Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What a bad day for an addicted panhandler

Today was by far the worst day I have had since I have been making money panhandling-- bad day in so many ways. 

First, a dear friend of ours, who was severely alcoholic, died tragically. She was in her 50’s and was basically housebound with her husband and a very close friend of ours. They were drinking very heavy and she slipped and fell, hit her head on the floor and suffered a massive brain injury. She was pronounced brain dead and died at 3:00am this morning. I got the news as we were leaving my friends house to go to work (Panhandle-Signing) It set the somber mood for the day.

I have been addicted to opiates for many years, with brief periods of clean time. So when I am begging for money, it is not only for food and a place to stay for a night, but to also maintain my addiction. 

Before you judge me, please hear me out. 

I have served a 5-10 year Walpole sentence for crimes I committed trying to maintain a drug habit, such as unarmed and armed robberies, breaking and entering, burglaries of businesses, shoplifting, fraud, credit card theft, and a host of other lesser crimes-- all the time telling myself that I had no choice. I was physically addicted and subject to violent sickness if I did not have the drugs I needed. This is what I believed at the time. It is not uncommon to hear an addict say that. In fact only today, a fellow panhandler came to the spots late. Therefore he was not able to get prime real estate, as they were all taken by 9:00 am. He was drug sick. (Apparent by his sweating and snot dripping nose.) He looked fucking terrible. He is 26 years old, and homeless. However he told me that his Mother got him a hotel room for the week and he had one more night in the room. He was severely depressed and told me that he was now out of choices. He said he had to do some boosting. Said he was going to do a CVS where he had been caught two times before and arrested. The dude said “I don’t have a choice”. I understood completely. I really wanted to try to talk some sense into him, but realized where he was at and knew it futile to even attempt. I told him to be careful, and it felt so shallow. 

Please allow me to continue explaining my views and experience on the benefits of panhandling to society and myself. When panhandling the money is slow, but it does come, sometimes sooner than others. By asking for help, I am not hurting anyone and am breaking no laws of seriousness. Therefore I am not breaking into your home, or stealing your car, I am not shoplifting or hurting anyone. I depend on the kindness of you for help. There seems to be a lot of logic in this from where I stand. I am in a constant struggle to arrest my addiction, but until that happens, I do not want to hurt anyone by stealing. So I simply ask, and then it is your choice. 

What you see is a man who is bearing his impoverished soul, and begging for help. PLEASE HELP ME. Do you realize how hard that is? To stand there, knowing many folks look down on you, even despise you? They look at you like a piece of garbage. Many will not even acknowledge your very existence. 

But then there are the few who want to help another struggling human being. They make you feel worthy and warm and show you that you matter. This is a great experience for a panhandler. Today a young woman road by me on her bike. As she rode by she said to me “I See You.” I was completely struck by her words because for the past hour I had been quietly forming the words ‘Please See Me’ as folks would drive by me. I just wanted people to see me, and not ignore me as if I didn’t matter at all. Of course no one could understand what I was saying, except by maybe my look or body language. I wanted to matter to you. You didn’t have to give me any money, just SEE ME. Tell me, I matter, Please. None of this occurs when you're breaking into someone’s home. That mind and heart set is dark and just the opposite of what I just described. This is my take on panhandling and why you should acknowledge the person behind that HOMELESS sign. Show compassion. At least wave. Look at them. Nod. My experience has brought me to put great value on those simple expressions of kindness that cost you nothing. 

My friend and I worked for 4 hours and between us made $80.00, a  $10.00 coffee shop gift card, a $10 supermarket gift card, a couple bags of chips and a couple beverages. It was cold when we started out this morning at 9:00 am – 30 degrees, a little wind, and high humidity. Standing for 4 hours is tough in this weather. We made an agreement to stop at 1:00 pm and make our way home. (About 19 miles) 

I have been staying in my car. It is unregistered. I keep the car running as long as I can to stay warm. But some nights, I just can’t afford the gas. So I bundle up best I can. When we arrived back in our town, we got something to eat at McDonalds and the went to buy some drugs. We saw a young Latino who we knew to be a drug guy. As we were making the deal with him for $25, he pulled a gun and robbed us of all we had just worked for. He robbed us of every penny we had. 

After he ran off and disappeared, my friend began to weep. I was choked up. Very angry. Realizing there was nothing two old guys could really do about it. We quickly made a decision to head back to our panhandling spots. 19 miles away. It felt like a hundred miles away. We were very cold and broke and not feeling very good. We needed the drugs as much as we needed food and water and a warm place to sit for a while. We could not afford that luxury. We got back to our spot at 2:15 pm, we agreed to work until 4:00 pm. We met up at 4:15 pm, pooled our money and had another $80.00, It would have been an amazing day. Enough where we wouldn’t have to have gone out for 1 day. But now its late and I am so very tired. We will hit the road at 7:00 am tomorrow. Back to our spots to live another day. Other than our friend dying and getting robbed, it was a very ordinary day in the life of a panhandler.

Good Night  - Please See Me Tomorrow.
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