In the West Coast area, much like New York on the East, thousands of homeless live in the underground tunnels of the city they call home. The tunnels were made to transport flood waters away from the population to prevent death and destruction. However, the same tunnels used to prevent death can also cause death.Read More
Dave Walker lives in his van in Murfreesboro, TN near Nashville. In this 10 minute he talks about some of the things he has seen or heard in the past 8 months.Read More
Animals of all sizes walk where they want to walk. From the nicer restaurants in town where you find dogs inside, to the mom and pop locations in the farmland - animals are everywhere.Read More
The late Fidel Castro banned imports of vehicles in 1959. Cuba doesn't have an auto manufacturer, so the cars that were imported in the 50's were there to stay. The communist leader also banned the import of car parts, according to the "Independent UK Newspaper."Read More
The sun falling on downtown Havana showed the true Cuban dream of success had washed away into the Caribbean years ago. An area that was alive with music, families and more in the 1940's and 50's is decaying as if it was struck by a curse in 2000's.Read More
I always find it so intriguing how others have all the answers on what to do, right from wrong, how you should feel vs. how you really feel, etc. I wonder how so many people know so much about others?
He was standing quietly against a wall of windows, barely audible as he asked those who smirked past him, “Do you have any change?” I failed to see even one person stop to simply ask why he needed the money.
If anyone did ask, they would learn the elderly gentleman has a place to stay, but his entire social security check went to the monthly cost. He had no money to eat. It was that simple... money to eat.
If you asked a passerby one might state, “That's what his food stamp or EBT card is for.” Then, the senior citizen might reply, “But, $15 is not enough to eat more than four meals on - if I shop for the most valuable deals.” Of course, that is only if he has a card.
It is to easy to assume you have the answers to the problems, the life obstacles, the aliments or the cures for another until you live their life both the past and the present. But, make sure you are able to stomach their past.
Camera in Hand: When you approach a total stranger with a camera in hand, they never know what to expect. The “Why my photo” is usually the first thought that comes to mind. I often wonder if the person I photograph at first feels anger in the their thought of – “He is going to take my picture to be mean.” If so, it is interesting to watch their expression change as we begin to talk. Frame by frame you can see their 43 facial muscles relax. It is as if a relief falls over their fear.
It has Happened: Before I ever had a chance to talk I have had cold coffee thrown at me. Luckily, I stepped back before I was hit by the flying liquid. One time I had a man take a swing at me after assuming I thought he was from Mexico as opposed to Puerto Rico – even though I never said a single word to him and was actually photographing someone else. Regardless, he missed and I smiled as I told him to have a good day. I have been cussed at – one “F” word after the other. In that case, I later served the man lunch while volunteering at a day shelter in Washington, DC.
It seems as if 99% of the time, most of those that I meet on the street leave with a smile and an urge to share their story with others. Those who don’t want to talk – don’t. That does not mean I don’t leave them with a sleeping bag or another item that is needed to survive. It just means that we don’t use the camera and their story remains locked up tight inside their vault.
Sometimes we see things that we think are in front of us because our mind is telling our eyes what to believe.
However, we are often wrong when we judge a person for the clothing they wear, the place they call home or even the children they raise.
What we think we may see of the shaggy clothes that drape from a mans body are perhaps the only clothing he has. In seeing those tattered rags, we may come to the conclusion that he is on drugs, an alcoholic or mentally mad. While all three of those ideas could be 100% spot on, do you ever ask what caused such?
If we stop to find out what caused madness and / or addiction and recognize them as symptoms as opposed to the main problem - then we start to understand more and see a much larger picture. Then... our eyes become focused as our imagination takes a pause.
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.
If you saw her today, you would never know of her past that holds a brutal memory.
“He was a body builder,” she told me in describing her college sweetheart. Little did she know there was a monster behind his eyes.
After a few months of dating, she noticed John’s temper would easily flair. Sometimes he would jerk her around by her hair or grab her arm. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for Anne Henslee to decide that she needed to end the relationship.
After the breakup and fresh out of college, she returned to her apartment one night to find that John was waiting for her. Henslee stated, “He was hiding in the bushes and jumped out of the bushes and grabbed my key’s out of my hand - - he took me into my apartment and beat me up all night long… raped me.”
The attack occurred in Knoxville, Tennessee where she attended college in the 1970’s. Back then, such incidents were not taken as serious as they are today. Too many times the victim would be blamed by police for playing a role in the rape or domestic violence case. Therefore, Henslee never filed charges against John. However, a woman involved in a later relationship with the man did file charges after she was raped. John was eventually found guilty in that case and was sentenced to prison.
Today, Henslee shares her story with middle school and high school students in an effort to educate children before such relationships can lead to abuse or sexual assault.
This is Anne Henslee’s story (Below):
Domestic Violence Hands Project:
Rutherford County, Tenn. Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Center was awarded a grant from Tennessee Arts Commission and Arts Build Communities (ABC) for "These Hands - Hope and Healing," a photographic journal project that showcases domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.
The Tennessee Arts Commission's mission is to cultivate the arts for the benefit of all Tennesseans and their communities. They invest in over 600 nonprofits and schools impacting communities in many positive ways including quality of life, economic development, and tourism.
These Hands photographic project gives a confidential voice to the survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault through their hands and their story. With domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, it is so often the hands that inflict the most hurt, violence, and trauma. We are conveying strength, hope, and recovery through our photographic story.
"The harrowing, real-life stories of domestic violence and sexual assault can be difficult to share with our community because the protection of these people is critical, to say the least," said Kara Mischke, Community Relations Manager with Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Center. "This photographic journal project is truly going to allow others to connect with these real stories on a whole new level. Art is powerful. Art is healing."
Participating survivor's stories and hands will be unveiled in partnership with the talented photographer, blogger, and radio personality, Scott Walker - www.smalltownbigworld.org. Our story is that hands are for so much more that is positive and good. Hands are for healing, helping, loving, holding, and most of all caring and empowering those around us to make our world a better place.
On February 14, 2018, I sat in my car in the pouring down rain as I focused on a man who refused to give up hope. At all costs, he was going to fight a disease he had been diagnosed with a little over ten years ago as if he were in the ring with Muhammad Ali.
Jason Neely grew up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He was into sports, adventure and fun just like any teen. But, things slowed drastically by age 32. He even contemplated suicide.
Neely, who is 43 years old today, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at age 32. Despite the lifelong problem, he is encouraging others to never give up.
Hear the full 13 minute interview below:
Above: Photos taken during Jason's brain surgery in 2013.
Need more information? Visit the Vanderbilt Parkinson's Disease Center by clicking here.
Perhaps you have seen Thomas Bauguess outside between Walmart and the Stones River Mall in Murfreesboro, TN. He sits on a small bucket with two prosthetic legs.
Thomas who is homeless, says that he lost his legs in Iraq while working as a contractor for the government and because he was not actually in the military, he does not receive help from the VA. Instead, he receives a basic disability check. However, the check is not enough to receive approval for an apartment or trailer.
Some have made fun of Thomas suggesting that he goes home each night to a well-lit house.
One person even made a video of him waking up in the morning. That video was then placed on Facebook where multiple persons made comments that hurt both Thomas and his wife.
Thomas owns two trucks that were given to him after his aunt passed away. While the trucks maybe a distraction for those passing by, Thomas calls them a blessing because he is able to sleep in them to stay warm.
Right now, Thomas and his wife simply need a rental home or apartment. That being said, if someone is willing to rent to them he says that he will not have any problem making the monthly payment and he will be an excellent tenant.
In life, we can’t always look, feel or be perfect. In fact, it is impossible.
Sometimes we lose our friends or our loved ones and we feel buried as if we are the ones lost.
30 Year old Kimberly Lee and her family are about to lose their apartment in Murfreesboro, TN. Needless to say, she is having a tough time.
In September of 2017 she learned that she has cervical cancer. Doctors told her that she needed to be on medication and have surgery, but to date neither of the two have occurred. Kimberly explained, “It’s so expensive to get help, so I’m not dealing with it.”
She has insurance, but the co-pay is too high for her to make ends meet and pay for the treatment she needs. I asked, “Can you tell it is getting worst,” talking about the cancer. She said, “I can, because when I lay in bed at night – when I lay down – it gets worse and I cramp… everything’s just changing in my body (tears).”
She talked of her childhood and said that she was born into this world as an alcoholic with fetal alcohol syndrome. At age 14 Kimberly and her six siblings were placed into the Tennessee Foster Care system. By 15, she turned to alcohol and eventually aged out of the system only to learn how to live life on her own at 18.
Life was not easy and by 24 she was pregnant with her first child. The following years grew harder and she told me the father of her children abused her . One time was described as a living hell… “He held me down in the garage during the winter and I was naked as he poured cold water on me.” She said there were worse things that she went through as well while swallowing tears.
Twice she went through rehabilitation for addiction, but she failed to address childhood trauma and abuse as an adult. Her past likely has a direct link to her stress, depression and anxiety today.
Most recently, that anxiety got the best of her. Explaining, Kimberly stated, “I actually just got out of the hospital three days ago from having a bunch of mental breakdowns and I went and turned myself in to TrustPoint down here and I stayed for a whole week.”
Her husband is working extremely hard each day at Nissan to make ends meet, but past medical bills, rehab, apartment rent, utilities and now a repossessed car have taken quite the toll on them. Kimberly said her husband is now paying to get rides into work each day because they lost their car. To add stress to them, an apartment eviction may leave them on the streets while searching for a new place to rent. They have to be out on Sunday (2/4/18).
Currently, her children are staying with a relative in Nashville. Remember, she does not have parents to call on for help like most of us do as she was placed into the foster care system by age 14. Her stepson in high school remains in school locally as the younger children are too young for school and are 6 or under.
I asked what people can do to help and she said, “You know what, I don’t know – I don’t have an answer for that because I don’t really get help… I don’t get help from nobody.”
Listen to the interview below:
Helping Kimberly and her family:
I had a few ideas of what could be done so I contacted a friend of mine who is a local pastor. He called some friends and now they have the money to make a deposit on a new apartment – if they can get approved for an apartment. I asked if I could name the folks who helped and with a laugh my friend responded, “Sure, tell them a bunch of folks that love Jesus and love how to believe wide open helped!”
I then turned to another friend to get help for treating her cancer, which she shared medical records with me to verify the damage that was found about 5 months ago. The friend I shared that information with just happens to have the exact same OBGYN. But, we don’t have an answer yet on IF medical help is available for her – However I hope to have information on that soon.
Counseling is something else that is needed, which I think I already have someone to call on who will be more than happy to help in a major way.
What can you offer?
- Confirmed help with cervical cancer – Keep in mind she has insurance through Blue Cross, but no money for co-pay. So, do you know of a medical group willing to help?
- Gift cards for grocery visits or restaurants would be positive.
So… there I was in downtown LasVegas and there he was, propped up against a trash can unable to stand. I bent down to speak with him and he said, “You know why I don’t shave anymore (slight laugh), because I can’t stand tall enough to see the mirror.”
His wife was in his wheelchair about 10 feet away. She was not asking for money, just a loan cigarette. She was in the chair to rest as she is usually on foot all day as the two are homeless.
Both of his legs were amputated due to extensive cardiovascular disease. In some cases doctors are able to move veins from one location to another in order to allow for better blood flow. In other cases, that is not possible.
Sometimes it is not possible due to costs so amputation is done as a last resort on a visit to the emergency room. Other times, grants are available for those without insurance to have such surgeries completed - if it is caught in time. I do not know what occurred in this case, nor did I ask as it was in the past.
Author Shannon L. Alder once said, “Before you call yourself a Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu or any other theology, learn to be human first.” Interesting statement. While those beliefs named are nowhere similar to one another all have one item in common. Humans follow those religions.
If we could only see through titles and learn to talk to others suffering. Listen to others going through struggles - then perhaps harmony would be easier. Life may even be easier for this man without legs because more would stop with ideas on ways to help. Maybe those with different religions would then work to put ideas into action.
Everyone passed her by, most refusing to make eye contact. “Sir, have you got a cigarette,” she asked one man as he shook his head and continued. “Ma’am, do you have a smoke,” she asked a woman who refused to even acknowledge someone spoke to her. Never asking for money, she only wanted to continue her love affair with nicotine.
“We lived in Las Vegas back in 1978 and left… but we came back in the mid 90’s,” she told me while sitting in her husband’s wheelchair. “This is his,” she explained while pointing to a man sitting upright against a trash can. The woman then stated, “He has no legs – lost them both due to cardiovascular disease.”
I asked her what the dried blood on her forehead was from. “I tripped and fell, busted my head wide open. No one helped me, but the paramedics,” as she went into detail she talked about the ten stitches under her cap and how she spent 15 hours in the hospital.
Why do so many turn away from unpleasant, sad or dirty? Why do some refuse to take it all in as an effort to learn what others go through? Why does a mother or father not stop and talk when being spoken to as a way to teach a child courtesy should be offered to everyone until proven wrong. Then, perhaps courtesy should be offered again and even again.
“To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.” ― Stephen R. Covey (1932-2012). Dr. Covey died 5.5 hours away from where this woman sat quietly on the streets of Las Vegas. It was a bicycle accident that took the life of Dr. Covey at the age of 80 in Provo, Utah.
He sat quietly with his dog on a bridge over the bustling Las Vegas strip. Alone. His hat sat in front of his knee in hopes of those passing would drop a dollar to help him survive.
“I use to play professional poker,” he told me. As our conversation continued I realized it was not the poker that he lost to.
It was an accident that sent him to the hospital with a back injury. He then almost whispered as he told me that he was prescribed painkillers that he quickly grew addicted to. When the prescriptions ran out, the heroin began.
Methadone is his next step in life as he aims to get off of the heroin.
Why do some grow addicted to drugs and alcohol while some do not? I do not know, but I can guess. That guess would be a previous trauma long before the injury.
The traumas could be any number of pains in life, from domestic violence to war. From child abuse to sex abuse. From witnessing a loved one murdered to watching a friend die a painful death. We all have our own trauma that we learn to medicate without proper help.
Once that medication wears off, the pain comes back greater than before. More detailed than first remembered. More real than reality.
She shares only a bedroom with a local resident, but you would think she has a palace. When she describes that room, her eyes light up like a child inside a candy store for the first time.
Previously living on the streets of what some call “Sin City,” she has a special appreciation for clean sheets and a pillow to rest her head on at night.
It is interesting... Today we can look around while standing in a crowd of 1,000 at a large church and see smiling faces from every walk of life wearing their Sunday best. But inside, we are unable to tell what they hide.
Some of those that you see daily have a past that is more painful than your past. Some are struggling with current pain that is undeniably ugly, dark and scary… but they hide it in public to an extent that you would never know. I am not talking about their sins that they participate in outside of the church walls, I am talking about pains thrown at them.
American actor Will Smith once stated, “Never underestimate the pain of a person, because in all honesty, everyone is struggling. Some people are better at hiding it than others.” Truer words have never been spoken.
Everything looks a little more faded in the winter. The sun appears a little whiter as opposed to yellow or orange. Leaves from trees are almost a shade of gray painted with touches of brown.
Some think only third world countries live in total filth on mounds of trash… but. that would be a mistake to believe such. In fact, most third world countries are far cleaner than this homeless camp located in Nashville, Tennessee.
“Clean up your camp or leave,” the government authorities say without understanding. Who would not give such orders after seeing such a mess? Living in such scattered throw-outs does not make sense. Of course it fails to meet any logical explanation – only because there is not one.
Those with non-imaginable mental illnesses find themselves unable to muster the energy, the know how to search for a place to dump trash, so some live among the debris, the clutter and even the human waste.
"That is what madness is, isn’t it? All the wheels fly off the bus and things don’t make sense any more. Or rather, they do, but it’s not a kind of sense anyone else can understand."
—Audrey Niffenegger, Columbia College, writer