Charles is black. He’s also schizophrenic, so when we’re alone together, I’m not the only voice he hears. He doesn’t have a job, and he is currently homeless.
Charles is stricken with disease. Some of the disease comes from the elements outside, and some are by choice:they are given to him by the “dirty women” he talks about.
His lips and nose are burnt from smoking “crack”. His fingers tremble and shake when he’s been off it too long.
He is a convicted felon, which makes him unable to find rest in the shelters. He just got out of jail for the second time in August.
Charles is my friend.
The last time I ran into Charles, he was rolling cigarettes sitting on a stoop on Division. I walked up to him and sat down. Before I could say anything, he turned to me with tears in his eyes.
I asked him what’s wrong, but I already knew what was on Charles’ mind. I knew what hurt him the most.
It’s the judgement. Charles and many others like him are stuck. They are caught in a cycle that they can’t seem to break loose.
Sure, his addictions and his lack of prosperity are definitely reasons he can’t get out. I mean, who’s going to buy all the necessities without a job? And who’s going to give you a job without a permanent residence? There’s no way he can prosper while addicted to crack, but he can’t get into a mission with a felony on record. So, without any treatment facility, how is he going to break his habit? And if he can’t break his habit, how is he going to get a job? How is he going to get money? How is he going to get out from under all the weight holding him down?
The things that we consider taboo about Charles, and all the bad decisions that initially caught him in that cycle are not the only reason he’s stuck.
It’s society. It’s the assumptions, it’s the neglect. It’s the people who walk by him and pretend like he’s not even there.
I believe in people. I believe in the value of all human life.
I understand that people can decide their own outcome in life, by the decisions they make or choose not to make. Who are we to think our wrongs are better than anyone Else’s wrongs? Charles may have made a lifetime of bad decisions, but in no way does that give the rest of humanity the right to walk by him and not offer him even a smile. Charles is alive. He can cry, he can laugh, and he can love. He has blood running through his veins, too.
I do believe:
Charles is black,
stricken with STD’s,
a crack addict,
But I also believe that Charles is human.