~ 38th Day ~
The Wall...Treasured Tracker...The Feast...Doctors Without Walls.
This was a super packed day.
An emotional roller coaster to say the least.
Forewarning at the length this post might become.
I woke up in the backseat of Tumbler. Telling Karen that I needed some time alone for a couple of nights (the night before, sleeping outside and last night sleeping in my truck) she understood after I explained that getting too comfortable at someone's house was trying to be avoided as well as needing time to be by myself. When I came back to her hospitality, she didn't quite understand the sleeping on a bench part, but there are others who probably wouldn't get the reasoning behind this either. I was grateful for her "come and go as you please" attitude.
Today had some known and unknown mission fields. The first two were known, yet the first still held an unpredictability for I was going back to my main stomping ground while living on the streets of SB... "The Wall." If a book was ever to be written about this farm-girl's life both on and off the farm, there would be a whole chapter written about this place where I traded a pocket full of corn kernels for a pocket full of rocks (and not the ones I carry around these days). It's hard to write a short description of the Wall, but I will try my best for those of you wanting to read other news feed in your allotted time on FB.
When I lived here, the Wall had no opening and closing hours. It was active 24/7 and though the nighttime was often busier than the normal hours people were up, we weren't afraid of doing dark things in the daylight hours. This is how addiction can take affect and all of us living there, were living for the next high. There were 5 main dealers, 3 main call girls, 7 other guys who didn't deal but had come to call this place home and countless men and women who would frequent this place to pick up and either smoke there or take it another location. The main group was another family unit who I grew very close with. Though many would question their loyalty, love, and protection, they were these things... just not all the time. We were dysfunctional, to say the very least. We argued, fought, swore at each other, burned each other, lied, cheated and stole from one another at times. But we were a family. We understood each other, laughed, joked, hugged each other, looked out for one another, consoled each other and love was shown in many ways. Our dynamics and deep bond would never be used as an example in family counseling, but we were a unit of drug addicts who survived the circus of chaos by sticking together.
The first picture you see is one side of the bridge where we typically congregated at. The fences were climbed with ease, for they were our front door. We had the leap down to a science and if chain-link fence hurdles were in the Olympics, we all would have gold medal records. Over the fence, the dirt mound was traversed to the top and flat portion of compacted dirt. Their is 3-4 feet gap from the top of the mound and the bottom of the overpass bridge. We would crouch while walking up there and there was a science to this as well. People driving or walking on the road and sidewalk below could see constant activity up here. There were always a few of us who would be hopping the fence, crouching and moving or sitting on the top against the cement wall, standing/sitting at the bottom on the other side of the fence, but there was one place that we most often were that no one could see us while there. On one side of the bridge and on the top, compacted area, we had built our own personal hideout. We stole some shovels and dug a pit that was 4 feet deep and a queen sized mattress was laid at the bottom of the hole. When we were sitting on the mattress, not even our heads could be seen from the bottom as people passed by. In a way, it was our "bed of thorns." Everything was done here... from selling rock, smoking rock, and doing things to get money for another rock. When I first started frequenting the Wall, I wasn't allowed in the hole cause the family is very selective about who is and isn't allowed in it. But after a while, I not only was allowed to do anything in it, but I spent many hours of the day and night holed up in this hole. But this was only one of the many places I would do all types of dark things at.
Next to the bridge, there were sections of grassways, bushes, trees and other cement walls. The bridge is located right next to the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission where the men live for the inpatient program, where the outpatient program is located and the men's shelter is held. The cement wall that separates the grassway and hill leading to the freeway that goes over the bridge is where we would also congregate. I remember many times when I'd be sitting on the hill under a tree near the freeway, seeing the men in the program watching us. Surely, we were not helping their minds be free of triggers by doing deals and smoking crack in eye-sight. This area behind the Mission was active non-stop. There were beaten paths where we would walk back and forth from the street into the deeper parts of this section in between the freeway and the Mission as well as other buildings and lots along this stretch. It was a neighborhood block per se. The paths led to thicker sections of bushes and trees and in these more dense foliage places, we had studio apartments of sorts scattered throughout. We hung sheets on tree limbs and on the tops of bushes to create a sectioned off place where we would do deals, smoke, trick with men, and on the very rare occasion, actually sleep. Most of us would go days without sleeping and then crash when our bodies or minds would beg for rest. I was typically up for 3-5 days at a time and I remember being up for several 7-day stretches. This is typically when my dealers/pimps would refuse to sell me more and would tell the men who called for me that I was off-duty. This was usually when I would wander to Pershing Park to drink vodka and smoke pot till I passed out and would wake up a day or two later... only to get liquored up and stoned again till my appetite for crack would rear it's head and I'd wander back to the wall (against my Pershing family's pleading for me to stay with them and not disappear for another 3-7 days). What a crazy cycle, but this is how strong my addiction had a hold on me. Still, I was allowing it to run rampant and not willing to take any steps to stop the running madness.
The cops were certainly on to the activity at the Wall. They drove by several times a day and night visits were also common. Problem was, we knew this area like the back of our hand and most raids ended up with them crouched over, hands on their thighs or hips, panting for breath, while we were out of sight in the maze of paths, bushes, holes cut in fences and metal sidings that led to other sections we knew the way through. Oh, we did get caught once in a while and a few of the night raids were planned and staked out well in advance and ended in handcuffs being snapped on our soiled and calloused hands. I was arrested twice at the Wall, once for a glass pipe (they couldn't find the 3 crack rocks I'd discarded right before they pounced on my friend and I... I found them later that day after I was released) and the other for hiding out near the creek bed in a cluster of bushed with a random guy who had just purchased my services for the rocks I was now smoking with him (They did find the crack that day and I was locked up for a few days). Most of the raids were done at the bridge as well as the area most commonly referred to as the Wall... a section of road that the 3rd picture shows. This used to be the place where 30-60 men would stand or sit while waiting to be picked up for a few hours or a day of work. People would drive by and pick one or more of the guys to do handiwork for them. Among the men actually looking for legal work (though many of them were not legal immigrants), the dealers, pimps, call-girls and addicts were scattered throughout the sea of men. Though we didn't actually blend in with the others, it was a smokescreen of sorts and we tried to look at normal as we could in our state of mind (or lack there of) when the police would drive by or stop to search us not at all gently. I remember countelss times being in the port-a-potties getting high when suddenly someone would pound on the plastic wall to let me know that a black and white was pulling up. A lot of things were flushed and/or stuffed in those bathrooms. And more things were done in them than using the facility and getting high... it was a place where much darker things were done. This stretch of the road was well-known in SB and though I had already drove by this area the 2cd day I was back, today I would park Tumbler and walk these streets to stand in front of some of the many places where I hit rock bottom... in more ways than one.
I was meeting a dear, sweet friend at the Rescue Mission, and purposefully arrived an hour early. I knew at some point on this return trip to "Egypt" that I would go back to face and feel what needed to be physically walked through at the Wall. I parked Tumbler under the main bridge (there were others nearby that we used to chill under, but this was the primary one and location behind the mission with the hole we dug). I was surprised at the lack of activity and when I got out of my truck, not a soul was seen. This was actually a blessing for I needed to be present with my feelings at the sights and smells without the presence of anyone else nearby. It was as if God has scattered the people so that my mind could stay focused on the place and not any person. The bridge was the same, but newer fences had been put up. They weren't bent over in places (except one section) and the garbage that usually littered the dirt mound and around the fences, was cleaned up fairly well. The slope of dirt had eroded away so much and when I looked to see where the hole once was, it appeared to have been filled in (I could see this through an eroded crack of dirt). My eyes were taking it all in and I wrestled with the plethora of memories that played through my mind like previews before the main movie. I had purchased the ticket to the show when I willingly came to re-visit this place, but I wasn't exactly sure how this movie would play out... and the previews of memories were like premiers in and of themselves. Trying to be mindful to not suppress the emotions, I sat with each memories for as long as was needed to acknowledge that it happened and left a scar, but that it wasn't happening now and I wasn't the same person I was back then.
I lingered under the bridge for 15 mins, taking it all in of what was the same and what was different. I peered through the chain-link fences to the paths that were still noticeably walked. Though the desire to hop the fence and traverse up the slope, walk down the path to the thicker foliage, and then run across the freeway to the wide median where other paths and places were once carved through the thick trees/bushes, I didn't need to physical go to these places that I still mentally could go with ease. It's okay to go back to dark places, but how far we walk into them, is a personal choice. Some may need to "jump the fence" and others can find closure simply by staying on sidewalk. I chose the later.
There were 45 mins before I was to meet with my old "Tracker" and still dear friend, so I took a right on the road the Rescue Mission was located and walked towards the area where the cement sitting area, port-a-potties, and men used to stand and wait for work. This place did have people nearby and I braced myself for potentially seeing some familiar faces. The tree that I used to climb and smoke up in the branches was passed... so many memories of countless hours I perched up in this tree. I saw 3-4 men I recognized but they didn't remember me. Whether it's because I looked different, it had been too many years and their minds were more fried, or God put a hedge of protection around me, I'll never know, but besides looks of curiosity and slight confusion at this lone girl walking in this area known to not be the safest, no one stopped me to inquire of why I was walking here. I gave a few nods to let some know that I meant no harm, but I didn't stop walking... till I passed the men near the bathrooms and walked to the other side of street. More memories flooded my head when I walked passed certain places where we would jut into the foliage to other paths and places where we would stun and deadened more brain cells. There were cement tunnels that water would trickle through where we would crouch inside along the curved walls to get high. There used to be hollowed out clumps of bushed that had sheets and blankets spread on the ground, but I couldn't see if they were still hollow or had grown in from where I stood. I walked past the creek where I would take men who paid for my services, and my skin tingled with regret of how I was not only used but also using their appetite of pleasure to feed my appetite for the drugs that kept my mind foggy enough to perform such things. I don't share these things to made anyone shake their head in disgust, for pity, to highlight the depravity of my mind, but rather because I'm not afraid to voice the truth of my past. This is part of the reason my heart beats a little faster (out of compassion and empathy) for women who prostitute. It's part of my story... and the muzzle that used to be clasped on my mouth has been ripped off and forever discarded. Though it's not easy to put (written or verbal) words to these dark time in SB as well as in other cities in IL, I will not be silent to the truth. God gives me the courage to voice my largely painful past in hopes that the purpose is for encouraging others to find the courage to unbuckle their own muzzles with help of God's strength and then allow Him to use their own dark chapters to bring light to others. May some of you reading this post feel a rise in courage and a boldness mustering up within your heart. After all, what we've experienced in life is not just about us. I'll keep saying this over and over in hopes that at least one really, truly gets this. Ooops, rambling rant over
My this post is already long! I'll speed things up a bit here. When I was walking on the other side of the place where the men were gathered (and some were passed out on couches that had newly been set up along the metal fence), one of the men stood up and walked to his edge of the sidewalk. "Hey, whatchu doing 'round here? I saw you take a couple pictures. Do you work for the city or police or something?" I took this as good cue to walk across the street and not a warning to quicken my pace toward the Mission area. "No I don't work for the city. I'm taking a few pictures of this place cause I used to live under the bridge up there and this place here was where I also used to hang out a lot of the time." I was standing in front of him now. I stuck my hand out and when I told him my name, he introduced himself as "Black." I could write several paragraphs on the conversation Black and I had over the next 30mins, but that will be saved for that potential book. To an on-looker, Black was rough, hardened, and up to no good. But I got to know the man inside that exterior front. He told me about his past life, his present situation and the challenges he faces daily. I stood with him near the hang-out area for awhile and then asked him to walk me back to my truck. A funny thing happened on this walk. My old tracker (counselor) at Bethel House, whom I was to be meeting in half an hour pulled over by the sidewalk where Black and I were walking. The last time I remembered seeingAlana was the same sight she was seeing now... I had been walking with an older man on the sidewalk (having just turned a trick with him). I couldn't help but laugh out loud when she pulled over and said "Hey girl" just like she had years ago. I told her that this was not what it looked like, and though I was still going to get a rock with this man, it was a different rock than the one I was going to purchase years ago. Alana laughed and said she wasn't assuming what I though she might be. We agreed to meet in the Mission parking lot after I finished ministering to Black. When Tumbler was reached, I pulled out a rock that said "Live each day the fullest you can; Not guaranteeing there will be a tomorrow; Not dwelling endlessly on yesterday." He pulled me into a tight side hug and told me that he wished so many of his friends and family could here my story and get a rock to remind them that there is a Rock higher than any other "rock" (whatever that may be). I felt honored that God would have me meet this man and hopefully encourage him to one day drop the "rock" he used to fill his void, and allow the Rock, the Void-Filler, to be his positive and purposeful stronghold. I would see Black the other times I drove by the Wall area, but I didn't stop to talk with him again. Still, he has been added to my long list of people from the Wall to pray for.
More pictures will be posted along with several other paragraphs about my time before and now at the Wall, but the hour is only 11:30am in this post and so much happened this afternoon and into the evening that I have yet to share. When Black and I hugged for the last time and he walked back towards the other men, I hung a right into the Rescue Mission parking lot to meet up with my beloved old counselor. Alana was using her lunch break to grab some food and fellowship with me. We hopped into her car and headed to a nearby restaurant. A big smile remained on my face for most of the next hour or so. I was so full of joy to be sitting with someone I not only looked up to while at Bethel, but still have a deep respect for. Though she isn’t working at Bethel any longer, she has been a counselor at the outpatient recover program at the Mission for the years since I last saw her when living on the streets. Alana has always been a huge cheerleader in my bleachers whether I was using or trying to stay clean. Her love is unconditional, like the Savior who saved her from a destructive lifestyle as well. Her testimony is radical, like everyone’s story that was once dark (without God) and has now been transformed to one of light (walking with God).
There was so much to catch up on with this woman who sat next to me as we ate our filling food. The conversation was nourishing as well, and the time went by too quickly for my liking. Still, I was grateful for this quality time with Alana and it wouldn’t be the last time our paths would cross while back in SB. I love her so much. She is a beautiful representation of Jesus and she continues to impact not only my life, but everyone who has the honor of knowing this compassionate vessel of God’s hope and love. A "Peace" rock was placed in the hands of this beautiful woman of grace.
It was a after 1pm when I our paths parted and a parking spot a few blocks from the Wall was found to simply sit and inhale and exhale the feelings that were still ruminating in my heart and mind. Though there were some tears that slipped out through the cracks of a few wound that had been re-opened, I didn’t find myself breaking down like I had been prepared to possibly happen. Though I was open to letting the damn of hurt and sadness bust open, it was if God was saying, “Not now… not yet my child. I will allow you to feel enough for this day, and I will hold you tight. But I will allow a slow release of tears over the next few days and I’ll comfort you in these days too. But the full release of tears will come later. Trust Me, beloved daughter… you won’t break beyond my bestowing my peace in the pain.” I sat there will this “enough” for over an hour. My mind was full, but not racing; My breathing was deep at times, but not gasping for breath; My heart was full of both pain and gratitude, but it didn’t consume me. My steady and sure Counselor was with me and at times, I could literally feel His strong, gentle arms around me. This only happens once in a great while, where I can tangibly feel Him… and this was one of those times.
When it was time to move, both physically and mentally, I found myself driving towards Pershing Park. I had made a promise to the group there (especially Gator) that I would stop in at least once if not twice every day I was here, and I held that promise not out of duty or sake of keeping my word (though that was important too), but because I wanted to. As my last days drew near, I sensed that this may very well be the last time I see Gator. Though none of us are guaranteed another day on earth, I felt that Gator’s time was drawing near and I wanted to spend as much time with him on this visit as possible. Before walking into the park, I did some writing in Tumbler as the group was in full view. I was spotted by them and my writing was paused a handful of times when some of them individually came over to chat for short periods of time. Some of the deepest conversations were had with my brothers and sisters who would hang on my passenger door after I rolled down the window. These talks were one-on-one versus the group dynamics of talking with everyone vying for attention and wanting the microphone. The talks around Tumbler were more focused with individual attention and ministering. I finally put my laptop away when I realized not much was getting wrote on the screen, though much more important things were being “written” in real time.
My backpack was strapped on after more rocks were pulled from my large containers in the back. I was starting to make a dent in one of the 3 I had filled with rocks when I left Woodstock. It was not a race, but I did smile that I was finally seeing the bottom of this bin. When I walked up to the group, I greeted Gator even though he was passed out. The others were flashed peace signs with "What's up my family!?!" Bruiser was the first to stand up and tackle me in a big bear hug. I love this guy… we were close in the time I lived here before, and that hasn’t changed. He is one of the few who is making an attempt to fight his addiction to alcohol. He often leaves the park for a day or two in order to sober up, but it’s a hard fight to stay sober when he returns. One can rarely stay clean and sober when spending much of their time here. That is why it’s called “Prison Park” and unless you leave (for days or years), you will end up not only sitting but consuming the substances that make this park famous (not in a good way). While I was here visiting, it was important for me to repeat over and over to Bruiser that I was proud of him for fighting the fight and not giving up. When dealing with people who struggle with any addiction (alcohol, drugs, food, shopping, sex, work, etc) one needs to acknowledge the small things that the person does, even if they keep going in and out of their unhealthy behavior. We are hard enough on ourselves and our own guilt can encourage us to continue using, so more guilt and shame by those around us doesn’t help us in the fight. There’s a whole post (or 16) that could be written about this topic. Just be mindful to pat them on the back and cup their downcast faces in your hands as often as possible. There are always things that can be commended, instead of constantly berating them for the poor choices they are well aware they are making. A balance is necessary here… be honest about the ripple effect the addiction is producing, but lace the truth with love and encouragement. Hope is never lost until we give up loving them where they are at in their journey. Enough said on that for now
Bruiser and I had another talk about where he was with the fight today and I felt it was time to give him his rock. Since he had gotten in a little scuffle with the police yesterday (that was the picture I posted in yesterday’s post that showed the cop cars at the park), and he was released with a minor infraction, I laughed at the rock I knew was perfect for my brother who can let his pent up anger (from a past filled with pain) get the best of him and often is released onto others. The rock was shaped like a face that had it’s mouth open like it was shouting. I had written “It’s okay to be angry, but don’t sin when you are.” This was a paraphrased verse from Psalm 4:4. I typically don’t write things like this on rocks, but the way this rock looked like an angry face, it was the verse that came to mind. Bruiser busted out laughing and said it was totally the right rock he needed to keep in his pocket. Again, I have so much love for him and truly hope He either has or will one day surrender his life to God. He may not stop drinking, but God doesn’t ask us to clean up before becoming His child… He wants us to come as we are and it’s His job to do the restoring of our lives. Some never change their lifestyles, but I can testify that to continue willingly living with addictions and habits is all the more miserable when you open your heart to the One who sees both the good and bad in us… yet still loves us unconditionally. How sad that many people (especially Christians) put conditions on who can and can’t (in their minds) be welcomed into God’s family. Oh boy, there’s another long, long, long post in that sentence! I’m not even going to go further on this… except to say that judgementalism is one of the most undiagnosed and unrecognized addictions in today’s society.
Every Wednesday in Pershing was not just about the Feast, but it was also the night “Doctors Without Walls” comes to the park. This is a group of doctors, nurses, and people in training/school to be medical practitioners. But all that is required to volunteer in this stellar organization is a willing heart, whether licensed or not, to meet some of the medical needs of those living on the streets. They come on Wed nights, but they also pop in the parks and walk the streets throughout the week. I remember them well and was taken care of several times while last here. I had a staff infection 2 different times as well as a treatment (mostly compassion doses administered) for times I was beat up during rapes. The hearts of these people bends to meet the needs of the homeless… though sometimes the needs are not always medical. One person in particular was pivotal in ministering to me: Jennifer. And she was here tonight.
I didn’t want to hold her up from the others volunteers she was training tonight, but it was important to look her in the eyes and thank her. After this acknowledgement of my gratitude for her was voiced, she then told me a story that left my mouth open. She told me that I had given her a rock 6 years ago and that she not only still keeps it in her car, but she uses it as an analogy to at least one person a week. The rock I’d given to her was one that had broken down the middle, but I had glued it back together and written “Embrace The Brokenness” on it. Now my smile was growing even wider. She said that the words were a bit faded, but the message had not. I couldn’t even remember giving this rock to Jennifer, but she did. This merge of our paths would not be forgotten. She is another woman I greatly respect and look up to. Please look them up on the web and play a role in helping them mend more medical and emotional wounds.
A real bed was beckoning my tired, in more than one way, body and mind. But a stop a HotSpots to check in with Daniel and Salvatore was made before I would venture to a roof over my head. We talked for an hour or so and I was introduced to a local artist whose studio was around the corner. His name was Danny and he was known for his “Santa Barbara Rocks” rocks. Another fellow rock admirer and artists… I had to meet him and wanted to give him a rock. His art on the rocks was mainly skull-heads and it was interesting to hear how he wanted to bring a smile to people’s faces with something that points to death. To each their own.
He was an interesting person and what intrigued me most was not his rocks, but the poetry he recited that was all about Jesus, the cross, salvation, repentance, surrender, and love. This man was certainly gifted in writing and I wish the poems he recited from heart had been captured on camera. This man who was infatuated with skulls (death) was all about eternal life in Heaven. I left him with a “Love Rocks” rock and our paths crossed several times in the remainder of my days in SB.
I drove to sweet Karen’s apartment and when I dropped my backpack, I put my head on her chest a couple times as we talked about both of our busy days. The role of a mother was needed this night and a deep sigh was released as she stroked my head, knowing this was a calming technique when I am in need of human comfort. She was used by God in so many ways during this visit back to a place that brought up more memories than I remembered. This wouldn’t be the last night I needed her to hold me in her motherly arms. I slept well this night and would need the good night’s rest for what tomorrow would hold.
Pat people on the back more than you point a finger at them.
We all struggle with something… visible or unaware.
Search your heart for weeds that need pulling.
And seek to encourage someone,
Rather than to judge them.
Grace is for everyone.
~Unshakable Peace, Love and Purpose~
Cling to the Rock