Jeff is a dark presence, standing between Scotty and the sun on a clear, cold, February morning. Scotty has his hands jammed in the pockets of his hooded sweatshirt that has the name “Duncan” stenciled on the back, sits at the picnic table, Jerry’s Place of Revelation. Jeff is new to the house. He’s thirty-one. He got married a few months ago to a 40-year-old woman who has three kids that were taken away from her. She and Jeff have been together for about three years, “married in the eyes of the Lord,” Jeff says. Shortly after they were actually married she got in his face and he choked her. But he let her go. He was charged with domestic violence, has to take anger management classes. She takes them too. They are legally separated. He just got out of jail. He’s on Black Out, which means he can’t go anywhere except to church and to do his community service projects, until he gets permission.
“I’m trying to get into heaven. That’s why I keep trying to kill myself,” he says.
“That’s not right,” says Scotty, who usually doesn’t speak out. “Kill yourself and you’re condemned.”
“They want me to do chores, here,” Jeff complains.
“So you’re not part of the community, then,” Scotty says.
“I’m part of the community,” Jeff protests. “I just have my own stuff to deal with.”
“We all have,” Scotty says.
The pastor from Jeff’s church, drives up, pulls a cardboard box full of Jeff’s belongings out of the trunk. “I told her to put in everything. I think you’re birth certificate is in there.”
“I hope so,” Jeff says.
Jeff and his wife lived in Seattle in a homeless camp. But the organizers worked him to death because he was big and young. They put him on the security detail, made him clean up around the camp. “There were too many people, I went crazy,” he says. “They kicked me out. We came back to Redding.” He’s held jobs. Worked food service in Mental Health. Did land scaping. But he only lasted a couple of weeks. It was too hard. He’s on SSI now.
He’s hoping that God has forgiven him for choking his wife but he’s not sure. He knows it was wrong. He has to stay away from Booze, Pot and Girls. That’s what they told him. “I get worse when I drink. I think people are attacking me.”
Jeff is schizophrenic. He started getting the symptoms when he was about ten, though he didn’t know it at the time. “I’d hear voices telling me someone was going to beat me up. So I got into fights. A kid hit me in the back of the head with a baseball bat. I didn’t get a concussion but the doctor said it shook my brain up.”
“I hurt my knee playing football. But I only played a couple of games. They kicked me off the team for fighting. People would tease me in school and I didn’t know how to handle it.”
“My Mom lives in Eureka. She was with several guys. I have half brothers and sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles. We’re not a whole family; we’re a half-family.”
He had to pawn his computer to pay back one of his housemates, who had loaned him money. He took it to Win-River, lost it. It was his decision to pawn his computer. Now he’s got to get enough money to buy it back.
He bought his wife’s rings in a pawnshop for $100. “They’re real,” he says. “Pawn shops don’t take in junk.” He had a ring, too, but when they had the fight he threw it in the gutter and it washed into the drain before he could get it back.
Jeff calls Sam from the bus stop to ask if he can go visit Alexander who called him a while ago, invited him over. “I have to check with Sam when I leave the area,” he says. But Alexander is known for having drugs and alcohol around and using them. “I’ll tell him, I can’t. If he brings anything out, I’ll leave,” he assures Sam. “I’m walking with God, now.”
After a few months of living at the house, Jeff says he is fitting in. “Sam has really helped me. So have the other guys. When I first moved in I was really upset about my wife. They told me to stop whining about it. I help out. I wash dishes. I work in the garden. I cut firewood. There’s an old guy who moved in a few days ago, in his seventies, lost his wife or something, doesn’t do anything. He’s like a dog. Eats and sleeps. I think if you’re going to live there you should contribute, do your share. I’m going back to school at Shasta College to finish my GED and get my diploma. I still have a ways to go. I have trouble with algebra. It seems like every time I get close I freak out. When I take my meds, they knock me down, make me sleepy. I didn’t take them today. I’ve had a lot of coffee.”
He has been taken off of Black Out. He visited his wife once when he was restricted. He stayed all night but he couldn’t sleep, he was so worried. They plan to go looking for an apartment after the restraining order is lifted. “It’s my first marriage. It’s her second. She’s been mistreated by men before. We may live together, kind of; we get more money if we aren’t married.”
A week later, Jeff is walking around outside the halfway house. “I’m back,” he says. “Well, I was only gone for a few days. My wife wanted me to live with her. So I did. Sam said to give it thirty days, see how it went. She got mad at me when I told her that. But that’s what Sam said.”
Bill Siemer grew up on a farm in Lassen County, played basketball at Shasta JC, went to Vietnam, became a newspaper reporter and then a lawyer and now considers himself a champion of the story that needs to be told. He lives on the bank of the river and takes pictures.