written by Isabella Zou on Austin Street Humans
His left arm is a bony stump. It twists up and down, shiny tip wiggling out his shirt sleeve. But this is nothing, he says.
“It’s the addicts, the addicts. When I was out there, North side, East side, I’ve never been dirty like that. All that accumulated jealousy—I’m like, this is crazy. I honestly say, how can you be jealous of me, how can you talk about me, when you see this?”
He waves his stump.
“I mean, I mean, why? It’s like, it ain’t no sense. They can’t answer the question, they cannot. And people that hate on me, people that are haters, people that are racist, people that smoke dope—and they want to say they don’t, and they’re not racist, and they don’t hate—they tell on themselves.
People say they don’t do this: come on man. I’m a recovered addict, I don’t care. I’ve been there. I’ve been there, okay? I been to penitentiary seven different times. I mean, see man? I’m keeping my life straight now.
But people, their addiction takes over. They can’t beat their addiction, they don’t want to beat their addiction. And while that’s going on, they want to downgrade other people. And they don’t want to downgrade themselves. But everybody smokes dope, chews dope, they know it’s wrong. Everybody know it ain’t no good for you, but it does not matter.”
Jean-Pierre was born in San Francisco, but moved to Austin when his parents divorced—he was 14. He said the event didn’t faze him.
“I know you’ve heard of it before, on TV or wherever, they say that sometimes when parents get divorced it affects the kids? Okay. I guess it might. It never affected me and my brother. It didn’t affect us. I’m like, okay. Y’all separated, whatever.”
“It never faded me. Never faded me or my brother. My little brother, I love him. It never ain’t got neither of us. My momma and daddy are different. I love my daddy, but he’s kinda full of… he never was an addict, or any of that, but he’s a manipulator. And my mom, she nothing like that. But it never affected us. It’s just the way it goes, you know.”
He dropped out of high school soon enough and started selling drugs. He characterized himself as a noble sort of dealer.
“I had to stoop to be a hustler to make money—you hustle, you know. I never ran out with a lot of money. Well, I might have. But I’ve never been like some of those people, hitting on somebody. I’ve never harassed anybody, okay. What for? I’ve never downgraded anybody. I’ve never felt like I’m better than anybody—see, I know who I am.”
He was eventually hard-addicted to crack. He spent infinite hallucinatory years floating in and out of detainment. Here. High. Prison. Homeless.
His decision to quit drugs came much later.
“It was my 43rd birthday. And I had money, I went out. And I came back to the house, and I went across this apartment. The person who owns it, she smokes too. They’re gone now, of course. But I went over there, and I blew my money. No sex or nothing like that, just dope. The next morning, I said man, no big deal, but then the manager told me about it. The manager told me she saw me coming from the right, and I was like alright. And that right there, stopped me. And I’m glad. I’ve told her three times that I’m glad she did that. She’s Hispanic. I think she was raised by blacks, I really do.”
He considered tackling his problem by joining a support group. But he’d heard of the ineffectiveness of groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.
“That AA? It’s not bad, but when an addict goes there, he doesn’t know if these people been clean 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, whatnot. All that sounds great to that person. But when they leave, their addiction takes over. It happens all the time.”
He persisted, not on his own, but with that of God, he says.
“My birthday is September, and I have 4 years clean. I love God… but when it comes back it comes down to you. Man, God can’t do a damn thing for you unless you do it yourself. As you do that, things will come to you. You will see that. And you can thank God for that. But if you say, I wanna get clean, God, but you still smoke dope, something’s wrong with that.”
He strongly believes that God helps those who help themselves.
“If you wanna stop that, you gotta put your foot in there. You feel me? God can’t do nothing for you unless you want to do it.”
He’s got four years clean, but he still drinks, he says, and he still smokes his weed.
Here’s how it happened:
“My last car was my last Cadillac. Top-notch Cadillac. I paid 10,000 for it. It was nice. Anyway, I went to pick up my homeboys out South. I went to the wrong spot, and I was out there waiting. She came to my door and knocked and said, ‘Hey, can you give me and my momma a ride home?’ I said, okay. Her mom got in the backseat. And I said, ‘Which one of y’all is coming home with me?’ And she did, of course. And that night, she was drunk. She wasn’t stupid drunk—and I didn’t try to do that to her, I’m not like that. And the next morning, you know.”
For a month, they saw each other regularly. Then she found out she was pregnant.
His baby boy, he just turned 9.
“Last Sunday. He lives in Austin, stays with his mom. His name is Z—. He’s a guero—A guero is a white boy. He has my hair.”
His interactions with his son have looked like this: he’d pick him up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to go to school. He visits him otherwise once or twice a month. But since they have recently moved to a new apartment, he’s negotiating a new schedule for involvement in his son’s life.
Because he loves his son so much his voice changes.
“Out of all the people that have seen me in this world, from the first time to the last, my little boy —I’m not going to count Eric, I’m not going to count the driver, I’m not going to count the nurse that was in the car behind me, she came and she held me, she made me not lay down—those people, I don’t think they live this crazy. But my little boy, he took it the best. He never said nothing about it. He never said anything to me. And that’s good. And that’s from me. Because my whole life, I’ve never faded on anybody disabled—that’s not my way. That’s retarded, that’s crazy.”
Here’s how it happened:
“This is ’06. I was a garbage man. And the driver comes around, I was inside the truck, on the side, and he sweeps the truck onto the exit sign, and I say damn, it’s like a roller coaster. As he turned, I shot through the window. And right here, the truck went over my arm and it broke. God saved me, said I wasn’t ready to go yet. I was lucky, I was the only one. So I thank God for that. There’s a reason I’m here.
When I laid down under that truck like this, and I woke up, I said, Damn, that truck was like a roller coaster. Then my boy said he gonna turn, he turned, and I shot through the window, it was automatic shock. I don’t remember any of that, I don’t remember when my arm got broken, I don’t remember the road rash, only think I remember is—I didn’t wake up, I was just there—in my head I went, man, shit. That’s all I said. And then my boy Eric came up to me and was like, JP, man, I’m so sorry. No, I said charge it to the game.”
Charge it to the game, he said.
“That means, theoretically, life is a game. You can win, lose, or break even. Win, as in get married, live good the rest of your life. Lose, be in penitentiary for life, something like that. Break even, who knows. But I automatically knew. I said don’t worry.”
Nevertheless, his disability, his lack of an arm, has had its impact.
“Women see this and they’re like, ‘Oh my God.’ I mean, I know women, but most women are smarter. Being small-minded ain’t no good. I mean, what if this happened to you? This could happen to anybody. They would see where I’m coming from. Because when this happens, I’m on a different level. I’m not better than anybody. Nothing like that. But I’m on a different level with this. Cause, obviously, I’m looked at all the time. I couldn’t care less about that. But, people see that, and they look again. And this is nothing. Kids, I understand. But grown people? Come on.”
His front teeth are gleaming silver, and he demonstrates them for effect.
“I gotta shine. I can’t look all raggedy. But a lot of time, people see me. I’m an ugly person. I’m a clean-freak. And people look at me, and they’re like, shiny! They think I need to be depressed, and down-and-out. A lot of people think that. But come on, I’m not going to let this thing do that. Let that be! Let that go—that’s life!”
He recently started working for IDADS, a program for fathers run by the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA).
“I got two achievement awards through HACA: 2016, 2017.
Like last Thursday, I was inside my place. I got in the shower. I’m still dressed, but I don’t got my shirt on. And someone knocks on the window. I went to the door, and it was the manager. The system manager. And she said to me, inspection! I said, okay. Let me put my shirt on. They said alright, I put my shirt on, and they came in. Going around, they said everything alright? Yeah, everything good! Everything alright. And I had my 2017 on my wall, and my 2016 on my bed. I said, you see that? ‘Oh, that’s cool!’”
Even though he’s doing well, he feels that those around him at the apartment complex couldn’t care less. They continue disparaging him.
“Now, I’m doing these things. Compare me to the people at those apartments. Nobody there is doing more than me for HACA. So, why would the manager even believe these people saying these things? It’s crazy.”
“I don’t need no pity. I don’t want no pity. But they’re downgrading me.
I’ve been there six years. This is my seventh year of my lease, and when I got there, they were there already. They were already smoking. And then I went through my time, and I stopped. And then I came back after four years, and they’re still smoking. And people moved in, and they’re smoking. It’s jealousy.”
He said he can’t deal with his neighbors any longer.
“My drug addiction, the crack, and stopping that, going to penitentiary, all that was nothing. The first accident was nothing compared to the trials and tribulations I’m going through. And the trials and tribulations are jealously, racism too. It just aggravates me. My God, use your mind, think!”
**Updated 4/16/2018, JP has joined Eastside Community Church and continues to grow in his faith!**