Author: Nelson Morais
Date: Dec. 4, 2015
(It’s impossible to deny the intervention of God in my getting off the streets after being homeless for a total of about six years. In my new ebook, “From Homeless to Heaven,” (available at www.homelesstoheaven.com, or Amazon.com), I recount the specifics of how I agreed on one day in spring of 1999 to stay on mental health medicine which, fortunately, led to the discovery that I was not Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, but rather just Nelson Morais, a regular guy. The great stuff about my getting saved, and my mind healing even more, would soon follow.)
Chapter 25 of “From Homeless to Heaven”
Back to Tennessee
In the spring of 1999, roughly one and one-half years after I left San Diego and returned to living on the streets, I found myself in Boone again, staying at the Hospitality House (a homeless shelter in Boone).
I was broke and bored. Without money, there wasn’t much new for me to experience in the mountain town. Whenever I began to feel that way in an area, I would begin to think there were more adventures in other towns for me to discover. Therefore, in order to break up the monotony, I decided to hitchhike to Johnson City in Tennessee. When leaving Boone, I did not worry much about catching a ride because it seemed people living in rural areas were more likely to offer a hitchhiker a ride. That was not the case with generally uptight and fearful people who live in larger, metropolitan areas.
When I reached Johnson City, I checked into the Haven of Mercy homeless shelter for men. For the next few days, I wandered around the city. I spent time at the public library in town, where I read newspapers and magazines, usually about national politics. I also perused books I found interesting, such as biographies of famous historical figures. At night, I returned to the shelter. I recall that on one visit to the library, my thoughts were so troubled that my preoccupation was with which sofa or couch to sit on, and then how long to stay there before getting up and moving to another seat that “God” wanted me to move to.
One night, after I missed dinner and the check-in time at the shelter, I started going into restaurants in the North Roan Street area, near downtown. I tried maybe three different restaurants, but was unsuccessful in getting food. I next tried a somewhat fancy Italian restaurant, but struck out there, as well. Adding to my woes was that it literally was a dark and stormy night. Winds were picking up, and the sky was quickly filling up with menacing storm clouds.
I was hungry and feared I would not find an alcove in front of, or behind, a business or church to protect me from the rain certain to fall that night. I also realized I would have to bear the cold that night without a blanket or any extra clothing to keep me warm. It was then that a Ford Taurus stopped at the curb beside me, and the passenger side window went down. The driver leaned over and asked me if I needed something to eat, and I said yes. “It’s getting to storming pretty bad,” he said. I agreed.
I found out his name was Frank, and when he asked me where I wanted to eat, I said Burger King. He said he had seen me walk into some restaurants for brief periods of time, and assumed I was asking for food. Frank didn’t say much while I ate my combo meal. I was grateful he respected my privacy. After I ate, Frank, who appeared to be in his 60s and I found out was divorced, was kind enough to allow me to spend the night at his apartment.
Several days after that evening, while on my own and always privately, I developed a unique form of “praying.” It consisted of me balancing myself on my knees and extending my hands to grasp my ankles behind me. When I “prayed” this way, I had a hard time maintaining my balance. With practice, however, I learned to hold the difficult position for close to one minute. I believed that the longer I balanced my body on my knees, the more I pleased “God.” I never uttered any words during my balancing act. I didn’t think I had to, or was supposed to, do that.
I visited the Johnson City Mall one day, and felt compelled to “pray” in a very public fashion. I went to an indoor walkway that connected the shops there and, in full view of many shoppers walking past me in both directions, I “prayed” in my unique fashion. Within a few minutes, a security guard approached me and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was “praying.” He wasn’t convinced. Instead, he decided to escort me out of the mall, always staying very close to my side (in case I decided to run wild, I guess). He extracted a promise from me to never return to the mall.
On another day, I walked past the city limits of Johnson City, saw a hillside, and felt “a calling” to “pray” there. On the hillside, with its grass and brush, it was even more difficult to maintain the desired position on my knees. I was frequently changing locations on the hillside, “praying” for just a few seconds at each spot, when a police car pulled up and the officer asked me what I was doing. Apparently, someone had called the police about a man exhibiting some odd behavior on a hill next to a road. I informed the officer I was “praying,” and gave him an alias. He drove me to the police station where, after about an hour, I relented and gave him my real name. Since there were no warrants out for my arrest, I was released.
I ran into Frank, who had a calm demeanor, a few times at the public library. He said he worked in the mental health field as the manager of a group home, and suggested I take a low dosage of Risperdol, which he had samples of. Remember, I had gone through this process several times when I had been committed to mental institutions. My thoughts improved dramatically when I took the medicine prescribed to me. However, each time after I left a mental institution, I stopped taking medication because I didn’t think I needed it. As a result, I soon returned to my delusional thinking.
This time would be different. I responded very well to the Risperdol, but perhaps more importantly, I accepted the advice of a stranger to keep taking it daily. In less than five weeks, I realized I was not Jesus Christ, but rather Nelson Morais. That “revelation” was more than just a little disconcerting because my importance in the universe fell from the highest point to practically nil. I lost what I thought had been my purpose in life, which was, in essence, to “train up” for the day I would rule the world. I now felt unimportant, insignificant. I felt I had been deceived, but, didn’t blame anyone for that, not even myself. On the plus side, it seemed as though all the pressure I had placed on myself to perform for “God” as his only begotten son — all of those rituals and crazy mind games – gently disappeared.
Frank directed me to a free clinic near downtown Johnson City that catered to a lot of low-income and/or homeless people. I was fortunate to have Judy Rice, a pretty, brunette nurse practitioner in her 30s, see me. She seemed to have a genuine interest in my well-being.
I explained my previous symptoms to her, especially my times at Bethel Colony and elsewhere where I felt compelled to freeze up and stay motionless. She said, “I believe you have a schizoaffective disorder, a mild form of schizophrenia.” The word “schizophrenia” shocked me somewhat; it just sounded so serious and, well, serious. On the other hand, you’ll notice she said mild schizophrenia. I hated to think how I would have acted with full-blown schizophrenia! Still, it was a big relief to hear from Judy that my bizarre behavior had a name to it. Judy also decided I suffered from depression, and put me on a low dosage of Prozac. Thus began about four or five months of trying to find the right dosage of Risperdol and Prozac. During this time, there were days I felt so drugged up that I walked around like a zombie. I would then return to Judy, and she’d try a different dosage. One noticeable side effect of the medicine I took was drowsiness.
Author: Nelson Morais
Date: Nov. 27, 2015
What’s so funny about being homeless? Nothing, you might assume. But you’d be wrong, at least in my experience of being homeless for about six years. I believe my (admittedly twisted) sense of humor kept me from utter despair. And sometimes, I was the source of humor for others who saw or met me … like the time I found a unique way to delight tourists in Key West.
The following is a small excerpt from chapter 16 of my ebook, “From Homeless to Heaven.” I hope you’ll laugh with me as I recount what happened one night.
“One day, near one end of Duval Street, I found something very unusual on a sidewalk. It was a felt-covered blue pillow in the shape of an over-sized Crayon. It was about six feet long and colorful. How it got there, I had no idea. However, seizing the opportunity for a little fun, I tucked it under my right arm, with the pointed end a few feet ahead of me, and the rest of it extending behind me.
It was approaching dusk. The bars on Duval Street were quickly filling up. A lot of them had open spaces where windows would normally go, affording the bar patrons an unobstructed view of the diverse parade of people walking by them. In front of one bar, I accidentally poked a man on his backside with the tip of the Crayon. He turned around, saw the Crayon, appeared alarmed, and quickly moved aside to give me ample room. I was walking on my tiptoes then (thanks to ‘God’s’ instructions), and sometimes stopping and doing a difficult balancing act to avoid falling over or landing my shoes back flat on the ground. Sure enough, some bar patrons saw me and laughed heartily at the strange sight of a man – a homeless man, at that — with a straight face who was carrying a humongous Crayon for no good reason.
After getting the surprised looks and other reactions I was looking for along Duval Street, I found a shuttered business on a less trafficked street. I put the Crayon on the stoop’s wide, top step, and tried to sleep on it by resting my head on the pillow/stuffed toy. (It was hard to know for sure what the Crayon’s purpose in life was.)
After only a few minutes, however, a male tourist must have thought it funny to wake up a homeless man, so he grabbed one end of the Crayon, jerked it out from under my head while I was trying to sleep, laughed, and continued on his way. I wasn’t amused. I decided trying to sleep in that spot wasn’t a good idea, so back I went down Duval Street in the opposite direction I had taken, with my big blue Crayon again secured under my arm, and bewildered, laughing tourists all around. I then ditched the Crayon in the same area where I had found it, believing it had finished serving its comic purpose in my life.”
Author: Nelson Morais
Date: Nov. 20, 2015
When I read an article today that was printed in the newspaper I work for, about efforts in East Tennessee to find permanent housing for all local homeless veterans, I thought back to “Richard.” He was the veteran I became friends with when we were staying at the same halfway house in West Palm Beach, Fla., in 1993. I wrote about our experience moving to Johnson City, Tenn., where we lived with his father, also a veteran, while looking for construction jobs in the area.
It was late November or early December, with snow on the ground, and few active work sites that we could apply at for jobs. We even volunteered as painters at a museum in downtown Johnson City with the hope our bosses would like our work and hire us. After a couple of days of working as volunteers, we sensed full-time work would not be offered to us, so we quit.
I relate some of our shared experiences in my memoir about my being homeless for about six years in the 1990s, titled, “From Homeless to Heaven.” Though Richard and I had roofs over our heads, first at the halfway house, and then at his father’s house, we were essentially homeless. We had no permanent homes to return to, no options to fall back on. While Richard’s father welcomed us into his home, he was adamant that we could not drink alcohol while there.
That proved to be an impossible rule for Richard to keep. He started drinking vodka on the our bus trip north to Tennessee. While in “Willie’s” home, Richard’s drinking soon became obvious, despite his attempts to do it secretly.
Richard was a Vietnam veteran who opposed the war after he was discharged from the U.S. Army. He had in previous years worked in a professional photography shop in the Johnson City area before being fired for — you guessed it — drinking alcohol. Richard also told me that several years earlier, he had lived as a homeless man on the Johnson City Veterans Affairs hospital’s grounds.
In 1993, Richard was in his 40s, good-natured, humorous, and pleasant to be around. He dreamed of opening his own photography shop one day, with living quarters in the back so we could save on housing costs. (Richard had promised a mutual friend in Florida before we left that he would look after me in Tennessee. The two of them assumed I could not survive on my own in the world, which was probably true then, due to my emerging mental illness, schizophrenia. I thought I was fine. They knew better, however.)
I wonder now, would Richard have accepted permanent housing if it were made available to him back in the 1990s via a program similar to the one now offered to homeless veterans in East Tennessee? The answer is definitely yes.
In 1993, one day Willie drove his son and me to Boone, N.C., which Richard had lived in previously. Willie dropped us off at the homeless shelter in Boone. That day, however, was the last time I saw Richard. I checked in, but he went out before the shelter’s curfew to get drunk. When he returned to the shelter, he was barred from staying there because he was drunk.
I spent the next few days hoping I’d cross paths with Richard again, but that never happened. While in Johnson City a month earlier, Richard had been admitted to the VA hospital as a patient suffering with alcohol poisoning. I remember his doctor saying if he drank again, he’d probably live no more than six more months.
What happened to Richard? I don’t know. However, barring some unforeseen miracle, I presume he did die within the year following the last day I saw him in Boone. That thought saddens me immensely.
Author: Nelson Morais
Date: Nov. 17, 2015
I’ve noticed that when I share with young men (say, 20-25 years old) my experience of being homeless for six years, they often tell me about their own homeless experiences, which usually lasted only months, not years.
Most of these men I’ve talked to had addictions, but now attend a Christian rehab program in this part of northeast Tennessee. When I was growing up in a Southern California suburb during the 60s and 70s, I didn’t know of anyone becoming homeless. In high school, there were rumors that a few students smoked marijuana, but not in the circle of friends that I had.
These days, of course, drugs are rampant, and easy to find. I believe it’s why we see a continuous need for homeless shelters, especially in cities.
In my ebook, “From Homeless to Heaven,” available at www.homelesstoheaven.com, I recount my story of hanging out in southern Georgia with a man in his 20s who I name “Jimmy Cruz.” Our paths crossed at a Salvation Army shelter, while we stayed there a few days.
When we both discovered we shared a desire for crack cocaine, we moved out of the Salvation Army and lived on the streets, or occasionally in a trailer that Jimmy rented that had no furnishings. On the surface, there was no reason for Jimmy to be homeless. He was outgoing, knew how to repair car engines, and, unlike me, could hold his own on constructions sites that we worked on briefly.
Jimmy had a Jeep co-owned by his sister, who did not live in the area we were in. The problem was, and is, that once you’ve tasted the highs of illegal narcotics, getting and using those drugs become your primary focus. That was definitely true with us. Whatever money we made went to buying food to sustain us, gas for Jimmy’s car, and, most importantly, getting our hands on more crack cocaine. One day, Jimmy decided to trade his car for crack from a drug dealer. When you crave a drug, you don’t, as a pastor friend likes to tell men at that local Christian rehab center, “play the tape to the end.” There was no public transportation in the town that Jimmy and I were in. But in our minds, a car worth $1,200 could get us a lot of crack. I’m sure Jimmy thought like I did: we’d figure something out about getting around town without a vehicle when that became our reality.
My homeless experience was a little different than Jimmy’s. I, too, was a drug addict, but I also suffered from a mental illness that kept me convinced for years that I NEEDED to stay homeless.
Not every person I met in homeless shelters or on the streets had a “drug problem.” But I bet a majority of them did.