Jerry is sitting at the metal picnic table outside the halfway house. This is the spot, he says, where God talks to him, where he has visions and hears the word, things that are so magnificent they are difficult for him to describe. He came here a little over a year ago, out of prison for the fifth time in his 43 years. He was here two weeks and God started talking to him. He was told that his job was to bring people to God. He has been spreading the word since then; goes down to the South City Park, big grin on his face, happy, sparkling eyes, spreading God’s love on anyone who will listen.
He wrote a new song yesterday, when he was walking back from his solicitations. He brings his guitar out, plays the same base chord progression over and over. His eyes are glistening. Abraham is barking the whole time. It doesn’t bother Jerry, who calls the dog his percussionist. He talks about God. About his search to find him. He says people fill their time with activity so that they don’t have to think about it. It’s like everyone is hiding from it. It is why people chase money, he says. “I don’t know who to pray for, the people who drive an Escalade or the people who don’t have a car.”
Jerry is a barber, has worked for every barber shop in town. But they all had to find a new barber when he’d go back on drugs so he has a hard time getting a job. He’s thinking about going into old folks homes, giving men cuts. It would give him an opportunity to proselytize. Or, he says, “I could open another one called Kingdom Kuts, black and white and red tile. It would be a place for everyone. Kids could be there, get their haircuts, just like the old days. Barber shops were great places. “I had a barber shop but I barely survived because if anyone came in and said they needed a haircut but didn’t have any money, I gave it to them. They’d give me two cigarettes. I was back on drugs. I think God just wanted me to go back one more time to make me stronger.”
His dad drank himself to death about five years ago and then his grandfather committed suicide. He was raised in Inglewood. They moved up here when he was about fourteen. He pretty much lost his family when he was doing drugs but when he found God they came back. Bought him a Transam. He was starting to go back to his old ways, last Christmas, was at a party, when someone came in and said your car’s on fire. It was wiring under the dash that burned it up but he took it as a message. His family then bought him the pickup that he drives.
He says his family used to call what he was doing “partying”. Or when he’d get out, they’d say, you are going to go back to partying, aren’t you. “It was anything but a party. I’d get out after two years, seven months, pass the programs, everything, but then I’d go back to meth and in a couple of months I’d be back in jail for another three years.” He’s never been married. He’d get a girlfriend but it would be based on drugs. They’d use each other. “I was trapped. I didn’t stop until I found God. I’ve been so excited ever since. I want to sing his praises. It’s probably a good thing I live in a house with a bunch of Christians.”
Jerry has a vision of performing a play in Caldwell Park, The Sermon on the Mountain. The guys from the house could take different parts. They could borrow, if they wanted, some of the costumes that they used at Easter. He wants to do a flyer, send it around to all the other churches, invite everyone. It would be designed to bring unity to Christians; they could baptize people in the river. “I’ve been through the phone book,” he says. “There are so many churches. Everyone thinks they are the way. We could team with them. The kids there would love to do it.”
Jerry comes into the Tuesday night prayer group with a single sheet of paper in which he has printed his thoughts and his agenda for the Sermon from the Mountain party that he is planning for July 16th. But he gets off track, takes over the meeting in his zeal, gets into an argument with some of the others over whether Jesus’s love covers everyone and who will go to heaven. They argue about judgment, sinners, acceptance, repentance. Jerry ends up saying that Lucifer is Jesus.
Jerry with his grin, his backwards baseball cap, his slightly bloodshot eyes, says he’s couch hopping now, staying with a lady from the church. Yes, he had a couple of beers before the prayer group last week. So what? He loves his body. He’s not going to hurt it. He’s finding a path. It doesn’t matter that the guys kicked him out. He took them back to the house that night. He was tired, climbed in his bunk, was going to sleep, when they came in, said “Sam wants to see you.” “In the morning, I say. No, now. He wants to see you now. Oh, all right. I didn’t know why he had to see me that night. I go down there, see him. He asks if I had a beer. Yes, I had a beer. He doesn’t say anything about my blasphemy at the meeting. He’s been holding everything over my head for the last three months because I haven’t been able to pay him any money. I want you out of here, he says, tonight. If I’m drunk why don’t you let me sleep it off in my bunk? I’ll leave in the morning. No, now, he says. So I walked the walk of shame back up to the house, got my stuff. No one said a word. No one. Not one of my brothers. Then the church secretary called me, said I should take a three month leave from the church band, that I shouldn’t come to church, either.
“I don’t care. It’s fine. I don’t need to be a rock star for God. It would have been nice,” he smiles a sad smile.
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.