We first met Michele Ashlee in A Passionate Photographer full of Grace and Vision. Michele is a photographer whose work focuses on social injustice and poverty. Describing herself as “an activist carrying a camera,” one of Michele’s passions is volunteering for the St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality.
Recently, Michele offered us the story of Richardo, a formerly homeless man helped by St. Joseph’s.
Today, Michele gives us the story of Joe, 34 years old, who has struggled with homelessness on and off since age five.
The first time I ran from the police I was five years old. My mother left my siblings and me with a minor while she was out doing her thing. Someone told the police, and we didn’t know any better. So, we ran carrying my baby sister along with us. There were six of us, each of us a bit of a different color.
After, CPS and the police removed us from my mother’s. We were put into foster care. I was placed with my sister into a home with a woman and her boyfriend. She instantly started to be abusive to me. She never wanted me; she only wanted my sister. She told me the only reason I was there was because I was lighter skinned and social services wouldn’t separate any more of us kids.
Her boyfriend Hector was really the only person who had ever shown me love. He was protective of us, helped with homework and was the only person that played with us. The problem with Hector was he was a heroin addict. He was killed during a drug deal gone bad. We were left alone with my now adopted mother. If I didn’t wash the dishes fast enough, I’d be hit with a whiffle bat in the back of the head. I eventually got sick of the abuse and ran away. She literally went door to door telling my friend’s parents lies about me so they wouldn’t let me stay with them.
I ended up joining a gang in the Bronx in my early teens, never finishing school. It’s hard for people to understand why kids join gangs, but I had no one. I wanted to be part of something, to have family and acceptance.
The gang I was in only robbed people that were so called part of the game: pimps, dealers, etc. We all pretty much lived in the projects. There was this girl who was part of our gang. She would lure men into her apartment, take care of business and we would rob the guy.
One day we were all sitting outside drinking beers and smoking and she walked up with this guy. I watched her and she gave a nod to the head. We waited for a few minutes and we ran up to grab our face mask and we broke into her apartment. She wasn’t in the room and the guy was on the couch, just sitting there. We wanted his wallet and he was fighting us hard. All of sudden a gun went off; it was the loudest noise I had ever heard. We all ran, ran in different directions. I ran until I couldn’t run anymore. I waited hours, and finally went back to the projects.
There was police tape everywhere, cops, detectives and she was sitting on the steps. She was wailing and crying. I went over to her and played dumb (she didn’t know which of us had broken in to her place). She was crying asking me to help her find out who had done this. I asked her what happened, and she said “Joseph, they shot my brother and he’s a NYC Rookie.”
I promised her that I would help find out who had done this. I didn’t sleep for days, didn’t eat and I was physically ill. I couldn’t live with myself anymore. I turned myself into the police, and the others. The man ended up living, thank god. If he wasn’t alive I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you.
I did my time and moved to Rochester. I promised myself I’d never get into trouble again and I haven’t. It’s a difficult life now, no education, a criminal record and no family. I work small jobs during the day and sleep at shelters at night.
I’ve known nothing but abuse from women pretty much my whole life. My mother neglected us; I was abused in foster care and again by my adopted mother. Strange, god gave me for daughters though; he must have known I needed to feel love from females at some point.
Joseph, 34 years old, homeless on and off since age five
ON OTHER ORGANIZATIONS HELPING THE HOMELESS
ON SAINT JOE’S HOUSE OF HOSPITALITY