard to spot the car; it was a Simca, a little French car. I waited till I was sure they had eaten dinner. Dad always said, “no talking at the table.” I knocked on the door and a woman answered. I asked if Carl was there and she asked who was I. I said “his son”. She turned and said “Carl you have a son?” Dad came to the door and said, ” What kind of trouble are you in and how much do I want.” I told him I didn’t want any money and that all I needed was a signature on a form to join the Navy. He invited me in and wanted to talk. Like as if there had been nothing wrong. I just said” sign the &^%#* paper and I wont bother you again.” I didn’t see my father for another 15 years. The poison of that resentment, cut deep into my sole.

 

The Navy recruiter had me take a placement test. With the results of the test, the recruiter said I scored high in engineering. I said “yah right!!!” I failed school three years in a row, dropped out and had done nothing except deal dope and cook in restaurants since. I didn’t say that of course. After Boot camp I went to Great Lakes, Ill., to “A” school. I was to become an engine man. I zoomed right through the class. They were self-paced. I finished the course in 25 days. They said as a bonus if I tacked on an extra year to my enlistment, they would give me an automatic E-4 pay-grade. I thought, “Man they’re desperate. This school was a joke, any one could pass it. It still never dawned on me that I wasn’t stupid. I used to hear the teachers talking. Saying “that Lance I don’t know where we could put him. Poor kid.” I had failed everything. I used to think the other kids around were just lazy, when they would bring me their bikes and TV’sand stereos to fix. Hell, anyone could fix them. Just pull a tube and take it down to Rexall’s to test it in the machine. It was all just “common sense”. Well I took the E-4 upgrade and went to my Duty assignment. I put in for riverboat patrol. But they said that they couldn’t send me to a war zone. I protested saying that I volunteered…What with all the draft dodgers? They said it was because my Mom was dead and that I was the only son. Looking back, I’m glad they didn’t send me. I think it would have messed my head worse.

 

My first station was on the USS Shreveport LPD 12. It was my last too. I never got transferred, although I put in for one every year. Our first port was Rota, Spain, on our way to the Mediterranean. My first “liberty,” I went out to get wasted. The next thing I know I’m waking up in the brig on our ship. The last thing I remember from the night before…at least I think it was the night before…I was chugging from a gallon bottle of vodka. Evidently I had decked the officer on deck when he tried to harass me for being so drunk. I was a “boot camp” and that’s what they did to new recruits. Not many of them decked the OOD’s though. I could never figure it out, as I wasn’t a violent type. I had never been in fights before. Hell, I was the one always breaking up the fights.

 

At Captain’s mass the next day was the beginning of one of the best things in my life. I won’t bore you with all the proceedings. At the end of the Mass, the Chief spoke up. I say the Chief because everybody called him the Chief. The other Chiefs were “Chief so-n-so. The Chief was just Chief. He had more time than any one on the ship. Anyway, he told the Captain to give me to him for forty hours of EMI (Extra Military Instruction), which usuallymeant chipping paint, shinning brass or cleaning bilges. The Chief told me to meet him in the engine room at midnight. I thought, great, cleaning bilges at midnight no doubt. When I got there, the chief was the only one in the control room. He took me to another part of the engine room to a piece of machinery and asked me what it was. I said it looked like an air compressor. He said good, what kind. I said three cylinder. He said no. He told me to grab a bucket that just happened to be sitting there in the middle of the walkway and have a seat. He reached up to a shelf and pulled down a book and a sleeve of papers and pencils. He told me he wanted to know everything there was to know about this machine.

 

 

I read and started writing. I copied a lot of what the book said and finished on the third 4-hour night. Midnight to 0400 every night. I took it to him and he started reading it. He stopped before he got halfway through and gave it back to me. He told me to write it all in my own words. Don’t copy out of the book. It took me two more nights to finish. Well I kind-of cheated. I went off during the day to do it. When I took it to him, he read the whole thing and wanted me to write about the oil system and the needs for the different grades of oil and other stuff. I did it the next night and turned it in. He said it was really good. He asked me how much time I still owed him. I said 12 more hours. He said that was good enough, because I was going to give a class on this two-stage radial air compressor. I was shocked and dumbfounded. Did he know who he was talking to? I was an eighth grade dropout. I said as much and he said I could clean bilges instead if I wanted. After Quarters the next day I gave a class on the two-stage radial air compressor.

 

 

My drinking and drugging had not changed since that night at the party after Mom’s funeral, which meant all I could get, for as long as I could get it. So needless to say I thought a lot of giving a class. The Chief showed me that I wasn’t stupid. He taught me how to learn. He told me once that I didn’t need a school to learn. All I needed was the desire to learn and the courage to ask a question. There would be a teacher around. He also asked me once ” Do you know what makes the wise man wise?” I said what, because he knows everything? Wrong again. He said, “No, it’s because he knows he doesn’t know everything and he knowshow to ask a question.”|

 

Near the end of my enlistment, I had gotten hold of a deal on some cocaine. I stood to make a lot of money on this deal. In doing so, I would be breaking one of my cardinal rules, “Don’t get greedy.” I was due to get out in just 45 days and back in ’79, ten grand was a good chunk of change. Well, the deal was a set up. My instincts popped in just at the last minute. I told my partner it was a bust and we took off. I got away, my buddy didn’t. He got five years. I went UA-Unauthorized Absence – for a year. I sent money to his ol’ lady whilst he was in prison. He never turned me in either. I went back to the navy to face the Court Marshal. I got a year hard labor and a general dishonorable discharge?. Which was as light as they could go. A few chiefs and the Captain of my ship wrote letters of commendation and recommendation, which helped.

 

I got out of the brig in nine months and started hitchhiking to Oregon. I wanted to see the trees. I spent the next six years hitchhiking around the country, by road, plane and boat. I was headed to Oregon to see the great trees. It seemed that every time I got close, I’d need to stop and get some work and I’d end up staying too long and it’d start getting cold. I’d head south again. I can’t handle the cold.

 

I was in Missouri, working on a guy’s tractor. He was so impressed that I got it running. He said no one had been able to get it runningso smooth and that called for a celebration. We went down to the local tavern for a drink to celebrate. A friend of his was there. A farmer from Kansas, he was stuck there with his plane broke down. Harold told him about me and his tractor. The guy asked if I had ever worked on planes before? I said what’s the difference? Engines are engines. I fixed his plane and hitched a ride with him to Kansas. Oregon is a might closer to Kansas. It turns out that his main income was bringing pot over the border for a Colombian, who would get it to the border and have him fly it to his farm and a waiting truck. Long story short, I ran dope up from Panama to the border for the next few years.

 

It turned out to be a part of my life that still haunts me in my dreams. I kept that part of my life a secret from my friends, the people I grew up with. I’d make a run and then move around the country hooking up with friends in different places. I never made it to Oregon. I would give them stories of just travelingthrough Central America. I learned Spanish down there and was able to get around quite well. I’d hook up with Carlos once a year at a set time and place in Mexico. Things got bad and then worse. He wanted to be able to keep tabs on me all the time. I told him I wanted to quit. I ended up having to run. He never knew my real name. I had hooked up with a woman on the east coast who could make ID’s for me. They were expensive, but they were good enough that local police could run them and nothing would come up.

 

I jumped on a shrimp boat in Texas. It was a good place to hide. I moved from boat to boat for a few years and ended up here in the Keys. Whilst I was fishing I got introduced to crack cocaine. I took one hit and it grabbed hold of me so hard, for the next seven years, every waking moment was trying to get more. I lost my job fishing and found myself homeless. I met a guy that sold coconuts at the Sunset Celebration at Mallory dock. I did that for about seven or eight months. He ended up in the hospital with alcohol related problems. That stopped that income. It made me enough money to get a room and food. But all the money went to crack each night. It would be gone within hours after the Sunset. The guy next to us asked me if I wanted to work with him, sellingfresh squeezed lemonade and smoothies. I said yes.

 

I started ripping off tourist with bogus rocks and then started outright robbing them. My world was getting darker and darker. I was so disgusted with myself. I would vow that I wouldn’t do that any more each day. But every night I would end up there again. Doing the same thing, over and over.

 

I had been introduced to a fellowship that dealt with recovery from alcoholism. After a few meetings I knew that they had what I wanted. They had been where I was and now they lived clean lives. They seemed happy. They didn’t do any kind of intoxicants. They didn’t try to preach to me, like church people did. I just couldn’t seem to get it, though. I’d go in and pick up a white chip, to make a commitment to work this way of life and be right out there cracking again, some times an hour after a meeting.

 

The only thing I did right for the next almost four years was come back to those meetings. Each time they’d welcome me back and always say keep coming back. They kept talking about “hitting a bottom” to be able to make it. I was living in the streets, robbing people, stealing clothes out of the Salvation Army and eating out of garbage cans. What other kind of bottom was there? Some years prior- in my late twenties – I started getting blackouts, whether I was drinking or not. Paranoia started too and got worse as time went on. I was always looking over my shoulder. Thinking that Carlos was looking to get me for leaving. He had said, back when I wanted to leave the business that “No one quits.” That’s when I went on the run. When I was tryingto sleep at the park or down at Higg’s beach, people would be coming down the walk and I’d hear them talking about me saying “There he is” or ” We can take him now.” I would jump up and run. Some times they were right on me- so I thought – and I would hit them and run. I started hiding in abandoned houses and on top of the Armory at Higgsor the airport. A couple times at the Sunset I saw them. One came up to my back and I spun around and hit him in the face with a tray. I took off running. I couldn’t go back to the Sunset after that.

 

That night was the beginning of my “bottom.” I robbed a couple that night. The guy had told me to fuck off. He was the first to resist. I had a gun with one bullet that I had been carryingaround for the last six months or so. I’m not sure; days seemed to blur together. I almost never knew what day it was, nor some times even what month it was. I took the gun and stuck it to his nose and grabbed him by the throat and told him  “give me your $%^&* money.” As he was reaching into his pocket I looked down and saw that he was pissing his pants.

 

I smoked his money up, but couldn’t get him out of my mind. I was the lowest of the low. I was a scumbag. I didn’t deserve to live on this planet. I knew that if I had gotten sober, I wouldn’t be doing this to people. I could help people, as I always have in the past. I was a good person and now look what I’ve become. That’s it. I don’t deserve to live. I can’t get sober. I took out the gun and put it to my head and pulled the trigger. It went “click” and nothing happened. I checked to see if the bullet was still in there, it was. It was a .22 caliber gun, which meant that it was what they called a “rim fire”. I took the bullet out and reloaded it in the gun. I put it to my head and stopped. I thought, it was an old bullet and might just go off weak and stick in my skull. I thought of my heart and put it to my chest, then thought I might just hit a rib. So I put it up under my ribs and pulled the trigger. It went off. I sat there a while and was still alive. This couldn’t be. I had to die. I couldn’t keep doing this to people. I was too worthless to get sober. The only other course was to die. It was still dark out, probably about two or three in the morning. I was out of sight in an abandoned truck in Perry Court. I decidedto just lie there and bleed to death.

 

I passed out after some time and woke up in the hospital. I didn’t know what had happened. How did I get here? I looked myself over and found that I had a big cut in my abdomen, there were big metal staples holding it to gather. I had never heard about anything like this. Who would put staples in me? I had IV’s in my arms. I followed the hoses and saw a bag of clear liquid on one and the other went to a button that was attached to a cylinderwith a balloon inside. I read the label and saw that it was morphine. I started pushing the button. Nothing seemed to be happening. I realized that the button only fills up so fast. I bit the hose on each side of the button and put the hoses together. Just as I was nodding out a nurse came and ripped the hose out of my arm. When I came to again, I was strapped in the bed. I wasn’t sure where I was. All kinds of scenarios were running through my head. I wasn’t sure which was reality. A call button was lying there next to my hand, I pushed it. A nurse came in and asked what she could for me. I said I needed help. She asked me with what? I said I don’t know. I just know that I need help. She left the room and a few minutes later a shrink came in and started asking me some questions. I started getting scared. I couldn’t figure out what they were going to do to me. I played along and said what I thought he wanted to hear. They said that they would transfer me over to DePoo hospital and get me some help that I needed. When they took the straps off, I went into escape mode. I punched the doctor in the face and kicked the orderly in the crotch. I grabbed the nurse and pushed her through the door. I made it down to the first floor and two more men took me down. The staples had ripped open in my gut and I was bleeding bad. They gave me a shot and I was out.

 

When I woke again, I was in a locked room, strapped to a bed. Someone came in and asked if I wanted to see the doctor. I asked her what was going on. Why hadn’t they just killed me yet? Who were they waiting for? Was it Carlos? She left and a doctor came in. After telling me where I was. He told me that they were going to give me some medication that would fix me. There was a lot more that went on but it was mostly a fog. They kept me strapped to the bed. Two men and a nurse would come in and give me a sponge bath in the middle of each day. I don’t know how many days I was there. The pills they gave me, made me slow. I couldn’t think and movement seemed really hard to do. They sent me up to Marathon to the guidance clinic. That was the beginning of my recovery from alcoholism. They had meetings there, that after a few days in the CSU, they let me attend. It seemed that most of the people that worked there were in recovery. I was there about a month and a half. I started reading the “Big Book.” This was the book of the fellowship that I became a new member of. I learned that I had a disease called alcoholism or that’s what the book said and I believed it. The doctors said that I had another disease called ” clinical depression with psychosis” and that I would have to keep taking these pills to stay sane. The people around me stopped whispering about me or as they said I didn’t imagine it anymore. The paranoia started to go away. I didn’t feel like I had to be on guard all the time. I even felt like I could go to sleep, all the way to sleep.

 

They sent me to a rehab in Miami for addiction. I learned a lot about myself there and the inner workings of my thinking patterns and the twelve steps of the program of recovery in the fellowship. I am still a member of that fellowship today. It was there that I learned that I was not a bad person, but a sick person. That alcoholism had warped my mind and my view of the world around me, to such an extent, that sane thought was next to impossible for me. The drinking and drugging were but a symptom. The most sane and sensible thought I had at that time was that just maybe these people could help me straighten out my head, and even accepting that my head needed straightening out. I stayed there for thirty days. I seemed to get along with everyone there. I seemed to fit into each click, the Cubans, Afro-Americans, the well-to-do whites and the people from the streets like me. All the staff liked me except one. He always said I was on the take and was sneaking dope. I passed every piss test he gave me. Some of the clients pitched in to gather and give me some money to get a bus ticket back to the Keys.I managed to get a ticket to MM 100. I had thirty-five cents and a phone number to the hot line for meeting times and location.

 

I went to a meeting that night and picked up a white chip. I followed the program of the twelve steps and stayed clean. I did everything that was suggested. I got a sponsor and started working the steps into my life. I showed up early and left late, I helped set up and break down, cleaned ashtrays, washed dishes. I was still homeless. I didn’t ask any one for a place to live, nor money or food. I knew that this thing called recovery, had to be number one in my life and in my present mental condition that was all I could handle. It meant that I had to admit, every day, that I was powerless over my disease. That I had to seek a conscious contact every day with a higher power to restore my thinking to sanity.

 

I knew that I couldn’t hang out with the other homeless in the area, if I did I would surely start using again. It was pretty lonely being by myself all the time, between meetings, but that was better than the pain of the hell I was living before. I knew things on the outside would get better and they did. I only hoped that things on the inside would get better. I noticed that some people would go to a diner after the meetings at night. I didn’t have any money and couldn’t afford anything and said as much when I asked if I could come along. I told them I just wanted to come along and be a part of the conversation that they wouldn’t have to buy me anything. They offered to buy me pie or something. I would just say coffee or soda would be nice. They bought me pie anyway. After a few nights of that I got to know and like some of them and they seemed to like me too. One guy asked me if I had a job. I told him no, that I had been applying for jobs. But it seems that they wanted people that have addresses. I’m homeless, I told him. He offered me some work around his house. I accepted right away. He said “Don’t you want to know what it is and how much I’m willing to pay” I said that any income is better than what I have now and if after I’m done I feel like I’ve been ripped off I’ll not work for you any more. The others around the table started laughing and said that he was a cheapskate. He paid me more than I’d hoped and I landed my first real job through him too, after a while.

 

That job was working at a boat rental, cleaning boats. I tried to do repairs on the boats and found that I had a hard time pulling up the knowledge that I knew I had. I used to build boats! Yet I couldn’t seem to bring up the simple skill of repairing a ding in the fiberglass. Luckily for me, the boss had patience enough to let me keep trying. The knowledgestarted coming back slowly. It took me a few years to regain the knowledge of how to do the work I knew that I once knew how to do. I had learnedmany trades over the years in my life. I saved up some money and bought a little twenty-one foot sail boat, a Columbia 21, from someone in the fellowship. I anchored it out in the cow pins in Tavernier. I was able to dinghy to a friend’s house who was in the fellowship. In time I started to get back into construction work. My brain still had a hard time pulling up the knowledgeI needed to do different tasks. It took a few years before my brain started working. But life was steadily getting better, both inside and outside.

 

I continued to work on the 12 steps. Which meant, taking inventory on myself. Looking for defects of character. Looking at where I was being self-centered, where I might be holding resentments and for whom. It was suggested that a resentment was like a poison pill that I take myself, hoping the other person will die. I learnedthat early on, but it took a while for the fog to lift in my brain to understand it. After a while of working the steps into my life, I noticed that I had less problems with other people. I was able to make better financial decisions. I was able to take better care of the stuff I owned. Hell, just the fact that I owned something was amazing to me. I got the first bank account I ever had. At about five years sober I got my GED and passed with a 100%. Some of my friends said “…and you thought you were stupid.”

 

In my second year of recovery I met a woman. We hit it off right away. We were together for twelve years till she passed away in ’05. I’ve lived on several boats this whole time and have traveled to the Bahamas’ and Central America, as well as up and down the coast of Florida. I’ve had a good life and have made many good friends. I’ve been able to be of help to many people and will continue to do so, as it is a way of making amends for the wrongs I did to others in the past. I’ve been able to be an active and loving member of my family. Recovery has given me many gifts. I was able to be there for my father when he died. He gave me one of my most treasured gifts, his forgiveness. But the most important gift I’ve receivedis myself. I am able to like myself today. Self-loathing is no longer there. Self-honesty helps me stay likable to others as well as to myself. I still have blackouts sometimes and the paranoiaand hallucinations come back sometimes if I don’t keep my stress level down and stay regular on my meds.

 

I can’t seem to handle too many responsibilities. Like taking too many commitmentsto other people. Doing too many things at once. Just the everyday things that other people don’t have a second thought about, I have to keep to a minimum. I used to think that was bad. That my life wasn’t going to be as good as other peoples. But then I see how trapped they are. They have to work so hard to maintain what they have. And I see how free I am in that way. I may have the burden of mental illness, but look at the places I get to go. I see that the less I own, the less tied down I am. I kind of like my life now.

~”Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” – Janis Joplin, Me and Bobby McGee

Thank you for this opportunity to share my journey with you.

Peace Luv & Happiness

 

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