Saturday, January 05, 2008


Among the calls that I really hate are those that come from a detective asking, "Hey, could you check the jail records and see if [Insert Name Here] ever listed a next of kin?"

Everyone knows the name, because the man attached to it has been arrested several hundred times in the last five years. And that's not hyperbole.

Public Intoxication, mostly, but a significant number of Inhalant Abuse charges, and Criminal Trespass -- because the local stores got tired of him shoplifting aerosol paint and barred him from entering.

He always came to jail either stoned and friendly, or stoned and fighting, filthy and stinking. He'd detox for about a week, and then he was a mousy little grey man unnoticed in General Population, or occasionally as a trustee.

He'd go to trial with a Public Defender, his charges would be pled to Time Served and then he'd be released to go back to his little camp under the river bridge on the edge of town. Usually shoplifting a can of Krylon on the way.

He never listed any next of kin, never had any visitors. Older personnel seem to remember a brother, but no one can nail anything down.


I know that dying is the ultimate lonely experience. No matter how many people are with you on this side, or the other -- death is a one-person doorway.

Still, it just seems to me a terrible tragedy that the only people to know of, or care, about this man's passing are patrol officers and jail staff.

That he'll be processed by a government functionary and laid to rest by a back-hoe driver.

No matter how good you are, or how bad you are, there should be kith or kin to mourn, to dress you, and to walk you to your final resting place.

I know that life isn't fair, but ... still.



armedandsafe said...

"the only people to know of, or care, about this man's passing are patrol officers and jail staff."

At least you care, LD. That says something for you and your compatriots.


Gary said...

And so it goes with the homeless. Over the past 28 years, I've treated hundreds if not thousands of homeless people.

It's an odd relationship, at best. I've had many a conversation that started out, "Hey, so and so died. He was found frozen behind a building." Or was found dead somewhere else.

I can't say that they are friends, but I still feel a pang of something when I hear that someone I've dealt with for many years has died.

I sometimes wonder what went so wrong in their lives. What they might or might not have done to end up that way.

Part of being human, I hope.


MY OWN WOMAN... said...

I agree Law Dog, it doesn't seem right that only the people who jailed him should be the ones to mourn him. I often wonder how many of the homeless I see in the ER have someone at least one person who would mourn their loss.

Jean said...

How afraid he must have been, while he was dying.

lee n. field said...

"No matter how good you are, or how bad you are, there should be kith or kin to mourn, to dress you, and to walk you to your final resting place."

I remember reading, not too long ago, about a Catholic high school somewhere that had a school organization to provide pall bearers for potter's field burials.

Christina LMT said...

Truly sad. I wonder what his story was.

phlegmfatale said...

His family has probably been grieving his loss for years, already. Maybe in part the weight of that profound connection to family is what drives some people toward a shiftless life on the streets-- a life devoid of the torments of the illusion of permanence. Who knows? It is very kind of you to care, and that's all you can do, I suppose.

Manda said...

We all make choices, some are unable due to mental illness to make the right choices. I agree that his family had probably been grieving for him for a long time. Very sad.

Anonymous said...

The vast majority of the homeless I deal with are mentally ill. When the powers that be decided it would be best to deinstitutionalize them, I belive back in the 80's, they became the people of the street. If a person doesn't have a family member who is willing to go through a lot to help them they are on their own.They spend their lives freezing in door ways, under bridges and self medicating with whatever substance they can get their hands on. As bad as these institutions were I still think they were better off. There are many new medications available now to treat these diseases but the folks that are homeless have no access to them. I'm afraid they will live their days out suffering and committing thefts and car burglaries to the end of their days.

Kadir said...

Now I can feel how much agony and fear would have been resulted before that incident

Ky Person said...

Well, Mr Dog I will say a prayer for this gentleman and all who died with no one to mourn them. I'm a Catholic, and I pray for the dead often.

Matt G said...

And a chicken/egg question is spawned:

Was he abandoned by kin and friends because of his habits, or were his mind-altering habits the result of him trying to escape his loneliness?

I think I'd rather prefer to think that it's the former, than the latter.

Ron said...

I have a friend who has a true heart for the homeless. I only wish I had his drive or desire for it.

Note: I was tagged for a "Share seven weird things about you" blog post, and had to pick seven other bloggers to tag as well. You were one of the lucky seven! To see my post, and reveiw the rules, please visit

Have a great day

Anonymous said...

"...There are many new medications available now to treat these diseases but the folks that are homeless have no access to them..."

Most wouldn't take their meds if they did have access. Most homeless are mentally ill, and most are where they are BY CHOICE. Deluded choice, but choice nonetheless.

To quote some comedian whose name I can't recall "We call them 'homeless' as if all would be fine if we just got them a home. The fact is that most of them are alcoholics and schizophrenics, and if you gave them an apartment they'd still $#!+ in the corner while talking to themselves."

There are a few who are there because of circumstances, in fact I've been one of them, but they don't usually remain homeless for long. The ones that remain out there actually prefer to live that way.

As to the individual in the post -- he's likely been dead to any family he may have for many years -- they've mourned his passing and moved on.

Personally, I think we need to respect their choice as much as we did his.

That, and take the time to thank the Lord that we've made better choices.

As to the poster, LD, as others have said -- the fact that this bothers you says much about you as a person. That's a good thing, exhibited by an obviously good MAN.

Thanks for sharing!


LogEyed Roman said...

Law Dog, you and your kind are the very last resort for so very many sorrows in our society. It is good to know so many of these unfortunates have even what mourning you can give them.

I'm afraid I concur with Anonymous. I have worked with people who work with the homeless. So many are so disordered that the only way they can be cared for is in an institution, with constant supervision and support for life. There are some wonderful nonprofit homes for the mentally ill out there, but they are so expensive it's out of the question to provide such quality care to all who need it.

I know that's true, but like you, LawDog, just because it's true does not keep it from breaking my heart.

Bob Dylan wrote a song about a dead homeless man--called a "hobo" in those days:

"He was only a hobo but one more is gone.

Leaving nobody to carry him home;

Leaving nobody to sing his sad song.

Only a hobo, but one more is gone."

Anyway, God bless you and the other people of last resort, who at least remember their names and at least wish them a less lonely burial.

LogEyed Roman

Oldsmoblogger said...

This is how we revere life, and once more you've shown your quality, LawDog (the highest).

In his magnificent (well, I say so, anyway) War and Remembrance Herman Wouk recounts Berel Jastrow's work as a prisoner at Auschwitz, taking corpses out of mass graves for cremation. To occupy himself he thinks about the Talmud lesson of the met-mitzvah, the unidentified body found in the field, whose care is a duty to all. A priest (of some kind, I'm going from memory here) under Nazirite vows is doubly forbidden to touch a corpse, yet is commanded to prepare a met-mitzvah for burial with his own hands.

I will pray for this man's soul.

Anonymous said...

Who cares. You will see it more and more in coming years. Too many of them, too few of us. Think how come that life expectance in ex Soviets dropped below 60. And how many lifes it takes.

Simeron said...

Take heart noble Lawdog, there are many that seem forgotten, lost in the shuffle. Many think they are fine and well when in fact, they would be Ebeneezer Scrooge and have to provide lunch for people to come.

Death comes for us all eventually, it is one of the few certain things in this life. Few know when or where it will come.

All we can do is hope that when it comes our time, we can face it with honor and dignity.

And all of us have that right and ability, be us a homeless waif forgoten by most or the bravest, strongest person left on the planet.

I share you whistfulness about how someone should say something about this person, regardless of how his life was spent, it was still a life.

And you did just that right now.

*Tip of the helm to you sir*

Paul said...

Death is the ultimate equalizer. When thinking about this I sometimes compare the young man dead on his floor after a night of smoking crack to the body of the fortune 500 company owner laying dead on his floor. The only real difference was the price of the houses we found them in.

Anonymous said...

Maybe, to him, you all WERE his family, the only one he'd ever really known.

Anonymous said...

We care, anonymous.
And, of course, that may be what made 'them' like they are: they cared too much, and their minds shattered.
There, but for the grace of
God, go I...or you. You might have a thought to the fact that you, too, might shatter one of these days, and you would probably be desperate for someone, anyone, to care just a little bit.

Rick R. said...


These unfortunates were deinstitutionalized, by and alrge, because the ACLU and similar organizations filed lawsuits, saying it was a violation of their civil rights to keep them locked up in a mental hospital. These lawsuits were based on a MAJOR exapnsion of O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563 (1975) beyond it's key point of "capable of surviving safely in freedom". Of course, Donaldson was a compliant, high functioning patient who had consistantly denies he was crazy since his involuntary commitment by his family in 1956. Donaldson was supposedly suffering from paranoid delusions that he was being poisoned -- but was NOT considered a threat to himself or others by any means -- he just refused to believe he was paranoid.

An earlier case (Wyatt v. Stickney, in which the plaintiff argued that, unless he could be CURED, he must be RELEASED, regardless of the severity of his condition -- to allow indefinate confinement without reasonably possibility of eventual success and thus freedom, resulted in a de facto life sentance without due process) that had had a decision on it's appeal held in abeyannce until the Donaldson opinion was issued by SCOTUS, was used with Donaldson to force the massive deinstitionalizaion that emptied the mental hospitals, flooded the streets and alleys, and eventually ended up in the Virginia Tech shooting (among thousads of others, less "flashy" tragedies).

Unfortunately, these lawsuits also cam eat a time when their was a greater public awareness of (mostly) PAST pervasive patterns of abuse in state mental institutions.

For example, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was written in 1962 and is set in the early 1960's, and BASED on conditions in state hospitals in the 1940's and 1950's. Back when involuntary lobotomies for relatively minor conditions, as well as conditions for which lobotomy would be useless (such as the Kennedy girl, a high order functional retardation case, lobotomized by her family to avoid any possibility of sexual scandals as she approached adulthood), were fairly commonplace. By the time the movie came out in 1975, there was a strong groundswell against government inference in ANY person's "right to privacy" as part of teh general antiauthoritarian culture of the 1960's and 70's, and a massive lack of awareness that the psychiatric situation had changed in teh last 30 years.