Ronald English is a 58 year-old man who lives a transient life. He has been virtually homeless throughout adulthood, moving from one rented room to another, or living on the streets. He is highly symptomatic and struggles daily with hallucinations and delusions. In addition, he is a lifelong drug addict, who has now gone two years without using. He is also friendly, artistic, and serious about living a life of integrity.
Listen to Ronald’s description of himself and how he tries to live his life here:
When asked if he has ever been homeless, he responded:
Ronald: All my life.
Interviewer: All your life?
Ronald: Yes ma’m … I’m homeless because I want to be. I don’t like living around no, living with people. I’ve lived in the Drop-in Centers, behavioral centers, the Louis Centers, drop-in centers, half-way houses, boarding houses. I’m a loner. I like being by myself.
The fact that Ronald likes living alone, however, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t like people, or that he doesn’t care what they think of him.
I like talking to people. I like to express my feelings about what’s going on. I like to be noticed, because if I’m noticed…because I, I don’t want nobody walking around like they don’t see me, what I’m doing, you know, that I’m in the world.
The memory of his grandmother is especially dear to Ronald. He has little contact with his five brothers and six sisters, and his mother died when he was nine years-old. He was reared by his grandmother and when asked to talk about one of his best memories, he spoke of her. As for many of us, it is little things involving someone he loves that form the memories he holds close.
Interviewer: When you think back on your life, can you think of something that’s an especially good memory for you, something that has happened in your life that you especially like to think about?
Ronald: My grandmother. She died about 5 years ago. She was straight, honest. Someone always told me she was going to heaven someday. She was a spiritual, happy, great lady. She walked with grace. She talked like a lady. She walked like a lady, and she carried herself like a lady. She died. I stayed with her all my life. Since my mother died.
Interviewer: What’s one of your best memories of things you did with her?
Ronald: Going to church with her … and seeing her sitting there with everybody. She sets there, have a cane. She loved those little things in the can with cheese and crackers.
Ronald makes art, and his art forms the core of his self-concept. He believes that his art has meaning and that he is able to communicate with others through his painting and especially by his choice of color.
Ronald: They’re the colors that I always use … blue, yellow, black, red, and white.
Interviewer: And why is that?
Ronald: Blue is my favorite color … And my yellow stands for the sun, of the soul, and the green stands for peace and happiness, and the red stands for hope and joy. And the white stands for greatness of God’s spiritual love, spiritual, happiness … And black stands for victory shall be mine.
Ronald has been able show his art in several venues in Cincinnati, including with the Homeless Coalition for the Arts and at the University of Cincinnati library. In spite of the pleasure and sense of self-worth that Ronald receives from his artwork, he is clearly struggling in day-to-day life and trying to make the best of it.
Interviewer: What’s a typical day like for you? How do you spend your days?
Ronald: Here (Greater Cincinnati Behavioral). Go to AA meetings. Talk to friends about Alcoholics Anonymous… I’m about 20 years on drug addiction. I ain’t got but two years clean.
Interviewer: What do you do here?
Ronald: I come here and sit around and talk to the people, and get socialized, and dance and sing, and go to groups, and work and play and be happy and happy to come here, and happy to see the people. Sometime I do art. Sometime I just sit around and see the doctor. But I love coming here. The peoples is nice. They friendly. I think they honest.
Listen to an expanded version of the second half of the above excerpt here:
Ronald was eager to tell his story, and it seemed especially important to him that others understand the kind of person he is—the person that he sees inside. He began his interview with the following:
I’m a man. I try to be a good man, honest man, dedicated, loyal and true … I say I’m a man amongst men, standing tall in the eyes of God … And I want peace on earth towards men. I try to walk like it, act like it, and tell myself like it. I don’t disrespect nobody. I think I’m a nice guy, a honest guy, and a friendly guy. I don’t step on no man’s toes. I don’t stab no man in the back … If I can do something positive to help somebody, I will try. If I can’t do nothing to help nobody, I will ask the Lord to give me the guidance and see the things, the vision to help and do the things that makes things go right … I ain’t prejudiced. I love everybody. I respect myself, and I don’t disrespect. I ain’t never met a man I didn’t like. I smile. I mind my own business. I do things that make me happy. I do things to make people happy. I try to make people happy.
Ronald is very much aware of the years he has lost in drug addiction. He believes that he has done wrong, and he feels a responsibility to try to make up for it.
I went through all kinda housing, people that I hurt, nice – not hurt, not physically – mentally. And mostly, mostly myself. That I disrespected my peoples, my family, knowing that I was out there. You know, society. Looking at folks respecting theyself, going to work. I feel bad about it.