Youthful and energetic, Christopher is always among the first to speak out and offer advice and encouragement when other Spare Change News vendors have problems or concerns. I am surprised when he tells me he will be celebrating his 50th birthday this July, and he roars with laughter when I confess I had thought him to be at least a decade younger: “I can show you my credentials,” he jokes. “If you look closely, you can see the gray in my moustache.”
Christopher has few regrets about leaving his youth behind him, and tells me there have been many times in his life when he would not have thought he would reach the age he now is. Born in Alabama, Christopher and his family moved to Boston when he was six months old and, from an early age, Christopher began getting into trouble, “My mother gave me the best of everything, but I was like a kid who just wanted to run wild on the streets. I was a bad child.” By the time he was in his teens, Christopher and his friends were “doing the drugs” and things spiraled swiftly out of control. Christopher got into a lot of fights, suffered multiple stabbings and was shot in the arm when he was 14 years old. He continues to have limited mobility in his left hand due to the severity of his injuries. “The scars on my body say I really should be in the ground, but I’m still alive. I survived it,” he tells me.
After being shot, Christopher “kept on digging deeper and deeper into the negativity.” At 17 years old, he was involved in an armed robbery and served his first jail sentence. After serving part of his sentence in the Charles Street Jail, he was moved to a maximum security unit because of his aggressive behavior. “I was basically a bad-ass kid. I’d fight everything—the administration, the other inmates …” His period of imprisonment failed to motivate him to live a better life, “I basically continued on the same path, and ended up back inside on a parole violation. I didn’t learn nothing. I was still hard-headed, you know.”
Christopher has experienced homelessness through much of his life. “For months straight I slept on Boston Common.” I am surprised when something like fear crosses his face, because he has given me the impression that he was a man who was scared of nothing. “I really don’t like sleeping outside,” he says and pauses before confessing, “I don’t like insects … and I’m not fond of dogs.”
Christopher is not the man he used to be. He attributes that life change to two main formative events. The first occurred one night when he was sitting in his jail cell listening to a bible station on the radio, and he realized the importance of God within his life, “and something started changing then, but it took years and years. Some people can change overnight, but for others, recovery is a lifetime’s process.” The second transformative event occurred during a group therapy session while he was in detox: “I was listening to the teacher and suddenly realized that’s what I’m meant to do. And from that point on, I realized that my gift is to help other people.” Christopher has dedicated the rest of his life to helping others, at least so far.
Shortly after SPARE CHANGE NEWS launched in 1992, Christopher began selling the paper. At the start, he sold the paper because he wanted to make money, but nowadays he is motivated more by the opportunity that his pitch at Park Street station affords him to help other people. He offers advice and support to the local homeless community, and enjoys helping tourists by providing them with directions and local knowledge.
Christopher knows from experience that not everyone is supportive of people selling the paper. Like many other vendors he has experienced verbal abuse and threatening behavior, but advises other vendors to never react, however offensive or abusive the public might be. “Always behave with respect,” he says, “no matter what.”
Christopher’s enthusiasm for life is contagious; he has something positive to say about almost any subject. Christopher plans to write more regularly for SPARE CHANGE NEWS, as well as setting up a website which will help people “become the best that they can be—mentally, physically, spiritually.” Christopher is no longer homeless and he is committed to living a good life where he can practice his ‘gift’ of helping other people. It’s taken him a little while to find out who he is, he tells me, but these days he is “a little older, a little wiser,” and he is making the most of having survived this long.