Day 298 - Daniel (1st person I approached)
October 25, 2014 - I’m sure it’s happened to everyone at some point. You’re approaching a fork in the road, and as you get closer you say to yourself go left, go left, go left. And then you turn right at the last minute? Tonight I had one of those swerves. One block later I saw Daniel. He was taking shelter out of the pouring rain in an alcove in front of a tattoo shop. I saw his shopping buggy first. I watched for a moment as Daniel was taking items out of a black plastic garage bag. He was folding them neatly and making small piles on the sidewalk, which was dry because of an overhang above.
I approached Daniel and said hello to get his attention. It was dark, and with the noise of traffic and the pelting rain, I was sure he wasn’t aware I moving in his direction. He looked up, having heard my greeting. I explained what I was doing and asked if he would be willing to talk to me. He agreed instantly, no hesitation. I asked if he’d let me take a picture.
“Sure,” he said. I asked if he’d remove the large rain hood that he had on when I took his picture. I wanted to see his face, which was almost completely shrouded in the dark shadow of the hood.
“Yeah, that’s fine,” he said. I was about to show him my website, and he told me
“It’s okay bud, you’re good.”
Daniel was born at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, British Columbia (BC).
“My mother was a Mennonite, who never should have married my father. His family came from California to Quesnel during the gold rush. They liked to start trouble. My father was a packrat, and a hillbilly. Came from a family of hillbilly’s,” said Daniel.
“I found out about my father’s family history through reading *Louis L’Amour books, I’ve read everyone of his books. He based all his fictional stories in fact. My father’s family are mentioned by name. They were all hillbilly’s,” said Daniel.
“Growing up, I had one brother, not even a year younger than me. My father was the type of guy that everyone was afraid of. He wanted people to be afraid of him. He was a bully. He used to beat us as kids.” (*Fact Check - see links below.)
The family moved a round a bit, going from New Westminster, to Surrey, then Lac Le Hache (about five hours northeast of Vancouver).
“I got a job working on farm, helping out. I was about thirteen or fourteen. My father suddenly took off to 100 Mile house, leaving us behind in Lac Le Hache. He said he had a line on some property, and wanted to go on ahead, before moving us all up there. We soon discovered the reason he left in such a hurry. Turns out he owed a lot of money and people were starting to come knocking. I was going to school, and at fourteen years old, I didn’t think I should be the one to pay off my father’s debts. I did end up paying one guy, just because he was so persistent. That set me back. Paying a $500 bill of your father’s as a young teenager. Ridiculous,” said Daniel.
“My father had gotten the property near 100 Mile House. It was on just under seventeen acres of land, with a creek running through the lower quarter. I remember we had a group of apparently reputable artists, stop in the lower section of our property, across from the creek. They were squatting and wouldn’t leave. My father would make a point of setting up an oil drum across the creek and beat on it for hours on end,” he told me.
Daniel had made it to Grade eleven in school.
“I had an art teacher, Mr (**Adrian) Messner, who was a well known painter. He was about the only teacher who paid any attention to me. In fact he even gave me a key to the art studio so I could go there myself and work. I used to sell dozens and dozens of year books. but no one ever asked me for the money. I spent it on booze and pot,” he said.
“The last three months that I was in school, I didn’t actually go. I would sit in the park with a bunch of other kids and party every day. Drinking beer and smoking weed. I never went back to that school.” Daniel got a gob working in a chicken processing plant. (**Fact Check - see links below).
Their father beat the brothers until they were too old to beat anymore.
“Then he would pull guns on us. One time, he pulled a 30-30 rifle down off the wall and was aiming it at me back and forth. I guess my brother called the cops. They showed up and got him to put the gun down. They gave him a citation for not having a license for the gun. They didn’t take him away. They left the gun with him. And left me with him and the gun.” Their mother was terrified of their father. Daniel told me,
“My brother was always telling her to leave him. She would tell my brother 'I can’t. He’ll kill me.’”
Daniel and his brother made friends with a guy he describes as ‘bad ass.’
“At first he wanted us to do things like fire a home made cannon at cars as they drove by. He rigged up this thing that you forced ball bearings into, one at a time and then he fired it like a cannon. One time, he loaded it with a ball bearing that was too large. It backfired and hit the guy right between the eyes. It lodged into the skin deeper than the ink of a tattoo goes. He looked like he had a blue splatter of paint between eyes permanently,” he said. This weird guy soon upped the game. They were committing burglaries with him.
“One day he wanted my brother and I to rob a house, but one where the people were home. He figured that way they could tell us where all the valuables were and we’d get more money. I wasn’t having anything to do that,” said Daniel. He and his brother became the crew of the weird guy.
“That’s pretty much how I started out as a career criminal,” he said.
In his twenties, Daniel became addicted to heroin. He got caught committing a burglary, and served the first of eight prison sentences.
“I’ve served six provincial and two federal sentences. I’ve done time in Drumheller (medium security), Matsqui (medium security) and William Head (minimum security). I got caught doing robberies, and burglaries, a couple charges of drug possession. I had a job working in hotel and my buddy worked there too. He wanted to rob the safe in the office of the hotel. He tried to talk me into doing it while the night staff were there. He wanted to go in and tie up the guy after making him open the safe. I wasn’t into doing that. It wasn’t my thing to hurt people physically. I told him no. The next night, I see him putting the office clerk in a choke hold to make him pass out. The guy was fighting back. My buddy saw me and called my name, thinking I’d help him. I went and kicked hard alright, but I was kicking my buddy. What a stupid fuck he was. I went down for that. Even though the office staff member said I came to his rescue, I went back to prison,” said Daniel.
That was his first federal sentence (anything over two years plus a day).
“I decided I wanted to use the time I was serving to do some good, or do what could anyway. I did two semesters of online education with SFU (Simon Fraser University) towards getting my GCE (General Certificate of Eduction). I intended to complete the program online when I was out on the street. I got released and shortly after got caught in a high-speed chase with the cops. They’ve changed the way things go now, but at the time, I was working this game. I’d get a car from a ‘friend’ and I’d go to the wrecking yard and pull old plates off of an old jalopy that was the same make and model of the car I had. The insurance decals were easy enough to remove off cars on the street. that way if the cops ran the plates, it was the same make and model. This time, though, my luck ran out. Back to prison I went,” said Daniel.
“I was serving my second federal sentence, and Harper had just came in to power. (Stephen Harper, Conservative Prime Minister.) He initiated the start of his ‘tough on crime’ mandate. It used to be that after two thirds of your sentence, you could apply for parole. Now you had to do the full sentence. And there was no more post-secondary education either. So I never got my GCED," he said.
When Daniel got out, he decided to try living in Alberta. He had a girlfriend here in Vancouver and she joined him there. They started in Edmonton and then moved on to Calgary, where Daniel got a job working on the Stampede.
“That was a great time. I loved being a part of the stampede,” he said.
He and his girlfriend came back to BC.
“We were living in Chilliwack, and I started dealing drugs. Things kind of coasted along. I spent thirteen and half years with that same girlfriend. She became a crack cocaine addict, and I had to leave. I didn’t want to be getting into anything else like that,” he said. Daniel was beginning to take charge of his life.
“My brother committed suicide. He OD’d by putting a large amount of cocaine in a beer and drinking it. I miss him. I remember in one of my stints in prison, he was there, doing time. Our father had been sentenced to life for murder and had already served eight years. My brother was getting beat up by a couple of guys in his cell. I went in and broke it up. Once these guys heard about who our father was, they laid off,” he said.
"My mother finally ended living with my father when he went to jail. She met a nice man who treats her really well, She's finally getting to live a decent life,” said Daniel.
“My father tried to talk me into telling my mother to wait for him. I never had that conversation with her, and I never told him I would. He could definitely be diagnosed as delusional,” said Daniel, with a bit of laugh.
Although he was now officially labelled a ‘career criminal’, Daniel gave up on crime about ten years ago.
“Just like the saying goes, ‘crime doesn’t pay.’ I didn’t want to live that way anymore. I got into speed (Amphetamine ) and contracted meningitis from sharing a needle. I was in hospital for five months. They told me I almost died,” he said.
Daniel has lived in Vancouver for the last five years.
“I’ve been on a methadone program to beat heroin for a few years now. I was living in an SRO (Single Room Occupancy) hotel for five years. remember I said my old man was apace rat? Well I guess it runs in the family. I like to collect things. Sure my little room had a lot of stuff in it, but it was organized and tidy. I’m not a hoarder or anything. I’ve been seeing my current girlfriend for three years now. She lives in the same SRO. For some reason, the landlord decided he didn’t like me. The City (of Vancouver) sent an order demanding I clean my room out. They hadn’t even seen it. This was all my stuff. I collect things and I share things. I don’t care about material possessions much, except my books. There’s not a room in that place that doesn’t have something in it that once was mine,” he said, with pride.
“I like giving people things.”
Three months ago, the landlord evicted him, without the required notice. He was locked out of the building. The police arrived and made a ‘special allowance’ and let Daniel get into to his room, his home of five years, and ‘take what you can, you’ve got five minutes,’ they said.
“I wasn’t prepared for that, I grabbed all the wrong things, I wasn't thinking about what would happen next. I grabbed all my books. A few days later, my girlfriend saw that they had emptied my room and thrown everything in the dumpster,” said Daniel. He hopes to take legal action, but isn't sure yet who will advocate for him.
“I love this city. People are so kind. I wouldn't do anything other than binning for a job. Have you seen what people throw out? I once found three books, an old stamp collection. Probably some senior who had no one to give it to, and it was thrown out. I got $200 for each book. I bought things for all my friends and for my girlfriend. Plus some vodka for her. She likes her vodka,” he says smiling. I asked Daniel what he would do tonight, being homeless when it’s raining so heavily. He told me he would try to get into a shelter, but first he had to continue working. He had pulled into the alcove where we were talking, and had removed some of his wet clothing and was trying to dry out. That's why he has neatly organized piles of clothes on the ground.
“I was changing my socks and someone that lives near here saw me I guess. He just came out and gave me a couple pairs of socks. People really are so kind,” he said.
I had long gotten what I needed for Daniel’s story but was enjoying chatting with him. We talked for over an hour, about all kinds of different things. A few times I thought we were done and went to say goodbye, and Daniel would start a new topic. I asked him when the last time was, that he had shared with anyone about his life and growing up. He looked down at the ground and thought about it for a bit.
“Hmmm. I really don’t remember.” #notastranger