“Is this all you’ve got?” He asked Denyce, looking around the menagerie of donated men’s and women’s clothes, stray lamps and alarm clocks, sets of dishes and cookware, soap and toiletries.
Before he moved back to his hometown of
Jack worked in Chicago selling
men’s clothing and shoes and made a good living doing it.
“I had a gift for gab,” he boasts. “I once sold a guy a suit, a tie, shoes, the whole nine yards – and he was off to pay a bill!”
“It’s so easy to lose it all,” he explains, “and then it’s hell getting back up.”
Jack found it difficult to wrap his head around the transition: from a fast-paced, high-culture lifestyle in
to scraping by on the streets in Chattanooga
and spending every waking moment looking for his next high. A graduate from
with a degree in advertising and art, Jack was a top student with prospects. One of his professors even got him a full
scholarship to an art school in Chattanooga
State Community College Memphis
where he would travel to New York
and Paris and Italy
Jack became addicted to cocaine during a long period of unemployment. While he was studying at
, he bought a house with a
school teacher he was dating. With a
mortgage and his relationship on the line, he turned down the scholarship to
art school and started looking for work in Chattanooga
When his job opportunities started falling through and his confidence began
waning, he did not feel he could move to a bigger job market.
Jack does not really say what finally led him to walk out, but he was chronically homeless for several years.
He made his drug money through odd jobs as a landscaper and petty theft. In one story, Jack talks about losing two years: his girlfriend at the time wanted to celebrate his 58th birthday, and he insisted that he was only 56 years old until she made him do the math.
“You have your circle, and that’s all that matters,” he says. “Your family and friends become your enemies. The drug addicts are your friends.”
He got to the point where he was so paranoid about what he might do when he was high or what others might do that he started getting high alone. He says that he does not understand what makes some people strong enough to beat addiction while others just cannot seem to, but everyone is different. Every once in a while, he will remember a funny thing that happened while he was high and laugh and laugh. For Jack, it seems like he was almost an expert at the lifestyle – it was not living on the streets that was hard, just what he had to give up to be there.
Jack’s art work at his west side apartment.
Occasionally, he would spend the night at his daughter’s house and see his two granddaughters. He credits his grandchildren as at least half of the reason why he was able to beat his addiction.
“Look, Daddy, you can’t come here like this,” his daughter told him one night. “Your granddaughters are old enough to know, and they shouldn't have to see you like this.”
He shares a story about waking up one day in a crack house. There was a radio evangelist talking in the background as he walked out, and one thing the evangelist said galvanized him: “God gave everybody a talent, but if you don’t use it, you will lose it.”
Five years have passed since Jack kicked his addiction. After a heated argument between Denyce and Jack one day, he walked out of the thrift store and did not come back for over a year. When he did return, he was clean. A lot of people give up on you when you’re an addict, Jack explains, but Denyce never turned her back on him.
Right now, Jack is working on a painting of a snowy egret for Denyce, an avid bird-lover.