Vendor Profile: Keith, Part One

[Editor’s note: Read part two here.]

I’m not a poet, but I have poet in me, and I’m not going to sugarcoat anything or pretty anything up to get your acceptance. The bottom line of the story is getting my name back and getting my self back. I’ve experienced homelessness nearly all of my life, but I believe it was for a reason.

I was born in Monroe, Louisiana. Now, when we moved out to Las Vegas, Nevada, we didn’t move out like the Beverly Hillbillies with a bunch of money and all. We went out there po’, like a lot of immigrants who come out here to make a better life for themselves. It was my grandmother who chose Vegas, and she went and got a job in a hotel. She took care of the family and she took me to church on weekend. I always knew there was a lot of love at church and my grandmother was more or less the Queen Bee. But the bottom line was that we were very po’—living in a house that was roach-infested, eating government cheese, claiming welfare. It was a very dysfunctional home, a very broken home. There was no father, and my mother didn’t know how to be a mother—she did the best she could, but there wasn’t a lot of love or emotional bonding. Her discipline was just to whip me. There was no direction in my life—no direction, no hold, no purpose, no meaning. Just a lot of chaos and drama. I lost my childhood and didn’t know what it was to be a kid. I was nothing and nobody. I’ve got one brother and I had three sisters—two of them already died. The other is living, but I haven’t heard from them. Everybody is still in Vegas.

When I was seven years old, they took me from my people’s house. My thoughts were unmanageable and my spirit was unmanageable. They took me to Child Haven, and I stayed there for seven or eight months. After that, I went to a group home. In this group home, my family was white, Caucasian, and I’ll never forget them. I love them to death. I was there from age seven to age fourteen. I learned how to swim, joined a basketball team and went to school. I learned a lot of things there, you all know—table manners, dealing with my weight, how to do chores. I learned how to play the drums. But when I went home to my people at the weekends, the dysfunction there broke it all down and re-opened all of my abandonment issues. Then I would come back to the group home and I would cry—for a half hour, for an hour—and after that I’d get right back into the groove of things. Every kid that ever came into that group home, I’d get close to for a week or two weeks and then, next thing you knew, they’d be gone. So I never had real friends, true friends growing up. And at that time, you couldn’t tell me I was black. Maybe God was setting me up because later in my life, he knew the purpose he had for me was to be able to relate with all nationalities of people. I thank God for the cultural shocks and learning to respect all people.

When I was fourteen years old, I ran away from the group home. I just went to people’s houses and then the police picked me up and took me to the juvenile home. That was my first experience of being locked up and by myself. My grandmother came down there and got me, but I had some resentment back then because I wished that the group home people had come and gotten me and brought me back.

I took my first drink when I was fifteen years old. I went down to the corner store one day and I took a drink with some older guys who hung around there. I felt accepted, as though I belonged with them, as though they were my friends. But my best friend was alcohol.

I got jumped into a gang when I was sixteen years old. A gang called the “Little Locos,” a Mexican gang. I had no guidance. My brother tried to adopt me, but it didn’t work because I was too contaminated, and my family only wanted me because of the money. I ran the streets with my homeboys and by the time I was eighteen years old, my grandmother didn’t know what to do with me. She sent me to stay with my father in Louisiana. That was bad. Bad. I didn’t know anything about AA or anything else and he didn’t know anything about it either, and he drank more than I did. I used to always drive for him because he was crazier than me. Different events took place out there, you know, and some bad things happened, so he had to send me back home. And when I got back home, two weeks later, when I called up and wanted to talk to him, he was dead. His truck ran over into a bayou because he was drinking.

And so, basically, I was like a tornado running through the lives of others. Everything boiled over towards that first time I hit crack cocaine when I was eighteen years old. After that, it was a process of total destruction. My grandmother came to me one night and said I had to go, and I finally realized I had no real friends. I ended up sleeping in an abandoned building. I was on the streets, nowhere to go, and I was homeless from then on, more or less.

Now, when I was 22, I met a lady and she had a big two-story house on the other side of town. She was 38. Really, she saved my life, because while I was there I got my first driving license, got my first car, and ended up getting three jobs. I’ve always had jobs, but I’ve never been able to keep a hold on them because of my drinking. I’ve had several cars, I’ve had clothes and stuff. But all those things I gave away because of my addiction.

When I was 23 years old, I was walking through the projects one night with a homeboy of mine. I was drunk, I was smoked out on drugs, and I got to my uncle’s house and I began to cry. I’m real tough and strong, but when I looked in the mirror, my eyes were sunken in my head and I saw death written all over my face. My uncle told me of a place he knew where they help people, and I went over the next day and I discovered Alcoholics Anonymous. I didn’t know anything about it, and this white guy came in and he became my sponsor and took me through my 12 steps. I got clean and sober and I had a real-life spiritual experience. Religion is man showing God what he can do, and spirituality is God showing man what he can do. And there’s karma as well: when you’re doing good, good comes to you; when you’re doing bad, bad comes to you. The journey began there to see this planet.

This story will be continued in our next issue, which comes out on 21 March 2014.

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