It was a festive Saturday morning at Gladys Park in Skid Row. The Three on Three Basketball league is playing there today. It is good to see that people are coming out to support it. Don Garza, of Centralcitye, was there as well. We had some interviews with several people and they should be interesting. Don is still there.
When he edits them I am sure you will find the interviews informative and the basketball coverage, on tape, enjoyable.
PROFILES OF COURAGE
I ran into Gilbert, this morning, at Tony's. That is the popular Skid Row diner on 7th street. I have not seen him since he moved out of the facility where we both lived. He completed the STRIVE program of which I spoke last week.
Gilbert is from Guatemala. We became friends over a few months. We gravitated toward eachother. The people who really try to change their lives tend to cling together for strength and reassurance. "Am I doing OK, man? Do you think I am making progress?" is a question always asked. The response is similar to the question. "Hell yes, you are doing ok. You are still here and you are not doing andy drugs. Am I Doing OK. Do you really think so?" "Yes Gilbert, you are also".
We would both smile. He taught me to focus. You see, Gilbert came so far. It is amazing that he is doing what he is doing. After completing the program, Gilbert took a full time job in Culver City and a part time job in Pasadena. He never gets a chance to sleep. He prefers it that way. He feels if he is busy, he can not get into trouble.
He was in prison and jail many times. The last time he was in the courtroom the judge told him he had to go to a program otherwise he would go to prison. Gilbert decided in jail he was not going to let himself down.
You see, he lost his green card because of his criminal background. He criminal activity was due to his drug use. He lost his wife and his child. They disappeared. His wife does not want him to know his child.
Gilbert acknowledges his mistakes. He shed some tears about his past once. I talked about it in my other blog site. "Don't trip". He would say. Everybody would say that when I told them I missed my mother. "Don't trip." It seemed so easy for them to be disconnected with their families. How did they do it? I find it to be unbearable.
That morning, he told me his story. When he finally started to change his life, he found out he was going to be deported. He had to reapply for his card. He did not have the money. He said the government made him go to several different offices to find out the correct information. He discovered that the fees were going to cost him 6oo dollars. He did not have the money. He did not have anyone to go to to get the money. His borthers and sisters, who could help him, would not have anything to do with him. His parents could not afford it.
He said he knew where some dumpsters were in a neighborhood where he used to do drugs. He knew cans were in there all of the time because he would get them to finance his drugs. He went back there and searched everyday for cans. He could not spend a dime of the money. He had to save every bit of it to pay for the green card fees.
He said he picked up cans everyday for 4 months. He saved every dime. Drug dealers tried to tempt him to do drugs. he refused. Women tried to tempt him, he stayed the course. He finally had all of the money.
he walked into the government office and gave them the money. They counted it. They told him he needed 250 dollars more.
No one told him about a 250 dollar fee. He did not know what to do. He went back to the place and dug for cans again. He had one problem. He did not have much time. I believe he said he had only 2 days. He walked from the east side of town to the west side of town looking for cans. He said he did not know if he could find the cans but he kept on. "Don't trip. walter."
He told me that he did not care what it took. He fought hard but he said he had to fight harder. No one would help him. For two days he picked up cans. Day and night. Rats ran over his feet. Maggots craweled on his
He finally had the money and ran to the place, and gave it to them. "Don"t trip , Walter".
"Well, what happened?' I asked. He told me that after he gave them the money, he had to wait for 4 months for the decision. I could not believe it. He said he just had to hope and pray. He just kept busy.
I could not believe this story. How did he not go crazy? He had not seen his family in 5 years. Now, he did not know if he were going to be able to stay in this country. "Don't trip , WAlter".
I kept asking him and other mean how do I get through the pain? Finally, Gilbert shed some tears that morning, that memorable Sunday morning when we were both getting ready to leave the facility. I had to get some answers soon because I did not think I would see him after we both would leave.
"It is as you say, my friend. It hurts. IT hurts badly. You keep busy. You do not think of these things. If you do you will go smoke. That is why I say "Don't trip, walter. We do not know how we get through the pain. We do not stop to think about it. We keep busy. Don't trip."
He told me that the 4 months he waited for the answer was the four months he was in the facility with me. He was waiting to see if he was going to be deported the whole time he was in the STRIVE program.
I never knew.
The day he graduated from the STRIVE program his father and mother came to the ceremonies. The mother was so happy he finished. She would call every day to see if he was still in the program because, if he was not there, he would be probably back doing drugs. His father did not know what was in the envelop that had come in the mail a week before the ceremonies. He took it out of his pocket and handed it to his son, Gilbert, when they were having dinner that evening.
It was the envelope from the government. It was the envelope that Gilbert had been waiting for for the last 4 months. He said he could barely open it because he was so frightened. His fate was in that white envelope. Would he be able to stay with his parents or would he be forced to go to Guatemala? He said he opened it and there it was. His green card was in the envelope. They let him stay.
I think Gilbert epitimizes the bundle of courage it t akes to survive the unknown. He said he blocked out things in prison. Most people do, he said. He said that I was the first man to keep asking him and others how do I get past the feeling. He said that was the problem. He could not tell me before because he could not recognize that. You have to feel the pain and at the same time learn not to feel it while you are experiencing it.
I learned that it is an art. It is a learned behavior. "Don't trip". It is something that most do not learn how to do well. He thanked me for helping him shed some tears that morning. We both did. We were two grown men who sat in the back of the building outside while a meeting was going on the inside of it. I was in the meeting that counted. The other meeting was just the same old thing. Somebody told people their drug stories, who they smoked with and how much they smoked. Few things are said that help those that need answers about staying off drugs.
Gilbert is a success story. He is a story that I need to follow. I love Gilbert. He taught me so much. He taught me things that I am still trying to learn.
I found out from the assistant manager that 3 assitant manager job opoenings are open now. You know I had the offer but my hernia kept me from working.
I did not think too much about it. I was thinking about Gilbert. What he taught me.
DONT TRIP ABOUT IT WALTER. DONT TRIP. Yes, Gilbert I remember your lessons. I am trying to live them.