I met “Clutch” the beginning of October when the air was still warm and many travelers were making plans to get out of Denver before the air turned brisk and cold, much like how it is this morning as I write this post. He came off as tough, a little on edge, due to how the day was pan ning out, but incredibly intelligent and driven. He approached me when he noticed my camera sitting in my lap. We got to talking and he asked if I would take his photo so that he could send it to his family, and let them know he was okay. Of course I jumped at the chance and I began to ask him about his life story.
“I was born in South Carolina and then we moved to Rochester NY near Syracuse, and I lived there until I was 10 years old. But then my Grandfather passed away and we moved down to Florida: my Mom, Dad, two sisters and brother. I lived down there pretty much ever since 1998. My golden years were spent down there. Elementary school, Middle school, High school, well for the time that I was in High School,” he said.
Clutch eventually enrolled in online school and graduated early with a 4.0. Although society typically applauds students who can accomplish school early by labeling them “driven” and bound for success, Clutch believes that due to his early success, he found himself in more trouble.
“I wasn’t really too thrilled with school so I homeschooled myself and finished early. It’s both a curse and a blessing at the same time. I got done with school but I had so much time on my hands, I ended up just ripping and running the streets without any care. I’m kinda doing the same thing now, I’m just a little bit smarter,” he said with a laugh.
Having that much free time, he quickly found himself leading a life that eventually lead right to prison.
“I was put in a juvenile program when I was 17 and then got out a couple years after. But when I was 19 I went to prison for aggravated battery with a weapon for bodily harm and a strong arm robbery. I got set up basically” he said. “I was selling drugs, and there was a dude who wasn’t happy with my services. So he made up a bunch of lies to his wife’s brother who was a sheriff and he got me roped off. I was stupid, young and naive and I spoke too much when the police came to question me about it, I sealed my own fate. I was young and stupid. I’ll be 26 this month, so I’ve done a lot of growing up.”
Although he’s spent a good portion of his young adult life in the prison system, Clutch claims he tried to make the best of his time.
“I got my degree while I was in prison. I went to prison pretty young, I was 19 years old and got out when I was 23, and I tried to make the best of my time. People would get involved in politics and the negatives of prison. I just wanted to work in the kitchen, workout, eat and go to school. I made the best of it. Unfortunately studying horticulture turned out not to be really a lucrative career choice but it made me knowledgable, I’m sure I can use it in a couple different fields of work. Plus I can not just grow my food, but I can tend to livestock too. I can basically generate my own homestead if I wanted to. Plus since I lived in Florida I’ve had a lot of landscaping experience, so I can do all sorts of tree work and construction. I could pretty much build a house from the ground up.”
Although Clutch has had no serious felony trouble since 2010, when I had spoken with him he had just gotten out of jail after spending a month in Salida for driving on a revoked license and not going to court for the ticket, so his next step is to get back home to Florida.
“My whole family is out there…I’ll probably catch a train out of here with some friends or maybe by myself. I’m headed back that direction because that’s where I want to be. Well it’s not really where I want to be, but that’s where I need to be. Get my life back on track ya know, so I can come back out here. I originally came out to Colorado because I was cultivating marijuana and it was really cool and very profitable, kinda thought I’d be able to do it again when I came back out and it just backfired on me. I’m really starting from nothing right now,” he said.
Sox Place is a place where street kids, travelers and gutter punks can be “okay.” It’s a place where they can gather themselves after time in prison or even just a tough day out on the streets, and re-plan their strategy for life. Many times I have seen kids walk in knowing almost no one and be embraced by the community here as one of their own with little to no judgment. I haven’t seen Clutch since that warm October day, so I’m hoping he made it to Florida and has been reunited with his family.
There she was, sitting by the dumpster out by Sox Place holding her stomach and crying. I couldn’t help but have a breaking heart for her and wonder, what is her story? Why is she here, why is she homeless? Kat arrived in Denver last April weighing a healthy 175 Ibs, but as the year has gone on she found herself unable to hold down food and weighing 115 Ibs. She didn’t really realize anything was wrong with her weight until she finally put on clothes that she had worn back in April.
“I didn’t go to the hospital until one day I put on a skirt that I had made, that I wore when I first got here, and it was tight on me. I remember it lookin’ so good, and recently I put it on and I was holding it out in front of me and it fell off me completely. I could feel the bones in my chest and my hip bones. I’ve never felt those before. I’ve always been super healthy and chunky. Everyone on my Facebook thinks I’m on drugs, and they think I’m tweaked out because I’m so skinny. Most of them just say ‘well just eat more, smoke more weed and eat more.’ Everyone gives me all this advice and they have no clue that I throw up every time I eat and it sucks so bad, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” she said.
The twenty five year old traveler was diagnosed with chronic nausea a couple of weeks ago, and has a hard time eating without throwing up.
“It’s gotten so bad to where I really can’t keep my food down, so I have to go to the hospital, they put me on Phenergan drip and let me sleep for four hours so that I’m not nauseous the rest of the day. Then I can get some food in me,” she said.
As a traveler, Kat carries all her belongings on her back, and sleeps outside, and she has felt herself grow weak, and carrying her pack has become more difficult.
“Sometimes I have to leave my pack at Sox Place because I can’t pick my pack up. I pass out all over the place,” she said. “I don’t like hanging out with my friends anymore because I’m always complaining about something. They have to listen to me b**ch about everything. I think they don’t think I’m telling the truth. My boyfriend helps a lot, but he has to take care of both of us,” she said.
Kat wasn’t born homeless, but it did make me wonder, how does someone’s life get to be like this? There’s so many stigmas about homeless kids and travelers, but each person has their own story, just like you and me.
“I grew up in a really small town, where my grandparents raised me. My Dad never moved out of their house but he was a total crack head, all he does is sit around and smoke crack all day and sometimes he could be abusive. Eventually I gave an ultimatum to my grandparents that they either kick him out or I was gonna move out. He kept arguing with my grandma, which is really the only person who cares about me. So I left, and I ended up with this crazy guy who got addicted to coke and I ended up in Savannah at the rainbow gathering, which is a big traveling troop of hippies,” she said.
After a while, Kat got word that her Grandma had fallen into a depression due to her disappearance.
“I went back to my hometown because my grandma thought I was dead. My grandma was really sad and I didn’t like that. My little brother was sitting out on the porch blowing bubbles and when he saw me his eyes got huge and he ran out towards me, and I was like whoa he loves me. My Grandpa wouldn’t let me stay on the property, because I left home. So I was couch hoppin’ and that’s when I got addicted to opanas. I went full force, and got super high and super addicted to opioid’s and did that for two- two and a half years,” she said.
After a couple of years not having a place to sleep Kat got sick of the streets and didn’t want to sleep outside any longer. So she did what she could to get herself off of the streets by dancing.
“I became a stripper because I didn’t want to sleep outside anymore. I noticed all these girls on spring break, and I realized all these girls were flashing their boobs for beads, and I decided that I was gonna go get a hotel for the night. I became a dancer for two years and I got clean off drugs, in the strip club, I got completely clean. Then I met this guy who was a traveler, he was a dirty kid like me. We started hanging out and we were together for five years,” she said.
For the first time in a long time things started to look up for Kat.
“I graduated college as a motorcycle technician and I was doing pin up modeling, I got my picture in a magazine, and me and my boyfriend graduated college. Then we broke up about a year ago. He was really abusive. He got this really nice job and he was making like 50 bucks an hour and I wasn’t doing anything. I got a job at Taco Bell,” she laughed and shook her head. “He just started looking down on me. He was buying new shoes every two weeks because he could. I was in debt to him, his family became my family and if we broke up then I didn’t have a family. It was a weak point in my life, I was really pathetic and always begging. It was really sad. I did that for like five years and then we broke up, and I haven’t seen him for a year,” she said.
With sincerity in her eyes, Kat began to tell me about the sweetest guy she has ever met, who now is her boyfriend.
He’s the nicest boyfriend I’ve ever had in my whole life. He’s a traveler too, he’s got long red dreads, and he’s a squeegee punk, he’s very intelligent. He’s an intellect. He feels like the outcast in his family, since he’s the only one with red hair, but he can play the guitar really really good. We’re gonna go to Key West and get a boat. He cleans car windows at the red lights but he went to jail yesterday for the third time, it’s called aggressive pan handling. The people say no to getting their windows washed, but that’s what’s punk about it. They say no, and he’s like, listen… I’m just gonna clean your window and I’m gonna do it for free. And they’re like “No!” and then they call the cops,” she said.
“Yesterday I realized how much I need him, all my other friends did too. I ended up stuck by the river all day, because I couldn’t pick my pack up. I can’t get my friends to pick my pack up, and one of them got in my face and yelled at me, saying I couldn’t take care of my dogs. I’m just sick and tired. I take really good care of my dogs,” she said with tears welling up in her eyes, “I’m just really sick. I need my boyfriend because he doesn’t mind, he’ll help take care of them, because he’s their daddy. He doesn’t mind helpin’ me move my pack, because he loves me,” she said.
This is only the surface of what this young lady has gone through, but she’s trying her best to stay hopeful for the future. After years of traveling and being on the streets, Kat is ready for something different.
“I just want a place to stay, I would love my own bedroom, and a bathroom, so I can lay in bed. I want to go to Florida, after doing this for ten years, I’m tired of it.”
These are personal stories of kids that we serve at Sox Place. We want to educate the public and our supporters of the types of kids who need us and use our drop in center in Denver, Colorado. If you want to help us keep our building so that we can continue to speak into the lives and love the lost and broken please visit our donate page. We appreciate your support, and so do our kids.
“I don’t know where I am at in my life, I work in the deli. I’m a sandwich slave, I sold my soul to capitalism. I tell myself that it’s worth it because I’m saving up for a hippy van and I want to continue my travels. There is a lot of places in the world I want to see, actually I made a list earlier today, but it’s not done. Yellow Stone National Park is first. I went there when I was a kid, my parents took me and my two sisters on a cross country trip and we stopped there and it was just really beautiful. I remember thinking that it was unreal, except I was seeing it with my eyes, so you know its real, but it’s just so majestic. I want to go back there, now that I am a photographer and I’m older and appreciate nature and natural beauty.”