Monday, February 9, 2009

A Man Died Yesterday

A Man Died Yesterday
Robert Stanford

A man died yesterday. He died along the banks of my favorite creek. Nameless, faceless and labeled a transient, a man died of a drug overdose. I was not there that day or that night.

There was a telephone call made yesterday. It was made from a payphone located at a liquor store on a corner point. A frantic call. An anonymous call made in a futile attempt to rescue what may have been a fellow junky. Too little and much too late.

There was a short story in the paper today. So short, the story did not even have an author. It was as though it was just a little filler news. Preponderance. An insurance policy against a possible angry phone call. Why report anything at all? I am the only one that would have cared anyway, and I wouldn’t call the paper.

The police said he was probably a transient. I thought to myself, “of course…a transient. But from where?” It was as if I had been given an excuse as a gift.

An excuse to not blame myself.

An excuse to not think that I could have done something this time.

An excuse to not wonder if I knew the man that had been killed by a hypodermic needle full of deadly poison.

A gift to be coupled by a coincidental article I had written a few days before, that confessed my conflict to not dismiss individuals such as this man as nothing more than garbage – their problems leaving no one to blame, but themselves – repulsive and culpable. An article that confessed a spiritual struggle to remember that they were as important as anyone else in the eyes of God.

It may rain this evening. I won’t be able to do anything about that, nor the transients that will not make it to the mission in time for shelter because they have something more important to do - shoot up meth and heroin or keep that alcohol transfusion coursing through their veins to the point of numbness and possible hypothermia. Men and women. Every single one of them is just as important as my best friends in the eyes of God. But for the life of me, I cannot stay constantly mindful of this – not all the time – I just cannot. I become so frustrated with their blindness. With their refusal to look into a mirror and wake up from a nightmare they do not even know they are having.

So many times, I have cursed the Modesto Mayor for only seeming to rise to the occasion of standing firm against crime when tragedy strikes. Isn’t it just like the Lord, to slap me in the face with self-righteous irony, such as this? I feel so low and selfish when I realize how arrogant I have been.

So arrogant I am to think that these “transients” mean so little to me, yet when one dies, I fall into a depression of self-hatred and guilt coupled with anger at myself when a man dies on an evening that I forewent my patrol of the dry creek banks and the back streets of La Loma on throughout the Airport District, searching for people in this very same predicament – lives just as precious as the life of the President of the United States.

On more than several occasions, I have felt so tired, that I have foregone these patrols, which could have provided for me additional opportunities to call police dispatch with my cell phone’s speed dial, clutching the phone between my shoulder and ear, invoking CPR and running on nothing more than sheer adrenaline and urgency of a simple matter such as life and death.

So caught up in these moments and emergencies, that only the next morning would I think clearly enough to consider my own welfare and eventually show up at the county health department for HIV and hepatitis screening.

Fortunately, anyone would assume that it was in actuality not my fault the man died, but rather, his own, probably well deserved and effective for the reduction of blight in the La Loma neighborhood.

I am so fortunate to be free of this man’s blood on my hands. I won’t even have to worry about it coming up as a mark against me in this years City Council election. No one will ask me at a forum about the one junky that died that one night, and all because I skipped my neighborhood watch patrol.

No one will ever blame me as much as I shall forever blame myself for not taking my hour and a half walk through the parks and neighborhoods I so proudly claim to provide protection from and for “transients”.

I guess the thing that really bothers me most about this event – this situation, is that it is by far not the first time and I know that it will not be the last.

Perhaps, if I stay strong and do not run away from my self-perceived purpose, this man’s death will not have been in vein.

A death so powerful to me, that I do not need to know his name, face or whether I knew him or not. Just to know that he was – it’s enough to inspire me to try harder to prevent as many deaths as well as ruined lives as I possibly can in the future – in a geographical area that I have claimed and fought for as my own.

Copyright 2009 Robert Stanford all rights reserved.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Straight Talk In A Time of Desperate Thought

Straight Talk In A Time of Desperate Thought
Robert Stanford

Through my work with some individuals in and out of the Modesto Airport District, at times, a battle will rage inside myself borne of frustration and disappointment. Generally due to working with those that I sympathetically call “those in recovery”. But often look down upon as junkies that choose the way in which they live and choose to continue their addiction completely free of any compelling urges that addiction may bring. Forever, I find myself needing to remind myself just how wrong I am regarding this assumption that I may have been taught – or prefer to perceive.

It seems so easy to me that they can put the needle down forever, once and for all. Looking at them, I feel that if I can only hold up some sort of an introspective mirror, that they will become horrified of what they look like and what their lives have become and it will be so easy for them to “kick” the addiction, or at the very least, check into some sort of a treatment center.

Like a Tolkien creature in Lord of the Rings that has forsaken every aspect of the reality of life and living for the sake of a seemingly magical band of gold, these individuals live out their lives in exactly the same way – ultimate isolation from all external stimulus with their only true goal being their next fix.

More times than not, I am tricked by my extended hand of assistance and encouragement for treatment. Or worse, attacked.

With other individuals that take my assistance and utilize it to achieve goals that further the advancement of the community and society at large, I relish in the fact that I am a powerful force in their lives – at times fueled by nothing more than a phamplet or brochure to make them aware of assistance that is available to them. They grow.

But not the junky. All they seem to care about is how much closer I can get them to their next fix, they become angry when they can see that money is not forthcoming from me. What good am I to them, unless I am able to assist them to continue their path of self-destruction?

They spit on me, throw things at me, attack me with little or no provocation, accuse me of being a “narc” and complain that I do not give them financial aid or change their environment to be more of that of an opium den – and like other places in more “civilized” society, often I hear the accusation that the only reason I interact with them in the first place is that I am trying to get their vote for political gain – though they do not vote in the first place.

Day in and day out, it is a constant battle for me to not lash out on them or constantly call the local MPD dispatch to have them arrested on possession charges – get them out of my District, so that those that appreciate my help the most can thrive more with what little resources my self-developed direct action methodological system has to function. A constant battle between despising them and understanding them.

But to this very day, I still hold strong to the philosophy that they are in fact God’s children and that they are not in control of their lives in any way.

I use to believe that if they were to hit rock bottom that in these times, it would be relatively easy for them to see themselves for what they actually had become and choose to take another path. But for many junkies that have been self-injecting heroin for many many years, this does not apply. And I begin to lose sight of what the truth is – A choice they make by their own free will? Or a drug so powerful, that year after year they are left to their own devices, trapped in a vacuum of loneliness and despair.

I will continue to advocate for these people, because they are people. Whether they are in the predicament they are in is their fault or not, I believe is impossible to determine without the attempt by the entire community to address them as ill and in need of treatment – rather than discarding them like the repulsive garbage they certainly look like.

Copyright 2009 Robert Stanford all rights reserved.