Then came the day they told me I was going to Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. My mind barely registered what was written on the card, simply an address with no directions. I had a hazy thought of some run down homeless shelter in the middle of a bad neighborhood. Then I was out. After a year of being a lone shut-in that barely talked out loud, I was in the hot July sun, breathing fresh air and trying to see, my eyes squinting. I remember the cut grass lawn, how it smelled so much better than the stale air of Read. My feet where not used to the uneven surface and there where no walls to guide my walk. I climbed onto the CTA bus with just a bag of old clothes to my name and a months supply of the meds they had me on. How ironic, that after spending a month on suicide watch, they send you out on your own with enough drugs to kill yourself with. The smells where overwhelming. What with the year of only smelling myself and not having a cigarette in months, it was not good timing to have my nose start working again. I could feel perfumes wrap around my face like a wet towel. I recall standing on an L platform, the Montrose blue line stop, and hearing the stark roar of cars screaming by on either side as I kept from stumbling over the unguarded edge to the rails. Presently, I was on the rocking and swaying subway, lights flashing by as I tried to get my sea-legs, the squeal of the rails so loud that my eyes squeezed shut. I had gone from death’s waiting room to a toboggan flying down the slope of an erupting volcano… and I didn’t care, my mind was a blank.
The mission didn’t look at all like I thought it would. It is a big, solid and clean structure that greeted me on the inside with a wide inviting hallway who’s floor is painted yellow. The PGM is a miracle. They get no federal funding, yet feed, shower and give beds to over 600 people a night. More than just temporary comfort, they also provide a life changing Bible program to those that want to try to get back on their feet.
When I had walked in, I had no idea of anything, no thought on what my future might be, and any wild thoughts of being ‘rescued’ from my situation had long ago faded. I merely existed. I stopped at the security kiosk and asked where to go. The guard could tell I was new and offered up a sack lunch and told me to sit on a bench near by. The food was the best I had had in months, as the food at Read was nasty government surplus swill. Soon, a kind grey-haired old man called my name and waved me onto his tiny office. His name was Wendle Davis and within 5 minutes got me to smile for the first time in weeks. he explained that I could do like 90% of the men there and live on the edge, or I could join the Bible program and sleep in a separate, safer area upstairs, all I had to do was sign a 30-day agreement.
Now, every decision I had made in my life so far was wrong, so I wasn’t in any hurry to go down any road too fast. I thanked Wendle and told him I’d read the paperwork and think about it. It took me an hour of reading and pondering on that bench, I was way too tired to walk anywhere, and finally decided to sign up. I had nothing left to loose.
The next few days where kind of a blur. They gave me clothing, a bag of toiletries and a top bunk up in dorm 3026. When I think of 3026, I think of the inside of a submarine with 60 guys and a skosh more room. It measures about 60×50 foot, it’s hot and stuffy and well, there are a lot of sounds and smells that guys make while snoring and out the other end. Oddly enough, you get used to the smells after a week, but I’ll never get used to the sounds.
Rules, there are lots of rules, and they are needed. You are dealing with a bunch of guys that did it their way so much that most have lost everything, so we need structure.