Five people with three from Tennessee, one from New York and one from Colorado... One question asked: "What is the first thought into your head when you hear the words Racial Tension?”
Cold rainy nights on the street… a large moving blanket was the only warmth.
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.
Hands of a Domestic Violence survivor. She wrote:
“My children saw them first. "How did you get those bruises, Mom?" I looked in the mirror and saw the ring of dark splotches around my upper arms, fingerprints from where he'd grabbed and shaken me the night before. But, he didn't hit me.
My head was often tender from being banged against a wall.
My hip sported a large bruise and it hurt to walk after he shoved me hard to the ground.
My back bled from a cut I received during a struggle. But, I told myself, it was just a small cut.
During sex, he choked me and made me do things I was ashamed of. I was scared; I fought him; it did not matter; he did not stop.
But he wasn't violent, right? He didn't hit me.
My husband's rages occurred multiple times a week, sometimes during the day, usually at night, and lasted for hours. His nose would touch mine as he screamed profanities in my face. He threw things, punched walls, and spit on me. These were his favorite things to say: I was worthless garbage, a whore, a waste, a piece of trash, so terrible in bed that no man would ever want to touch me, a c-nt. My husband told me that I was such a nightmare he'd have to kill himself to get away from me. Then, as I began to grow depressed, he worked on convincing me I needed to kill my own self. I will never forget the first time he looked me straight in the eye and very calmly and matter-of-factly stated, "Why are you still breathing? You're nothing but trash. You should be dead. You need to go kill yourself." As this went on, I began to believe him until it became absolute truth in my mind. I should be dead.
In a 2-3 year period, I went from being happy and healthy to suicidal and extremely ill. I rarely slept, vomited up most of my meals, lost weight, and had no strength. I was forced into a medical leave from work, and my doctor banned me from any form of exercise as my body needed every bit of energy to keep alive. I had been a runner, a dancer, an outdoor enthusiast. I was now a shell, someone God never intended me to be.
I don't know that I ever would have left him on my own. I did not recognize the violence for what it was, and I was too ashamed to tell anyone what was going on. It took a gun-related incident to finally end it. I had no idea how physically and emotionally sick I had gotten until he was out of my life. The suicidal thoughts vanished. I am now sleeping, eating, and not throwing up. I've gained weight. My health is slowly coming back. Recently I was able to lace up my shoes and go running again. My kids and I have peace. I laugh, and I laugh, and I laugh. I am filled with the joy of the Lord, for I am now free!”
Before I left she told me that she spent many nights sleeping or hiding in the bushes next to the entrance of her middle class neighborhood. Other nights, she would sleep in her car while parked in a well-lit parking lot.
Like trees, we continue to grow despite the struggles we face in life. The same is true for those who are victims of domestic violence. Once the violence is in your past, you can continue growing in a positive way.
This is a photo that captures the hands of an anonymous domestic violence survivor in Middle Tennessee.
Former Social Worker Alice Walker once wrote, "In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they're still beautiful."
Walker, who worked as a social worker in the 1960's, took part in the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi. She also won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for her 1982 novel entitled, "The Color Purple."
Her past Domestic Violence... She wrote:
“Hands are so important. You see, they can teach us love and compassion or total fear.
I have used my hands to care for the sick and elderly for 28 years in nursing as a tech. I know what kindness looks like when you care for someone.
What I did not realize was for 13 years I had not shown myself kindness. I did finally one day no longer desire to live in abuse and I remember using my hands to pack my kids clothes and toys, turn off location devices and drive to a shelter. This was new and I deserved peace away from the abuse.
Abuse is not love nor is tolerance to abuse. Please love yourself by no longer allowing abuse in your life or others’ lives.”
Her hands, which have always been used to serve others, were busily making spaghetti. However, those same hands have been used in an attempt to block punches from her former husband. Those hands were used to open a prescription pill bottle in an attempt to end the suffering during an eight hour ordeal that started on a drive home.
After she downed the prescription pills in an effort to numb or end the physical pain, her husband yelled that if she died while he was hitting her, no one would find her body.
Looking back to December of 2016, the same man traded his wife for crack cocaine. He then got angry at her for his actions, which was when a beating that lasted for eight hours occurred.
During those eight hours she was punched in the face and chunks of her hair were pulled out. The incident started on the roadway leaving the man’s home where her husband pawned her off. She was beat on the side of the road until a truck driver stopped to offer the couple a ride as they were out of gas. The truck driver failed to realize that the husband was doing the beating.
She wrote, “A truck driver picked us up to get gas and he told the truck driver he picked me up because I got beat up, our 4 year old witnessed most of what happened. At one point he cried and his dad told him he better shut up or he will do the same to him. We finally got home and he knocked me around the bathroom. I was lying on the floor and he kicked me in my face. I tried killing myself by downing some pills. The last thing I remember before passing out was him choking me.”
She closed with, “Now I know that if you get hit once, get out.”
Rain or shine she stands outside on a busy street corner seeking funds to pay for food and sometimes a motel room. But, today her sign is different. Her sign today noted that it is her birthday.
His home is a tent layered in tarps. Inside, a small battery operated radio so that he can listen to sports broadcasts.
His campsite is in a small wooded area within eyesight of a government building that serves the less fortunate in the community.
"It's the terror of knowing
What the world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming - Let me out"
-Queen and David Bowie
She stands about 5 feet tall and is layered in clothing with her best on the outside. She is one of the many seniors in Nashville, Tennessee who should not have to be on the streets.
Because she is diabetic, she has a hard time walking as her feet and legs are often swollen in pain. Today, I found her sitting alone in the rain at a Metro bus stop.
In the past, I have run into her throughout the city arguing with herself about how people hurt her or steal from her.
“Love, care and treasure the elderly people in the society.”
― Lailah Gifty Akita, Pearls of Wisdom: Great mind
He is currently living on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee in search of work.
My friend Joel Vernon and I handed Ms. Sheila a new sleeping bag in downtown Nashville and her response was nothing less than joyful. She held the bag in front of her and said, “A new sleeping bag for me? I got a new sleeping bag? This is for me?!?!”
She spoke as if she had to really concentrate on the words that came from her mouth. She spoke as if she had a disability from the past that tied her to the streets. However, she spoke with a happiness that can't be put into words.
After talking more with Sheila, she said that her birthday falls on Christmas Eve and she will turn 55 this year. I asked what she would like for her birthday or for Christmas and she said, “Some money so I can get a new outfit.” She smiled and pointed at her throw, “I got this for $4!” As she pointed, I could hear the sound of bells. Tied around her wrist were Christmas Jingle Bells that she told me she bought at the nearby Dollar General Store.
Perhaps instead of money, someone would like to stop by and give her a new outfit. I am not certain of her size, but I am positive she will tell you.
She sits at the intersection of Dederick Street and 5th Avenue North on the edge of the St. Mary’s Catholic Church parking lot. She said that she plans to be there on Christmas Eve too.
"Seven out of 10 Americans are one paycheck away from being homeless." - Pras Michel, record producer, songwriter and actor
He was sitting in the Sunday drizzle on a street side bench in Nashville.
He said to me, “My friend hopped trains and he taught me how to do it… One time I rode a train from Florida to California.” He smiled and talked about how the trip was a once in a lifetime experience.
Looking up towards the sky as if he were remembering the later leg of his journey from Los Angeles to Tennessee he said, “When I got to Nashville, I almost hit a phone poll while jumping off - I will never ride again.”
Today he is homeless, but has a new sleeping bag to stay warm thanks to the donations received to purchase bags.
“Nobody has a perfect past, but everyone has a clear future. It is up to us to take control and become pioneers of tomorrow. Its never too late to jump off your train and head down a different track.” – Kemmy Nola, blogger in the United Kingdom
What does poverty look like to you?
“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.” ― Mother Teresa, A Simple Path: Mother Teresa
“This was my mother’s car, she bought it new in 1974,” he told me. He then went on to state, “When I drive it, I leave the hood partially open to keep the engine cool.” As we continued to talk about the Cadillac, he told me that he has had many offers on it, but refuses to sell it.
His hair blew in the wind as he cussed at those who walked by. One woman flipped him off as she stumbled past him after what looked to be a day of drinking for her and a friend. Another woman nearly walked into the street to avoid close contact with him. It was as if they feared him like one would have feared the Bubonic Plague between the years of 1000 and 1352. During those years, 340 million people died of the plague (The Black Death).
However, I knew him and knew that he was not going to harm anyone. I walked up to him while sitting down and quietly asked, “How are you today?” He smiled, “I’m good, how are you?” His attitude changed drastically as we talked and he calmed down as if everything was perfectly fine.
“Have you seen your friend Kristin lately,” I asked him knowing that she talks to him whenever she is in town. “She was here a couple of weeks ago, but she moved away,” he told me. He then started talking about her and the pictures she took of him while under the bridge where he goes weekly for food and a warm meal thanks to the Nashville Bridge Ministry.
Kristin is one of the many volunteers who have helped to make The Bridge Ministry a success in Nashville, TN. Those who volunteer meet under the Jefferson Street Bridge on Tuesday evenings.
“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” - Mother Teresa
Love among those who are homeless is just as real as love among everyone else in this fast paced world. While it sounds somewhat ignorant to make such a statement, I think people often look at those standing on the corner and assume they are incapable of forming a loving relationship.
Two things can be said of this photo that involves two homeless individuals embracing one another outside of a local soup kitchen. One, they are in love and two, while they may not fully understand it, their natural human touch keeps them going.
Psychologist in France once researched the positive side effects of the simple, non-sexual human touch. The results were awakening.
The research found that the more humans touched each other, from a pat on the back to shaking a hand, the less violent they were towards one another. The basic touch built trust. The human touch in communities that worked with one another, had more positive economic gains, decreased disease and stronger immune systems.
Daniel Keltner, the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley says, "In recent years, a wave of studies has documented some incredible emotional and physical health benefits that come from touch. This research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health."
Homeless, but smiling and always a positive conversation.
“God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes
'Cause then you really might know what it's like to sing the blues
Then you really might know what it's like” – Everlast, What It’s Like
Seldom can you actually see the drummer in bands. I think I know why in some cases. You never know what the drummer is wearing from the waist down… until you go behind the band.
"Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society." - Mark Twain
He was holding a cardboard sign that read, “Homeless Need Help, Thank – You, God – Bless.”