52 Year old Dyran sat back as if to better focus on the past... “I remember pulling up to Graceland at about age 20, the staff was at the front door and pointed to the side where parking was located,” he told me.Read More
When someone tells you they robbed 17 banks during their prime years… What’s your first thought? I guess mine was – Did you make a lot of money? My second thought… Sure, you can hop in my truck!
My friend Jerry and I were in Nashville when we met 64 year old Frank Webster. He talked about how he once robbed banks for a living while living in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Of course, he only had to get caught once for him to receive a pay cut. Needless to say, getting caught also equals out of work.
Mr. Webster was all smiles and laughs. Hard to believe you could even smile after being in prison for so long and when you finally get released – you are literally an inmate trapped inside your own body.
Mr. Webster was known as inmate 00092428 when he spent the late 1980’s into the 2000’s locked up in West Tennessee. In 2014, he had a stroke while in prison.
After the stroke, Mr. Webster was transferred to the Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility in Nashville. The specialized prison is for those with medical conditions, such as the aftermath of a stroke.
On December 29, 2017, just one day after his 64th birthday, he was released from prison. Finally, he was a free man. This would equal a wakeup call to a brand new world.
Nowhere to go he found himself on the streets of Nashville.
The right side of his body is about 75% paralyzed, so he scoots around on a wheelchair that was given to him. “I don’t have a doctor and I need help with stroke rehab,” he said with a thick mumble due to the stroke affecting his speech.
At night, Webster sleeps at the Nashville Rescue Mission. During the day, he watches cars go by while sitting quietly in his chair.
He pointed down the street suggesting there was a nonprofit he wanted to visit to get advice on where to go for help. It was obvious he could not make it in the wheelchair to 4th Avenue in downtown Nashville. So with a lift into the truck, thanks to Jerry Craddock, we headed towards his destination.
Imagine knowing the King! Even better… tackling the King in football! (Scroll down for audio)
Elvis Presley was almost exactly three years older than Ed Johnson in Memphis, TN. The two were only two grades apart in school. Johnson said that he would play football with Elvis along with other teens in the area.
Elvis attended Humes High School in Memphis. He was part of the 1953 graduating class. Ed described Elvis as just another kid.
Red West, another high schooler from Memphis, was also a friend of Ed’s. Red was one of the tough guys who eventually became the bodyguard of Elvis. In fact, Red taught Ed how to train other bodyguards that surrounded Elvis once he became the icon of Rock N’ Roll.
Ed was eventually drafted into the U.S. Army, about the same time as his buddy Elvis. The 101st Airborne took in Ed who gained his wings to become a parachutist. He was active duty for two years after being drafted, but was in the reserves for another eight years.
Ed will turn 80 on February 15, 2018. He told me that he will go parachuting on his 80th birthday and that will be his new tradition every birthday after.
As for Elvis, he would have turned 83 one month before Ed turns 80 if he were still alive. Who knows, if Elvis were still around he may have parachuted with Ed.
Audio Below: Listen to this short, but interesting interview with Ed Jordan where he remembers his days growing up in Memphis with Elvis. He also talks about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and being drafted into the Army:
"I never expected to be anybody important," - Elvis
He spent 8 years in the U.S. Army and served during the Iraq conflict. He is originally from Dyersburg, TN, but decided to move to Memphis where he was homeless for quite some time while searching for his life, who he was and who he is...
He is now in his own place and doing much better today. He is also looking into his past... He is part Indian and wants to learn more about his family heritage.
"Listen to the wind, it talks. Listen to the silence, it speaks. Listen to your heart, it knows." ~Native American proverb
“My grandfather was born in 1902, I was born in 1963,” he told me while gazing into the distance. His eyes were fogged over as if he had cataracts. “You’re good with dates,” I told him. “Yea, my mom was born in 1932… My dad was 1922,” he continued as if he wanted to show me he remembered more dates that were floating through his head.
I handed him a new coat as the nights had been dropping into the sixties and he quickly placed it under his legs as if to hide it from passerby’s. “Thank you, thank you sir,” he responded.
The coat, along with his new pants and shirts, were given to me by a friend named Amy Morris. I always love handing out items like that, which are new, as I know most never give those who live on the streets brand new clothes. They always cherish them knowing that the coat, pants or whatever it maybe are theirs from the start - it was meant for them.
I asked, “What were your best times growing up in Memphis?” He sat quietly and then said, “Best times were 18, 18 and younger when with mom.” I asked if his mother was still alive and he said, “Think so, think so – I not seen her.” His mother is Ms. Remell Williams and he knew her exact age, “She 85.”
Darrell was on medication for Schizophrenia, but he ran out. He has been off the medication for a number of days if not weeks. “I’m gonna meet Mr. (mumbled name) at the mission. He’s a good man. He's off today, he is with his family on Saturday and Sunday – he gonna help me,” suggesting that Monday he would see this helper at the mission.
“I went to 12th grade, I was in high school,” he proudly stated. I asked if he graduated high school and he said, “Yea, I done 12th grade.”
Darrell attended Central High School in Midtown. The school was built in 1911 and he attended the school from 1977 to 1981. It is the same school that was once attended by the late Kemmons Wilson who founded the Holiday Inn in 1952. Mr. Kemmons built the first hotel at 4925 Summer Avenue in Memphis and now a plaque remains in its location as it was torn down in the late 1990s. The chain now has 1,145 locations.
“My own success was attended by quite a few failures along the way. But, I refused to make the biggest mistake of all: worrying too much about making mistakes.” - Kemmons Wilson (1913-2003)
Life is so fragile and the hurt we may cause to another can easily last a lifetime. That hurt can manifest itself in different ways depending on the past abuse, whatever it may be.
We only live on this planet once and to see those who are hurting, lonely or addicted should be a reminder as we quietly pass them by avoiding eye contact – that we should notice them. Their hurt could have easily been our hurt. Or, perhaps their pain is similar to ours, we just know how to hide it better.
I guess we should all remember that without pain, there could be no joy. Without lies, there would be no truth. Without bad, then what would we label as “Good?”
Life is highlighted with context and contrast and that contrast can be stronger at times.
Take Helen Keller for example, she was both deaf and blind. Can you imagine? However, she saw goodness everywhere with every step. It could be argued that she saw that goodness because she never physically saw the hurt with her own eyes. But, I think the argument could also be made that she never saw or heard the goodness of life, yet felt it always and she never gave up regardless of her limitations. Keller once stated, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”
“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.” - Oscar Wilde
Everything he owns is in his shopping cart. Tonight, he will sleep under the tree standing behind him, near Graceland, home of Elvis in Memphis, TN.
In an area that is called the Delta, he is homeless in Memphis, Tennessee. He told me that he and his girlfriend of 13 years sleep anywhere they can find.
I handed him a pair of new boots and he jumped down on the ground and then rolled over onto his back. He then twisted his legs and feet outward and jumped back up. He announced, “I use to dance on Beale Street.” He told me he is 60-years old, but can still dance with the best.
He said, “They call me the Homeless Preacher,” he then started to preach. Boy did he ever preach. His voice began to change tunes as if he were growing mad. The louder he got the closer he came. As I started to photograph him he got within 7 or 8 inches of my camera lens, so I snapped away.
With a personality bigger than life you may wonder why he is homeless. He told me he has eight felonies and did time in prison. He has been a free man for almost a decade now, but boarded up houses throughout Memphis are his home. I would imagine that he sometimes preaches to a house of solitude that has no windows, only paneling where glass use to be.
I ran across the Homeless Preacher in a less desirable area of downtown Memphis filled with boarded up homes, industrial type buildings, title loan stores and businesses specializing in beer, tobacco and lottery tickets. His housing choices could vary nightly, depending on where he grows tired.
American songwriter Shawn Amos once stated about Memphis, “Memphis is the place where rock was born and Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed. It's full of contradictions, abject poverty, and riches that only music can provide.”
"I live in the mission," he told me with a pause. "I can't get a job because of a felony," he said after walking over to my truck.
When I first saw him, he was standing at the exit ramp of Sam Cooper Blvd. at North Highland Ave. in Memphis. He was holding a small cardboard sign asking for help. "I violated my probation and had to spend another 7-months in jail," he said with slow deep thought.
“A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.” ― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
“What year is it,” he asked me. “2015,” I confidently responded. “The doctor told me I’d live to only year 2000,” he said with a smile and a flick of his cigarette. He then started praising God loudly as he stood under the small bus stop. “God is Good, God is Good,” he was almost singing the phrase as people pumping gas behind him stopped what they were doing to see what was going on.
“I go to church every Sunday,” pointing down the street. “My brother’s the preacher,” he said with a step forward and a tug of his left pant leg. I clicked the shutter and asked, “Why were you not going to make it past year 2000?” He got quiet for a second and then with an outburst, “AIDS, I didn’t use protection and it felt too good to stop.”
I have met so many people living with AIDS over the past three or four years and yet it is still quite misunderstood or looked at as a contagious infection. Former NBA great Magic Johnson once addressed the scare by stating, “You can't get AIDS from a hug or a handshake or a meal with a friend.”
It’s interesting to compare the needs of homeless in one city to another.
I was in Memphis this past Sunday and while handing out coats and boots, only one person needed a tent. The city is so full of vacant homes that nearly every homeless hides away the night in abandoned houses. However, I did not find anyone in boarded up businesses, only shuttered homes. It was almost as if they saw homes as a safe place they could make their own.
This is the face of one of the many men I met in Shelby County. He stood about 6'4" and was wrapped in blankets and coats. He lives about 5 miles from Graceland. When he was asking for money I told him that I do not keep cash with me. He then said, “Have you got any spare credit cards I could use?” The funny part is, I think he was serious. I laughed and replied, “No, I sure don’t.”
“I never expected to be anybody important.” - Elvis Presle
The Drive in that was once a part of a growing Memphis, Tennessee area opened with a single screen in 1958. It is located on Highway 61 and was called the 61 Drive-In. The theater closed down in 1965, but later reopened in 1968 as the Southwest Twin Drive-In with two screens, which was owned by Malco. The drive-in closed for good in 2001.
During the better times, the drive-in saw up to 850 cars per night. It was one of two drive-in’s located in Memphis.
Actor Forest Whitaker stated, “When I was a kid, the only way I saw movies was from the back seat of my family's car at the drive-in.”
Once a vibrant church in Memphis, Tennessee... now a building that is set to be torn down. The chapel in this church has already caved in and a few Sunday school classrooms are left behind. This is one of the few rooms that still survives, barely.
The Memphis First Seventh-day Adventist Church opened this worship center in 1902, as best I can tell. Little information is available today about this structure. The building also served as the Memphis Junior Academy that was operated by the church. The school later moved in 1954 to North Mendenhall Road.
Memphis, Tennessee is ranked as having the second highest crime rate in the United States according to some surveys and number three in others. Regardless of the ranking, life is hard for many.
“How did you get the scar under your right eye,” I asked with curiosity… He looked a little to the side while never letting the grasp of his cigar ease, “When I was in prison in Texas, a man punched me in the eye.” As he continued to tell me the details of the event he said that he did not know it was cut so badly until he went into the bathroom and noticed blood dripping down his face. “The guy then came in the bathroom and apologized saying that he was sorry, he just learned that his mom died,” he explained.
“I went to a federal prison in Beaumont, Texas,” he said with a smile. He told me he was sentenced to 20-years, but only had to serve 8. I asked what for and he said that he was already a convicted felon and was caught driving his mother’s car while armed. He also ran from Memphis Police, wrecking the car he was driving.
He spoke highly of his mother who is now deceased and said, “I told my mom before court to just say that the gun was hers and that I didn’t know it was in the car, but she said she was not going to lie for me.”
As for Beaumont Prison in Beaumont, Texas, he said the federal courts often send convicts there from Tennessee. The prison population totals 2,129 inmates. It is known as a “High Security Penitentiary.”
He told me it is next to impossible to find a job as a felon, but lives in a home with a roommate. He has been out of prison for the past 7 years.
"Two men look out the same prison bars; one sees mud and the other stars." - Beck
“Memphis is too violent for me to stay, I’m not used to that,” he said. “Not only is it violent, they are behind the times,” he said with a smile. As he talked he continued to smile and talk about how he loved to be moving, he loved activity. “In California I worked as a trainer at Golds Gym, I also worked at World Gym.”Read More
“People were f**ckin up Memphis and I didn't want to be in the middle of that. I just stayed in bed and didn’t go to school the day after King was killed. A teenager was even shot by Memphis Police.”Read More
Meet United States Air Force Veteran Horace Renfro. Horace, who lives in a homeless shelter in Memphis, Tennessee, has trouble speaking. He was able to state, “I had an accident that left me unable to say what I am trying to say.”Read More
I met this woman who told me that everyone calls her “Sidewalk Momma” in Memphis, Tennessee on Sunday (3/29/2015). She seemed as if she were in a very big hurry, but had trouble telling me why she could not talk for other than to suggest that she owns the Commercial Appeal newspaper...Read More