Inside the heart of a wounded man
Inside the heart of a wounded man

The rec area is the west side of a huge room that serves as the cafeteria, to the east, and the recreation/study area, to the west.  15 of the 17 dormitories are to be emptied of residents by 7 AM and locked until 5 PM.  For men who don’t have jobs, classes, friends’ homes to crash at, the public libraries, or other places to pass time, the rec area is where they pass the day.  “Pass the day” means sitting awake in a chair; slouched sleeping in a chair; sitting at a table with a DVD player or laptop; or “pass the day” may mean sleeping on the floor or on a cafeteria table. The staff wake people sleeping on the floor or cafeteria tables.


 Being the Vocational Program Coordinator means working in the rec area eight times a week.  There are 6 two-hour sessions during the day and 2 one-hour sessions in the evening.  The men get very bummed out about the 7- 8 PM sessions because they interrupt their TV time.  So, there is much yelling and cursing every time Joy wheels the audio-visual cart in the room and uses the stick to pull down the screen.  The security guard uses the remote to turn off the television.  Oh, yes: the television has cable and the men enjoy all the major cable stations and see all the games until 10 pm.  So imagine the Hell she raises up due to coming in at night.  They are settled in because after all they are just wounded little boys.

homelessness, depression, dependecy

Though no one tells her a candid family history, the yelling, the aversion to leaving the building, the sleeping, the fighting, the reclusiveness, the drinking-smoking-drugging are escape mechanisms that they learned at a young age.  In fact, the shelter has young drug addicts.

The depth of weakness is illuminated when Joy conducts her second workshop.  It is a review of occupations.  She finds a 15-minute video that contains short interviews with people describing their jobs.  The point is to have the men identify the jobs they’ve had and identify the jobs they want to be trained for.  One young man says the video doesn’t help him because all the people in the video are white.  How can he believe he can get a job in the field if all the people having the jobs are white? Please know the jobs are in the trades or service categories which are occupations many non-white men work.  Joy asks him whether the jobs shown are unknown to him.  He says he’s familiar with them.  He went on to challenge her to find a video that had a black young man from the ‘hood making good.  If she can do that he will listen to her.

Several yards away from the workshop set-up, a middle-aged man stands up and bellows about how there are no jobs coming into the shelter.  He yells “If you are all that you would bring employers into the shelter and have them hire us!!”  He then chants “Bring in the jobs! Bring in the jobs!”  She is astounded by the weakness that this man displays. He takes no responsibility for his talents or his daily bread.  Rather, he passes on the responsibility of securing his livelihood to Joy. Her mind reels with thoughts of 21st century slavery.  The men are complacent with “three hots and a cot”.

homelessness, depression, childhood trauma

This is what we expect are parents to do for us: clothe, feed, wash, and put us to bed.  In truth, Joy is repulsed by the scene before her.  Fortunately, many men see her as a woman who needs protection if things get out of hand.

Joy gains her props the next day.  After setting up the audio-visual cart and tunes the laptop to, Joy faces the seated men  to ask the young man, who challenged her to find a video that has a successful young brother from the ‘hood, “Do you remember your challenge?”  He replies “Yes“.  Joy puts on a video clip from Brother Polight’s channel ConsciousConscience. Brother Polight is 27 years old at the time, from Brownsville, writes and sells books and who previously has been a Crip Supreme.   

The young man–Let’s call him TJ–smiles as he watches Brother Polight “spit the knowledge”. When the video clip ends TJ tells Joy “Jesus loves you.”

homelessness, encouragement, self-sufficiency
Thumbs up to Joy.

Akosua Albritton

Akosua is a communicator who loves to inform, engage, and enable her fellow New Yorkers. You may find her in a classroom, in an auditorium, or on a city street teaching the social sciences. Her favorite...

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