At the time of our interview, Derrick was in his early 40’s, and his life story provides another example of resilience despite multiple challenges. During his early years, he and his two sisters were physically abused by his drug and alcohol abusing mother and her boyfriends. He described being beaten with an extension cord as well as forced to put peanut butter on his fingers and place them into mouse holes so they could be bitten by mice. And, the final act that occurred before he was removed from the home was his mother coming after the children, and injuring his sister, with a butcher knife. (Listen to Derrick describe the abuse here.)
Once safe, Derrick was raised in foster homes, where he described being treated well. He graduated high school and even took some college courses before schizophrenia kicked in. He later got married and had several children; however, there were problems in the marriage, resulting in divorce. This was a difficult time for Derrick, when he himself turned to alcohol for comfort. He described his struggle in this transcribed excerpt: (Listen to it here.)
Derrick: So once, once, I went through the divorce… It seems like I psychologically wasn’t right with the divorce, so I became homeless. So, I lived in the streets for, like, 3 years, sleepin’ under bridges, sleepin’ in abandoned buildings, hallways, um, outside on park benches, sleepin’ in front of the court house. So, I did that for, like, 2 and a half years and then somebody told me about the Drop Inn Center. So I went to the Drop Inn Center. I lived in the Drop Inn Center for 6 months. Actually, after that I was able to bathe. I mean, for them two and a half years I had… I couldn’t bathe, I wasn’t eatin’ properly, uh… I couldn’t brush my teeth, I couldn’t… And it was like I could’ve had anything from bein’ outside that long. You know, no clean change of clothes, socks or nothin. So, once I got in the Drop Inn Center, I lived in there for 6 months and then… Um, I would get up in the morning, leave the Drop Inn, go to the Shower House. The Shower House, they would give you a clean change of clothes, let you shave and shower, and then you have to stay outside all day, but, I would say to myself, “I couldn’t… There’s no way I can really find a job because I wasn’t able to have nowhere to really live.” This is before I moved in the Drop Inn. So, I lived there for the 6 months. Then they sent me to MHAP, so I went to the interview with MHAP and they said, “You know what, Derrick?” They say, “We found you somewheres to permanent housing” and I was like, “Yaaay!” (claps) So after that, they introduced me to Tender Mercies. I moved to here in 1998. And, I moved in, and Sister Kathleen, she was a nun that works there. She’s there forever, since they first opened. Um, she got me my social security, my disability, and, um, you know, right now, I’m able to keep up on my child support, pay my rent here, have a little pocket change, um, I’m able to eat four course meals throughout the day, keep my body clean, clean change of clothes, uh, have somewhere to lay my head at night. Um, not, not sayin’ almost livin’ normal, but havin’ the basic normal necessities that I get, a regular person or persons going through mental health stages need. So, um…
Interviewer: That anybody would need…
Derrick: …yes, so, um… I’ve been here… January, the 6th will be 13 years. Um, the first three years I moved in here, they chose me to be a Board member. And, I was on the Board here. And, my job on the Board was I represented… We have 6 buildings. I represented all the other residents. If they would have a problem, they would come to me, and then we would meet… The Board members would meet on Tuesday. They had principal, federal judges, bank owners, you name it. These people were all on the Board at Tender Mercies.
Interviewer: Mm hmm.
Derrick: So, they, they say like, “Well, we want locks on the bathroom door.” So, I would go to the meeting. They say, “Well, Derrick, um, what do some of the other residents, something’ that they…” I would take my notes with me, and I’ma help make a lot of changes to make it better, not only for myself but for us other residents that live here.
Although he was more stable at the time of his interview, he was yet unable to function completely independently. One might think he would be bitter about his fate, and about life, but in spite of the severe abuse Derrick suffered, several bouts with alcoholism, years of living on the street and a chronic mental illness, he remained optimistic, attributing his outlook to his faith in God and “Being around positive people”. When asked to discuss his “best memory,” Derrick replied:
“Getting a second chance because… I was so close to death. I was so close to death more than one time. More than one time.”
Sadly, Derrick did pass away a little over a year after this interview. Those who knew him mourned his passing, as he was known as a kind and compassionate person, warmly accepting all those he met.