In Michele Ashlee; A Passionate Photographer full of Grace and Vision, we met Michele, a photographer whose work focuses on social injustice and poverty. Michele describes herself as “an activist carrying a camera.”
One of Michele’s passions is volunteering for the St. Joe’s House of Hospitality transition program that helps homeless people live independently in their own apartments.
Michelle offers a photograph and the story of Richardo AKA Chicago, a formerly homeless man who found shelter in the Dorothy Day House.
I was born the eldest of three brothers. My parents were middle class and working all the time. My father was a steel worker, my mom a teacher. My father was always pushing me to join the Air Force. But, I didn’t want to. After high school I was always working, always had a job. Working at the corner store, dish washer and so on. I didn’t want to follow my father’s rules, so he told me to go be a man on my own, which I did. I went to Louisiana. There I was working as a psychiatric aid for 2 years. Then I was in a bad car accident
I used the insurance money to travel around: California and Texas. Then I was back in Chicago, climbing the ladder of a famous restaurant. From dishwasher to cook. I worked there for 5 years but realized that I didn’t want to live my life in a kitchen. So, I went back to my parents and that wasn’t such a great idea. My father and I had a clash and everything went downhill from there. So, I ended up in Rochester where my auntie lived. She found me a job. I always had a job. And at the same time I was burning the candle at both ends, and it caught up with me. I got arrested in 1992 for selling cocaine. The judge made an example of me. He wanted people to know that you don’t come from Chicago to Monroe County to sell drugs. I tried to use the time I had to learn. Nobody likes prison but I tried to turn it into a good experience.
When my father died I got a parole to fly back to Chicago to mourn the body. As the eldest of my brothers, my mother really wanted me to be there through the hard time and rough decisions to be made.The wake of the body was in Chicago but the burial was in Louisiana. Instead of telling that to the parole guys, I just decided to fly under the radar. I was on the run for more than a year. A year later I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t look over my shoulder every time I was outside. So I asked my mother to bring me to the police station. Just so I could be done with it. The guy at the station didn’t believe me. The cop gave me one chance to walk out the door. I declined, I just wanted this over with once and for all.
I spent 6 months in prison, then worked as a machine operator on work release. When I got on parole again, I started to slip on the wrong path. I bounced from prison to parole to prison to parole.
When I was released in Rochester, I had no where to go. I was on my own, homeless. I’ve stayed in the police garage and various shelters. It’s almost impossible to work on your addictions in there. I still had my girlfriend but we never wanted to live together. We enjoyed our freedom and loved to have our own space. Plus I never wanted to burden anyone.
I followed St. Joe’s transition program for a year. As soon as I The St. Joe’s transition program put me into this apartment in the Dorothy Day House. I’ve been here 6 months so far.Some people say that society did all of this to them, but I understood a long time ago that this was no one’s fault but my own.
— Ricardo, AKA Chicago
ON OTHER ORGANIZATIONS HELPING THE HOMELESS
ON SAINT JOE’S HOUSE OF HOSPITALITY