“I just got out of prison; I did three and a half years,” says John. “I came to Denver to do ironwork, and because I’m a big Peyton Manning fan. I tried to get here before he retired, but they wouldn’t let me out of prison, and I couldn’t escape.”
John laughs, but he’s serious—not about the escaping prison part, he wouldn’t do that. But he’s serious about the Peyton Manning part; John came here because he loves Peyton.
“I went to Indianapolis and saw some games when he played there. I wanted to see him in Denver, but he retired before I could get here.”
His dream to see Peyton play one more time is gone, and John knows that. But he’s got other goals, better goals.
“Now that I’m here, I want to get a job and a place and get back on my feet. I go to work on Monday. A guy told me he’d give me a job doing ironwork.”
He reaches into his pocket, pulls out his phone and scrolls through his photo album.
“This is the work I do,” he says. “This one is of me in Idaho, eight stories. This one is in Savannah, Georgia. And this one is in Seattle, Washington; it was only three stories.”
He’s showing me selfies of him standing at the top of buildings that he helped construct. He’s smiling at the camera, and I can’t help but laugh. Everything about the man sitting in front of me is pleasant. He talks like a true southern man — straightforward and unhurried. He jokes and smiles, laughs and even cries.
“How does a man like you become homeless,” I ask.
John puts his hands on the table. He glances out the window and stares into the distance. I can’t be sure what John’s looking for, or at. He nods his head as if to affirm my assumption—that a man like him doesn’t belong here, on the street, homeless, without a family or a job.
“Most of us men out there are taught to be dominant, an alpha male. My wife didn’t like that; she thought I was harsh, not toward our kids, but toward her. I wasn’t trying to be that way. I was trying to be the leader. I got depressed, and when I get depressed, I turn to alcohol, and then I get behind the wheel and drive. That’s what sent me to prison.”
John reaches for his phone, again. “I don’t show too many people these, so …”
His voice fades with the smell of his lukewarm coffee. He scrolls through his photo album, and this time he pulls up pictures of his children. “I haven’t seen them in years,” he says. “All I want is to be with them, again. But I messed up; I drank too much. I acted like I was on top of the world, and I did everything I shouldn’t have done.”
I haven’t seen John again since the day I interviewed him back in March. I can’t be sure where he’s at, and I’d like to suggest that he’s doing well, on his way to overcoming his alcoholism and mending relationships with his children. But I don’t know those things.
As we walked back to the Lawrence Street Community Center that day, John said, “Hopefully there won’t be any more roadblocks for me; hopefully I get to see my kids.”
Faces of The Mission is a blog series written by Jordan Smith, Denver Rescue Mission’s Writer/Editor/Photographer, offering insights and real-life stories from people experiencing homelessness and hardships.