SideWalk Ghosts / Interview 234: Pappy

“I used to have no remorse for anybody. I’d do anything, anytime… and with no questions… They called me suicide.

I’m not that person anymore,” Pappy introduces himself to me as he exposes the reason for his change of life, “You have to faith in god.”

An x-rider from a serious bike gang, Pappy openly spends a few hours with me today as I run into him outside of a local grocery store.

“I was not a good man and have done a lot of things in my life that I regret. But now my life is very different. I will never go back to the way I was. And I am on the streets to protect people.”

Pappy tell me of his rebirth to society, “’I remember leaving San Francisco, (he is referring to San Quentin) and coming home to Canoga Park (he even went to the same high school as my wife, played football there).

I had two hundred dollars in my pocket and that was it. As many ex-cons do, I could have found a room for the night, got a few beers and started the next day with nothing. Instead I went to my parole officer. He greeted me with, ‘I thought you’d never make it!’”

Pappy tells me of the doubt that his parole officer had about his release. He even admits to breaking his parole on three occasions. Yet in this admission, Pappy also talks of his growth. “I committed to change my life. I got out of the gang and began the work to change my life. It was hard, but I did it.”

Pappy tells me of his battle with relapses to past behaviors and of the way he felt when he was in the depths of what he calls, “My days of no remorse.”

“I never want to feel that way again,” Pappy reminiscently expresses. A stark contrast to the tattooed tears he bears under eyes. And empowering his street earned wisdom is a tremendous spirit of empathy that veils the very atmosphere around him.

Pappy has made countless bad choices, something that he has no hesitations in discussing. “I made a lot of mistakes in life that put me in Arizona State Penitentiary for seventeen years and San Quentin for another two.”

What is remarkable is the passionate focus Pappy carries in his revitalized life quest for doing whatever he can to help those around him.

He tells me of a story. “’A few years ago I needed to make a phone call and I had no money. I asked a man in a white shirt and tie if he had a quarter to spare. He walked past me as if I was invisible. A year later I was walking down the same street and I ran into the same man again. This time he was dirty, scared and homeless. I recognized him, and he recognized me. At first he did not approach me, so I asked him if he was alright. ‘I’m hungry and don’t know where I will get food, he said. I showed him where to eat and gave him five bucks. I carried no anger for the way he treated me the first time I met him. I was more concerned for his safety.’”

Pappy shares other accounts of his change of perspective away from self and towards others. Accounts that are far too many to write. But I can paraphrase as a whole. Bottom line… most of the local stores, police, fire stations and his community of homeless know Pappy well. In Pappy’s words, “They used to fear me, now they are my friends.”

Friends who have helped to shelter, feed, warm and watch out for Pappy since realizing that he is a changed man.

As verified in quoting his parole officer, who when Pappy completed his final parole time said, “When I first met you, I was pretty sure you would not make it, you proved me wrong.”

Pappy takes only partial credit for his accomplishment in returning to society. “I could not have done it on my own, first I give credit to God, but I really need to much give credit to pastor John, he saved me.

When the pastor first met me, I was not living the way I knew I needed to live. Pastor John never judged me, he never worried about what I would do, and with no questions asked, he reached out to me, trusting me to work as security for his church, door keys and all.”

A trust that to this day Pappy is committed to value in never breaking.

“I no longer care for myself only…” Pappy testifies, “…and even if you treat me wrong, I’m still going to treat you with respect.”

The feeling I get as I speak with Pappy is just as he states. Even standing in the fading light of his churches parking lot (we have since taken a walk from our grocery store meeting place) there is not a second that I feel in harms path. Quite the opposite actually, for I am absolutely positive my back is being watched. Pappy is just that kind of guy as evidenced by the caring waves from the cars of departing members of the congregation.

Pappy proclaims of his relationship with God, “Everything I think… he knows.

This is the first time in my life I have had peace. You see… for most of my life I was looking for acceptance anywhere I could get it. But now I realize that what I was really looking for was love.

I know that God loves me, and because of that, I want to do the best I can to love others.”

And it is this love, as well as Pappy’s regained respect for others, that has led him on the path to forgiveness, to himself, for others and an active voice in his sincere desire to be forgiven.

I’m OK living on the streets. I have a car (earned $1,600 dollars to purchase it by collecting cans) and my dog. For now, that is good enough for me. It’s a roof over my head and I count my blessings.

“I do not fear any longer, when I hear a siren behind me I don’t jump. They aren’t after me. And that feels good,” Pappy radiates.

“The world is basically going down the drain,” Pappy soberly councils. “The rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the sick… sicker. The homeless need to look out for each other, and that is why I am here.

Pappy is an iconic example of man’s ability for life change. A life changed away from crime, vice and selfishness. And a man who has earned the chops in understanding what he must do to continue the works he has committed his life to.

He leaves us with a quote as he walks me home in the darkness of the night, “Trust Only God… and never let you guard down.”

Pappy, we’ll talk again… my friend.