By Jerry Sedgewick
Here is an interview with Mr. Carl Powell, age 59, born in the Inglewood neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Powell is currently homeless in Saint Paul.
Sedgewick: Tell me about your past, Mr. Powell.
Powell: I was a runaway at 16 but I still finished high school. Then after my father got sick I went back to the house because he had colon cancer. So I was working at Wrigleys [chewing gum factory] from 1974 to 1982. And I went to the military in ‘78 to ‘81. Then I ended up getting terminated from Wrigleys for missing too many days: got caught up drinking and I turned out to be a little alcoholic. After I got fired from Wrigleys I was just lost. Then when my father died a couple years later it seemed like everything just hit rock bottom.
So I was out there in the streets hustling I got caught up in a drug gang selling drugs then that went bad. I got locked up a couple of times. So the last time I got locked up was in 2013 so I decided I didn’t want to go back to the dope gang.
Sedgewick: What are the things that cause a person to get caught up in drugs?
Powell: It’s the people you’re around. When I was a little kid there was a YMCA. We always stayed in the YMCA because they had guidance counselors there and coaches there. They always told us to stay out of the gangs. We had a place to hang out at, at the Y. It was another home. We used to break into the Y so much to play ball that the guy there gave us the keys because he was tired of us breaking in.
And then they closed in ‘78. I was about 35 then, that’s when the Y closed up and we just had nowhere to hang out. So I was staying around the house and there was nobody to kick it with so I had to stay where I was at and get used to it.
A guy who I did some work for, he was messing around and shot me: thought I had stolen somebody’s dope, and then found it was his brother. So he took me under his wings and looked out for me. So I started selling dope and everything just to make sure we had a place to stay and something to eat.
Sedgewick: Do you feel fortunate that you survived through all of that?
Powell: Well, see, I always had a sense of bouncing back you know. Because a lot of guys didn’t make it. Matter of fact one incidence that happened when I got mad at the guys because they were traveling all the time going to the NBA games and this and that and I’m stuck there watching the house. And then right after New Years the guy they had took the spot I left and he ended up getting killed. In the house. And that could have been me.
Sedgewick: What kind of advice do you have for people who’ve been in your situation?
Powell: First thing you got to do is stop and look at yourself. And then figure out what’s your next move. If you don’t want to do nothing you aren’t going to get nothing.
Powell: What can I learn from you?
Try to stay away from dope gangs ‘cause it’s so easy to get caught up in it. My fault was I didn’t realize what I was really getting into. And then when I should have got out I didn’t get out ‘cause it was going through my mind “time to go” but the guy he was so good to me like a brother. We got real tight. But now he’s locked up and everything. But I still have some time. I still have a chance to make it.