Friday, June 20, 2008

Vernon E. Stone

I came from a memorial this morning. I started not to go to it but I had no choice. It was as if Vernon's spirit drew me to it. The Memorial was to celebrate the life of Vernon E. Stone.

Vernon was the very first person that I met when I landed on Skid Row. After the administrator completed my intake information. I walked into the male dormitory athe Transition House on Crocker Street. Earlier that morning, on February 7, 2007, I was released from Los Angeles Country jail, having spent nearly four months in there for a misdeamenor. I was shocked at what I saw in Skid Row, and I was in a state of shock after 6 months in the twilight zone.

I walked into the men's dormitory and sat on my bunk, bed number 67. There were 100 beds in the dormitory. He walked in behind me, introduced himself and gave me a bunch of tobacco. He told me his name was Vernon Edward Stone. My father's name was Vernon and my uncle's name is Vernon Edward. There was something special in the way Vernon and I communicated.

He told me of his background. He was from Harlem, New York and started doing heroin at a very young age. When I met him, Vernon had been clean and sober for over a year. He had been in numerous programs and in and out of prison. He had two jobs and was saving money. He would not let me pay him back for tobacco or cigarettes.
"Walter, you can not afford to give me back anything right now. Keep the tobacco. Just make sure you help another brother out when he comes in here. Make sure that he feels welcomed. Show him the ropes. Each one teach one."

After about two weeks, I hardly saw Vernon. He had two jobs. Occasionally he would leave a bag of tobacco on my bed. When I came in, I knew who left it there.
When I did see him, he always made sure I did not need for anything.

Finally, one night, when the night monitor was making a bed count, it was announced that Vernon was moving. He had been accepted in the Ballyntine Apartments on Wall STreet as it is a facility for veterans. The monitor gave a speech about how Vernon was leaving the Transition House under his own terms. Indeed, he was. There was a round of applause for him.

We talked that night after the lights were out and he expressed his gratitude. He always expressed his gratitude. He was always upbeat. Finally he told me something that I would hear again and again. "Keep doing what you are doing Walter." Every time I heard that line. I would think of Vernon.

When he left, I recall, I felt that sinking feeling of being alone again. Tears came out and he told me he would always come back to see me. He did. Whenever he picked up his mail, he never left before he saw me. Never. He reminded me of my uncle who treated me the same way. They shared the same name, Vernon Edward.

After I moved out of the Transition House I saw him in there. He had returned. I did not ask him any questions. I could see that he did not want to talk about it.

He saw me every day. He was in the STRIVE program and he helped everyone in the program. He instilled confidence in those that had none just like he did for me when I had arrived on Skid Row. I would sit with those that were afraid of the computer and made them learn it. He was so good. Whenever I was blogging he made sure that people kept quiet in there so I could concentrate on what I was trying to say.

One day we talked and he told me he was proud of me. He knew better than anyone else how far I had come. He more than anyone laid the groundwork for my long climb. He gave me a few principles by which I have followed from my very first day on Skid
Row. I told him not to get down on himself--that he was a leader. Sometimes leaders take a fall. But leaders get back up. He taught me how to get back up.
He taught people how to stand up every day. We hugged and he started to climb that mountain again. He had plans. He graduated from the STRIVE program and on graduation day, he kept everyone laughing with his jokes. he thanked every teacher and praised everyh student.Many students credited Vernon for helping them learn what they felt they could never learn.

Many people are considered family at the Transition House. Many people relapse who stay there. People return and, sadly, some people die. Some people who were considered family at the Transition House have died since I arrived on Skid Row. Yet no one has had a huge memorial held for them there except Vernon Stone. That will tell you how much he was loved.

His death reminds you that Skid Row was a battlefield. Soldiers fall in battle. Vernon Stone was indeed a soldier and he fell. He won't get up this time. However he instilled many lessons in men and women and through them he lives on.

I walked slowly today from my weekly class. I walked through downtown and thought of Vernon Stone and the lessons he instilled in me.

I also realize that people downtown do not know of Vernon Stone. Yet Vernon Stone was the kind of person that represented the spirit of Downtown Los Angeles. He was a fighter. He was also the son of someone. He was also the husband of someone. He was also the beloved father of a little girl.

People talk about Skid Row. They talk about the policies of Skid Row. Committee members shuffle papers and budgets. Press releases are made. And yet no one really knows or sometimes cares about the lives of the people.

These people have lives. These people have dreams. They have the same concerns and hopes that everyone has. Vernon Stone had those dreams. He also told me to keep dreaming. I will miss you Vernon Stone. I will keep doing what I am doing. I will keep fighting.

I turned down a street and saw people smoking crack and shooting up heroin. I was back in the battlefield. "Walter, keep doing what you are doing. Ignore them", Vernon would say. I am Vernon. However, I cant ignore how I feel when I know they are hurting.

I love you Vernon Stone. Thank you for being you.

WAlter Melton aka Scribeskidrow


Anonymous said...

Vernon Stone(may he rest in peace) was a man who had a lot of potential. I worked with him. He was nice, friendly and very particular about himself. However, when it came time to place him in a job, he was very, very flaky. It took three weeks for me to find out the truth about his outcome that he found employment.

In retrospect, Mr. Stone had a lot potential like so many other who came before and after him in the S.T.R.I.V.E Program. Unfortunately, like many other clients, there are many that are not ready yet to make that transition. I saw many clients come and go. They either relapsed or were incarcerated again for one reason or another. I would definitely venture to state that Mr. Stone's death was very tragic not only for the program, but for the community in the Skid Row vicinity. Yet, the community must understand the obstacles that many of the clients in different programs face prior to making the transition to mainstream society.

carolinarnj said...

This story is very touching and made me cry. I am so glad you did have him in your life for the time that you did, because it's apparent that he had a major impact on you, and probably many other people as well. May his soul R.I.P.