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.
Two of our good train-riding friends, Face and Milenia, share how Sox Place has impacted them during the time they have spent here in Denver. Train riders are often seen as dirty and lazy, but we see them differently. Our hope is to be able to share the Father’s love with every single individual that walks through our doors, regardless of how other people have treated them.
When you met me back in 2008 I was really lost. I didn’t know how to live or how to think for myself, and I had a bad problem with drugs. I didn’t think I did at the time, but we all need somebody to open our eyes every once in a while.
Well, I left two years ago to try to find a better life for my family, or so I thought. But I realized that what I really needed was solitude. I had to get away from everybody and find myself. I had to break away from all the partying and the drinking. It was really hard to separate myself from everything and everybody, but I realized that I needed to. I began to travel to find new places to establish my business, but I always seemed to be late getting there — the insurance was too high, the permit was too expensive, or they didn’t allow open-air venting. Every time I got close, it was like God took it away from me and told me I wasn’t ready for it. I would get so depressed and sad because I felt like I let myself and my daughter’s mother down.
By this time, I had control of my drinking and I wasn’t dependent on it anymore. I realized that I just needed to fix myself and change they way I thought. I had to overcome my ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ (as I like to call it). I realized that I wasn’t a street kid anymore. It can be difficult to overcome the street life when the street life is all you know. You don’t see yourself and your problems. You think everything is normal and that you can still live the same lifestyle and have a good life. But I realized that I was wrong.
Not much later, my daughter was born. I was still stuck in my old ways for the first two years of her life. Her mother stuck by my side until she couldn’t deal with it anymore – for the sake of our child. I don’t blame her. I would have done the same thing. The first couple of months were really tough for me. I got worse before I got better, Some mornings after falling again, I would wake up and just cry, and ask myself, “Why am I doing this?”, until I gradually started to change. The first barrier I had to overcome was the drugs and drinking, and the second was changing the way I thought about life. I had to figure out what I needed to do for myself and for my child. It all seems like a figment of my imagination now. If I were to stand next to my old self, it would be like seeing two completely different people.
I have realized that I have been affected by my past and how others have influenced me. I was always trying to make it go away and attempting to leave from my gradually worsening lifestyle. But I needed to forgive myself first. One day I woke up and saw that I was really just a lost and confused soul. I knew then that it was time for me to grab my footing, so I went to every place I could think of to just be by myself. It was rough, but i did it. I took that journey on the mountain and faced every fear and every demon I had and I conquered them all. By this time I realized that I needed to get my relationship with my daughter back and get right with the people that cared the most about me.
So I guess this is why I’m writing you — to thank you for helping this ex street kid get food in his belly and socks on his feet, and most importantly for knowing that somebody cared about me. Thank you for being there to talk to when there was that feeling of being alone. You were always there to listen and give good advice and help when needed. Because you showed me compassion and love, I can now show it to others. I am still working on getting my life back in order, but it’s easier now because of the change that has happened in me. I have been able to come to this point in my life through God’s help, and by knowing that in my most desperate and dark places, there were people there for me who were willing to lend a hand to me to bring me UP. Now I can lend a hand to others. Thank you for being there for me.
Worlds of Color
Why would a teenage girl (under 18) prostitute herself on the streets of Denver? I asked her…
“No father, I guess, or no relationship with him. When a man gives me money it means I have value.”
The next time you see a girl or even an adult woman on the corner, stop a moment before you pass judgement. We at Sox Place strive to help those caught up in prostitution to get help. Many of our youth prostitute themselves just so that they can find a place to stay. One such girl, J, said, “I’ve given sex to stay somewhere.”
According to San Diego youth services:
Here’s what one Sox Place youth said about Sox Place: “I just wanted to let everybody know how wonderful Sox Place is to the homeless youth of downtown Denver. With out Sox Place I have no idea who or where I would be right now. Thanks to Doyle and his family, myself and others have been able to call somewhere home when we did not have one. I was able to go there the past 5 years knowing I was always welcome when I didn’t even feel welcome at my own house. Even to this day I know I can always go into Sox Place and be welcomed with love and help if I need it. Thank you to Doyle and Jordan for never judging or giving up on the homeless youth of Denver and for ALWAYS being there.” -Cast Away
Last week we pulled a few of our youth aside to share what Sox Place means to them. We asked them to describe Sox Place in a word or a sentence in the interest of brevity. Smiley, Sugar Bear, Ashley, Clarissa, James, Leroy, Char, Brandi, Damage, Charlie, Elias, Bernadette, Shane, Seven, Milo, Daniel, Amanda, and Dougie each share what Sox Place means to them. It is encouraging to hear the impact that our organization and our staff have had on the street youth of Denver over the years. We focus on building long-term relationships with our youth. We meet them where they are and love them for who they are. It is through this love that our youth are able to see such amazing change in their lives, and it is only with the support of people like you that we can realize their true potential. Please consider supporting Sox Place today.
Mike (also known on the streets as “Squirrel”) shares his story about life on the streets and how the staff at Sox Place have helped him. Mike now works as an intern at Sox Place Screen Printing.