Day 364 - Randy (1st person I approached)
December 30, 2014 - I’ve been asked if when I go out, do I target or choose selectively, the people I approach. My answer is no, other than I only approach people who are by themselves, and if it’s dark outside, only on busy streets with other people around. Other than that, it’s whoever, wherever, whenever. Of course, I don’t even know until I’ve chatted with someone if they’ll agree to chat, let me write about their story and take a picture of them. All that considered, the story I get to hear and write about, is really a lucky draw.
I went out early this afternoon, bundled up against the cold, or so I thought. I have no idea how long I might be out looking for the day’s story. I was coming out of the bank, and spotted Randy across the street, sitting on a low concrete wall. I crossed the street and asked him if he would chat with me. I went through all the things on my check list, to ensure he knew what was involved. Randy told me he was just sitting there taking a little break, enjoying the view of the snow capped mountains, and that he’d be happy to chat. I sat next to Randy on that low concrete wall, and we chatted for close to an hour. He was wearing all outdoor adventure-type clothing. I thought he was perhaps a bicycle courier, taking his break. He had on a cycling warm-weather hat, racing glasses, a fleece jacket, running track pants, and runners. He had thermal cycling gloves on as well. And a nice backpack. He told me he had thermal long johns on, and I, did not. Concrete is cold at 2°C.
Randy was born in Aberdeen, Washington (USA).
“I have one brother. There’s only a years difference in age. We’ve always gotten along, and we’ve been good friends all of our lives,” he said of his older brother.
“We lived in the projects of Seattle. Where it was pretty rough. I remember we had someone that my parents paid to walk us to school. I was a pretty small kid, but my brother was a big guy. It seemed he was always getting picked on. A couple of older kids wanted to beat him up, so this much older kid walked us to school and then home after school,” Randy said.
“My parents split up when I was seven. My father was from the states and my mother was from here in Vancouver, so we came here with her. My father stayed in Seattle.”
School wasn’t easy for Randy.
“I didn’t have any problems with the move. At that age it’s more exciting than anything else. By the age of about ten or eleven, I was hanging out with what you’d call the ‘bad kids’ I guess, even though we were all young. We lived in the Raymur Projects, another rough part of town. I started skipping classes, and smoking cigarettes. By the age of twelve I was drinking and trying pot,” he said.
“There wasn’t a hard set of rules at home, not much discipline and no father figure. My uncles, they were all into sports and active. They kinda did what they could to guide me. I got into playing Little League Baseball when I was twelve. That kept me outta trouble for a couple of years. I really liked the game, and the team and what have you. I was still skipping school, but I wasn’t spending so much time with the ‘bad kids’ anymore,” he said.
“I stopped playing after Junior Little league.”
With no sport focus, Randy found himself getting into trouble again.
“I was skipping a lot of school, back hanging with the wrong kids again, and started getting into street fights. I did my first B&E (break and enter) when I was fourteen. We broke into my school. There was a window open, so we didn’t technically break in, but we did enter. All the other kids grabbed whatever they were taking. I stole an eraser and two pen refills. When we climbed out the window, the cops were there waiting for us,” he said. That would be the first of many run in’s with the police for Randy.
“My mother really didn’t like the fact that I was getting into street fights. I figure she saw where it was going, and that wasn’t a good place. So she took my brother and I to a local boxing club and enrolled us in boxing. She redirected that energy. Apparently I was a natural at it,” he said. By the time he was fifteen years old, Randy was a national champion in his age and weight category.
“I was one of the fastest to work up to champion. I won that on my twentieth fight.” The street fighting stopped, but Randy continued with petty crimes.
“I quit school in Grade ten. I did some B&E’s, but mostly I was shoplifting. I got caught a number of times, and the police were involved. I was starting to get a record,” he said.
“I didn’t know this but my probation officer was a former boxer. Jack Duke, he’s pretty well known in the Vancouver boxing scene. He was a partner at the Astoria Boxing Club. Jack took me under his wing and helped me with the training,” he told me.
At seventeen, during a fight, Randy took a particularly hard hit to his left eye.
“I was still standing but I got real wobbly. I told my corner guy, the coach, that I was seeing double and asked what I should do. He said ‘Hit both guys’ and the fight continued. I had to give up boxing after that, I had a damaged muscle in my eye and my vision has been off ever since then,” he said.
“I went through Youth Training Program, and they asked what I wanted to do. I said I was interested in auto mechanics. I got an introduction to auto-body work, and really liked that. I went to a community college and got my Grade ten classes upgraded. That allowed me to take an auto-body course. It was about three months long. Even with that, something I wanted, I still missed some classes, got drunk and then didn’t go because I was hung-over. I was also using crack cocaine by then,” he said.
“I was what I’d say a functioning drug user. I was getting high, but still managing to sort of keep things going.” Randy tried going back to boxing a number of times over the next five years.
"I had issues staying in my weight category, so I'd starve myself to meet weigh-in, but I'd have no energy to fight."
Randy got work in a good auto-body shop and held that job for three years.
“I was doing ok, and holding it together alright,” he said. Eventually though, the drugs took over.
“It came to making a decision. I was spending all of my money on drugs, and missing work. I was living with my brother and was letting him down. I had to decide between working or drugs. I chose drugs, and quit my job,” he said.
“I spent the next ten years, practically every day in the alleys and streets of the downtown Eastside," he told me. The DTES is an area noted for a high incidence of poverty, drug use and addiction. There's a higher than average percentage of mental health issues amongst the housed and homeless residents of the DTES.
"I’d go back to trying to work every now and again. That same shop that I worked at for three years, he took me back five times. But the drugs always came first,” he said. Randy told me that the reason the guy took him back was because he was so good at what he did. We talked about it more likely being because the guy believed in and cared for Randy. I mentioned that I didn’t think any boss would put up with that kind of strife just because someone was good at the job. “I’ve always tried to be a nice person. I might live a life of crime, but I’ve never hurt anyone. I don’t break into people's homes, or steal things from people, like wallets or bags or anything. I shoplift booze. That’s what almost every charge against me has been for. Other charges are for breach of conditions or probation, drinking and using. I wouldn’t hurt anyone, ever. I’m good enough at hurting myself, I don’t need to hurt anyone else,” he said.
“I just got out of jail. Three weeks ago today as a matter of fact,” he said. Randy had accumulated a number of charges against him. It wasn’t the first time he’s been in jail, but it was the longest. “I was in for three-and-a-half months. I could have gotten a year-and-a-half. There’s been other times where I’ve gone through the drug court. In lieu of jail time, you go to a treatment centre, or a detox. I’ve done that a few times. But I never seem to be able to stay clean. Four months is the longest I’ve been clean in the last twenty years,” he told me.
Randy spends as much as $200 in a day on crack cocaine.
“I used this morning already,” he told me. For Randy, as someone who has used hard drugs for that long, if he doesn’t use daily, he’s not able to function. Nor does that first hit get him high. It’s maintenance. The entire time we chatted, he was funny, polite, and made good eye contact. He was very engaging and laughed a lot. There was nothing about his behaviour that told me Randy was using any drugs, other than the coffee he was drinking. I was more jumped up on caffeine than he was.
“I’m gonna try to make changes now. After doing this stretch for almost four months in jail. It’s time. I just have to make the leap. I need to find a job, and of course right now, since coming out of jail, no one is hiring in December. I just need to find a place that I can get consistent with. And work at getting off the drugs,” he said. There was so much that we talked about in that hour. He's living with his brother again.
Randy told me about one auto-body shop he had worked in.
"They let a few things slide, because I am good at what I do. I have a system and I produce very high quality work. Then one day, the woman who ran the office told me she was really sorry, but that they would have to let me go. I understood. She told me ‘the quality isn’t there anymore,’ and that’s all she said. I knew that she didn’t mean the quality of my work. It was my own personal quality that was gone. I still have hope. I’m a true fighter. If you’re not a real fighter, you give up. I’m not giving up. I’ve got hope that I can beat this.” #notastranger