Another installment of “The Invisible Ones” of Washington, DC.
I met James in a small park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of NE Washington, DC. When asked how he was doing, he said he was very glad to see that the inauguration and all of the demonstrations have gone away and he could return to his normal outdoor sleeping place in this park. He says that the police were very determined to keep the entire area clear of street people during these events but now it’s back to normal. James has been living on the streets of DC without shelter for a little more than six years. He spent the previous 10 years incarcerated at a Federal Penitentiary in Kentucky. Upon release, he left with no money and only his personal belongings. He managed to get back to DC but discovered that everyone he had known previously was gone so he was on the streets where he has been ever since. Like so many people who are incarcerated for a long period of time, there is very little done to support their transition back to society and they either become recidivists or flounder in a society that they are no longer a part of. James is willing and able to do manual labor, he cannot get a job because of his prison record. He chooses to sleep outdoors because of the dangers that the city shelters present. The last thing he wants to do is get into a fight, protecting his property and end up back in jail. He says with a smile that, “the courts are not kind to ex-cons from the Fed system.”
James is a friendly and approachable man who does reasonably well panhandling. He was quite interested in the Invisible Ones project and offered to help me find other men and women who would be willing to participate. I may well take him up on that offer. James agreed to this photograph in exchange for a small monetary contribution. If you see James or know someone like him, stop for a moment and have a conversation. Ask if you can help out in someway. I guarantee that you’ll both be better off having had that experience.