Saturday, August 20, 2016

the tombs

Sitting at my computer this morning, scrolling around the news sites, drinking iced coffee, eating smoked salmon and heirloom tomatoes on a toasted pumpernickel bagel - suddenly the thought of the guys I'll be talking with tonight came to mind. I'll be doing volunteer service at The Tombs (The Manhattan Detention Complex) this evening. I'm contemplating what they eat for breakfast; what kind of morning they're having inside those cold, austere institutional walls, as the temperatures outside climb.

For a couple of hours tonight, two of my buddies and I will surrender our civilian rights to the NYC corrections system, and be let into the bowels of an ugly, windowless 1970s institutional building. We'll share our experience with the inmates who show up, and try to bring them a message of strength and hope. Attendance is voluntary, usually 5 to 10 guys will show up.

When I first started doing this, around 10 years ago, I was more than a little uncomfortable, a little scared, and felt very self-conscious (what should I wear? how should I talk? should I hide my orientation, or pretend to be something I'm not?). My impression is that most of the inmates we see are just guys down on their luck. Guys who were caught doing stupid things, things I might have done myself, but was saved from having any legal consequences because of dumb luck or white priviledge. The injustice and racial disparity of the judicial system is very plain when you're inside the belly of the beast. Of course, there are hardened criminals too, but the disproportionate amount of poor, disconsolate run-of-the-mill joes is a disturbing and grim reality. Glaringly evident is the lack of mental health services inside the system. A number of the inmates are simply mentally unstable and have wound up incarcerated as a result.

Those who show up are usually so grateful, it's almost heartbreaking. They know we've volunteered our time to come see them and talk to them, and they seem so happy anyone has gone out of their way to give them any attention. I can't begin to know what it must feel to be so isolated and apart; relegated to a community the majority of our culture wants treated as animals, a faction of which actually act as such, and the fear and stress of having to be forced to live among them in such awful conditions. I imagine they feel forgotten and hopeless. Ultimately, my experience has often been both sad and surprisingly rewarding.

Here is a 1905 photo of the Bridge of Sighs, the covered walking bridge that connects the NYC criminal courts building to the original Manhattan detention complex (the tombs), on Center Street downtown.

Sunday, August 7, 2016


Forgive me for getting sentimental. I just watched "Looking: The Movie" on HBO. It's the conclusion of the discontinued HBO series Looking. A kind of Sex in the City that takes place in San Francisco featuring gay men in their 20s and 30s. The storyline focuses on friendships, relationships, looking for love, commitment, life choices, and risk taking.

I lived in San Francisco from 1992 to 2002 - some very fun and some very hard-lived years. Having been there for ten years, almost every location in the film was recognizable to me. The final scene takes place in Orphan Andy's, a 24 hour greasy spoon in the Castro district that I used to frequent relatively often. At the end of the scene, the group of friends sits embracing each other as the camera pulls out to a long shot of my old neighborhood. Memories of nearly-forgotten relationships, poor life choices, and past friendships came flooding back. Sitting in front of my computer with tears running down my face, I felt very sentimental and self-indulgent. Likely due to the setting and the close friendships portrayed, my mind kept directing me to memories and thoughts of my friend Greg. I took this photo of him at the beach, probably around 1999 or 2000. It sits on a shelf in my room and I see it every day. Greg died in 2002. He was 38 years old. He was kind and he was beautiful, and he was always there for me. My last couple of years in SF, I was in pretty bad shape and was making some very poor life decisions. Greg was there for me; he held me and encouraged me. At my lowest, he was a source of strength and love. We don't get a lot of friends like that along the way. Hold onto the ones you have.

If there exists some 'other side' where we someday get reunited with our loved ones, I want to hold him again. I want to hear his laugh and feel his hand in my hand. I've never stopped loving him, and I miss him every day. 

Rest in peace, my angel.