Forgotten Fight Oral History Transcript


Interviewee’s name: DN

Interviewer’s name: KG

Transcribed by: Stephanie Bovoso


KG:  So, we’ll start with your name and if you could tell me a little bit about yourself and your life growing up, and where you’re from.


DN:  My name is Don Juan Nettles.  I’m from Cleveland, Ohio.  I was born and raised in Ohio.  A little bit about myself:  I love to travel. I’ve been to college.  I went to Ohio Institute of Technology.  And from there I joined the Marine Corps.  I went in and did 3 years in the Marine Corps.   I got out of the Marine Corps.  I am basically mechanically inclined.  I have a different trade.  I went to private investigating.  I got a certificate for that.  I’m a certified mechanic.  I’m an electrician.  I went back to school in 2009; I went to {Remington}College.  I studied ET, electronic technician; so, I have a certificate in electrician technician.  And what else do you want to know about? (chuckles)


KG:  What brought you to Richmond?


DN:  What brought me to Richmond?  Oh, ok, let me go back.  About this time last year I was very depressed.  I was going to different sources, different people in Ohio.  I even tried to get help, because everything was falling out from under me.  So I went to, it’s called, Veteran’s Commission Center Commission in Cleveland, Ohio, where they’s supposed to give you help and everything.  So I went to them and I told them, you know, at this particular time I had a place to stay; all I wanted was some food.  So I asked them for a voucher for to get some food.  And she’s like, “Well,” the lady said, “well we can’t give you just a voucher for food. We have to give you a voucher for rent…”  And I said, “That’s a waste of money. I don’t want that.”  And, you know, she acted real nasty to us, and I picked up on it, and I’m like “Ok.”  So I say, “     I had just started a job.  That’s one reason why I needed the food; I just started the job and they   I wasn’t there to ask for the money.  So I told her, I said, “I have to go back to work.  And she said, “Well,” she said, “I’ll, you know, let someone else talk to you.”  And, like ok, so, when I left there, I called back to the office, and I said “Can I speak to    . My name is Don Juan Nettles.  I’m a veteran.  In my last four…The lady that I spoke to had a very nasty attitude towards me.  Is there any way that I can talk to someone above her?”  About 30 minutes later, my phone rings again, and it’s the lady.  She’s like, “Well, so what is your problem, Mr. Nettles?”  I say, “I don’t have a problem.  I’m just trying to find out what do I have to do to get a voucher for some food?”  And she’s like, “Well, like I told you, if you don’t fill out this, and fill out that, we’re not gonna give you no voucher.”  And I say, “Ok, well, I don’t need all that.”  And she just came out of the blue and said, “You know what sir, we can’t help you.”  And hung up.  So that was an add-on to my depression; ‘cause, like I said, everything was falling out from under me, and everyone that I went to for help didn’t want to help.  They closed the doors on me.  Friends, family, and everything.  So I got to the point where I didn’t want to live no more.  So I tried to commit suicide.  I took 120 Tylenols with codeine; and I guess the Lord wasn’t ready for me to go.  And a friend of mine who’shouse I was over, she camein and she saw me with different color to my eyes, so she took me to the hospital.  And they pumped my stomach, and they gave me this black tar.  I threw that up, and the next thing I know, they put me in the psycho ward.  I was in the psycho ward for 2 weeks, and the more it went on, it’s like, you don’t belong here, ‘cause half the people up in that ward, I feel, they need to be here.  They was really crazy.  I was just depressed.  So then this was right before Father’s Day, theweekend before Father’s Day, and I thought I was gonna get out that Friday.  So I went in, you have to go in front of doctors and stuff, doctors, psychiatrists, social workers.  They got everybody in this room; and they was asking me how do I feel. And I said, “I feel better.”  And it was like, ok, so then I was like, “Can I have my clothes?”  And they was like, “What you need your clothes for?” I said, “Sunday is Father’s Day and I have plans for Father’s Day” And then the guy, he say to me, “You’re not gonna be able to go to your plans, ‘cause you’re not leaving.”  So I’m like “Ok.”  So I left out the room.  I was pissed.  I was upset.  And I came back in; I said, “Can I at least have my clothes?”  ‘Cause when you there, just to make sure you don’t go nowhere, they keep you in pajamas.  So when you leave, you cannot get off the floor, ‘cause it’s locked.  So I went back in the room, I said, “Can I at least have my clothes?”  They said, “No.”  So I’m like, “Ok.”  And I set in the little breakroom, and I’m pissed, and I’m thinking to myself, “Ok, Don, that’s what they want you to do; they want to see how much they can push you before you actually break, and they say “he’s not cured yet, he still depressed.”  I got used to it.  But anyway, how I ended up here…the day after I got out, I was talking to some of my friends.  One of the ladies, she came to pick me up, ‘cause I couldn’t find anybody to pick me up from the hospital.  So she came and picked me up; well, she came and picked me up because she wanted some money.  So she came and she picked me up.  The job that I had, I lost the job ‘cause I ended up in the hospital.  I went to get my last check.  I cashed my check.  She asked for some money.  I gave her the money; and I’m saying to myself this is the whole reason of my depression; because I’m a kind-hearted person.  I would give you my last before I do for myself.  And, see, everybody knew that.  And after I gave her the money and everything, it’s like, wow, man, you still out on the streets, you got nowhere to go.  So I ended up in a shelter in Cleveland.  Supposed to have been for veterans; and if anybody go to Cleveland, Ohio, to that shelter for veterans, I advise them they’d be better off sleeping in the backyard with a dog.  Cause that’s how they…you know… we veterans, we fought for our country, and this is how we treated.  So I had to stay there one night for them to consider me homeless.  So I stayed there that one night, and the next night I couldn’t go back.  I walked the streets, and walked the streets. And a lady-friend of mine that I used to date some time back, I called her, and we was talking and she was like, “What are you doing? You don’t have to be out on the street.  You can come stay here.”  So I went, and I was staying with her for a while.  And it’s like, the man in me, if I can’t, if there’s nothing there for me to offer you for your hospitality, I feel bad.  So I was starting to feel bad. Then another young lady that I used to date, about 15, 20 years ago, we kept in touch, we were friends, she lives here in Virginia.  And she just happened to call.  We were talking, and I told her what I went through. And she’s like, “I tell you what…,”  she said, “I’ll send you a plane ticket. Come down here, start your life all over, get yourself together.”  So I’m like, cool, so I came down here, I was here for 3 months, and every day that I was here, I walked up and down the {??} Turnpike.  Every business, if you go down there, you’ll see, every business has an application for me.  I thinkI was putting in anywhere between 15 and 20 applications a day.  And all this time, I was walking, and I was walking, I would say, probably 9-10 miles a day, just walking.  I’d go down on one side then I’d go on back up, put in an application.  And I finally, made my way all the way down to the Goodwill.  But before then, the lady I was staying with, she approached me, and shewas like, “What do you want?”  I said, “What do you mean, what do I want?”  And she, like, “Well, I’m looking for a relationship. I got needs”  And I’m like, ok, here we go. You know, I knew this was gonna come out.  And I told her, what I just went through, my mind is not mentally prepared to have a relationship, I said, because I wouldn’t be comfortable, and you wouldn’t be comfortable.  And I would say, probably about a week later, she was like, “Well, I got needs.”  And I say, “Once again, I wouldn’t feel comfortable because, and that means, like, I’m having sex with you to keep a roof over my head, and I would feel less than trash.  [11:03]

I ain’t tryin to do that neither. So, like I say, four months went by…. She was leaving, and she turned around and came back. And she said, “I need my keys.”  And I sad, “Ok”, and I gave her the keys. “it’s your house, I’m not gonna put up a fight.”  And I gave her the keys.  So I went in the room, and I’m sittin there watchin tv, about 8, 8:30, she came in and said “You have to leave”.    And I had just bought a scooter…all I had was a scooter… so I get as much clothes as I could get in my backpack and strapped all this on the back of the scooter.  And I’m out ridding.  I don’t know the city,

I don’t have no friends or family here. So I’m riding.  So I pulled over, I called the Veteran’s Hotline, the crisis line. And the lady was saying, “There’s nothing we can do.”  She said, “What you can do is, you can go over to this shelter downtown, and stay there for the night.”  I said,. “Where’s downtown? Where’s the shelter?”  She gave me the address.  I put it in my phone. As I’m riding along, and all of a sudden the bike just cut off.  It wouldn’t start back up.  I said, “God, what else is next?”  I called the lady back, and I was talking to her and she said, “How far away are you?”  And I said, “I don’t even know where I am.  I’m not from around here; I just moved up here.”  I set there for a minute after I got off the phone with her; I hit the starter, and it started up.  I said, “Thank you Lord”   I got downtown right about 9:30, 10 o’clock.  I finally found the building, cause I didn’t know where it was. So I went to check in, the door’s locked. I knocked on the door, security came out, she’s like, well, “You’re too late. You have to be here at 8”.  But I didn’t know.  So I went back out and I called the Veteran’s Crisis line again.  And the lady was talking to me, And I said, I’m falling back into that same category that I was in before.  While I was talking to her, the security lady came out, she said,” Come here” and we talked on the side of the building.  She said, “This is what you do: give me your helmet.  I’ll take your helmet in.  Walk down to the middle of the street, go out to the curb.  Call the {Richmond} police.  Tell them you’re homeless and you need some place to stay.  They will escort you in, they have to let you in.”  So that’s what I did.  The police came.  They escorted me in. They gave me a little bitty mat with, they call it a space blanket.  And you walk into this room, and there’s all these people all over the floor.  And it stunk.  I took my soap, and I put it up under my nose and I lay down.  I’m starting to fall asleep and I felt something crawling on me.  I look over, and there’s a bedbug.  I got my stuff.  I walked out.  From about 3:30 that morning to about 7 o’clock, I just rolled, it was ice cold.  I said, ”I gotta go get some heat, I gotta warm up.” So I went and I checked in to the Emergency Room at the VA.  I told them the story {indistinguishable…about the arm…}  the nurse came and I was layin in the bed and she seen that I was shivering, and she gave me all these blankets they just took out the dryer and she got me something to eat.  The sun came up and I went to work.  And that’s how I ended up here.  My story can go on forever.


KG:  We’re gonna backtrack a little bit.  When did you join the military? (16:05)


DN:  I joined the Marine Corps in 1978.


KG:  What led to your decision to join?


DN:  I was in college cause I had graduated.  I hadn’t finished college the first time.  And I was like, I need to do something, I don’t want to go back home.  So I actually joined the Army when I was in Columbus, Ohio.  That’s where I was going to school.  I went to visit my mother, and a lot of the guys I graduated from high school (with) had joined the Marine Corps and they got out. {indistinguishable} Man, you can’t do the Marine Corps, it’s this and it’s that….  So I’m more like the kind of person, I love a challenge.  So I went to a Marine Corps recruiter, and I told him, “I’m scheduled to go into the Army, but I don’t want to go into the Army.  I want to go into the Marine Corps.”  And he said,” Ain’t, no problem, that’s fine.”  So he had all my paperwork shipped from Columbus to Cleveland.  And I didn’t have to take the test over or nuthin, they just went off my paperwork, my scores, from the Army, so that’s what put me in the Marine Corps.


KG:  What did your friends and family think?  (17:20)


DN:  When I went to the Marine Corps?


KG:  Yes


DN:  “Man, when you come out, you gonna be crazy!”


KG:  Why did they think that?


DN:  Because the Marine Corps has a reputation.  And once you go through the Marine Corps, if you are weak minded, yes, you are gonna come out crazy.  Because the Marines, the training that you go through, it’s a mind game.  It’s a mind game, but it’s also a survival game.  So, if you follow they mind game they way they want you to, they brainwash you, you come out crazy.  I’m a little bit stronger than that. When I first went in, got off the bus, at 3:30 in the morning, and this little guy is hollering and stuff, and I’m like, “What the hell I done got myself into?”  But, I did my 3 years.  I got an honorable discharge.  I got out.  And I’m not crazy.


KG:  Can you tell me a little bit about your time in the Marines?  What memories stick out to you?


DN:  All of ‘em!  ‘Cause we used to, there was 7 of us, we called ourselves “The Magnificent Seven”.  And we didn’t take no stuff.  We all from different places, we had Moses; he was from Youngstown, Ohio.  We had Carter; he was from Miami. We had Davis; he was from South Carolina.  We had Whittaker; he was from Tennessee.  Who else was there….Myself….I can’t remember now….there were 7 of us.   We used to do some dirt.  We used to go places, and a lot of places, a lot of little towns, don’t like Marines . So we ended up getting, we stayed in fights.  Everywhere we went, we fought.  Me and one of my partners, Carter, we became real close.  We used to make bets.  A lot of times we all went out together, or we went separate ways.  So, when we go separate ways, the bet is, for every new girl that you meet, you gotta bring a pair of panties.  That was our little thing.  But do the panties gotta be the ones she had on, but like, no, you just gotta come up with some panties that was hers!  If I meet a new girl, first thing we do is we go to the store, “You have to buy me a pair of panties”!  So when we all get back together…

KG:  Where were you stationed?

DN:  Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.  We’d get together, and we’d do our love chat and stuff…but what we used to do, how we made our money, it’s against the law in the Marine Corps…we used to do loan-sharking.  We would fill our cars up with gas, maybe put $100 in our pockets, and the rest of our money, we’d put it together, and we’d loan it out.  And, I mean, when we loaned it out, it’s $1 for $1.  So, if I loan you $10, you owe me $20.  You get a check on the 15th and the 30th.  We would hold our money from the 15th to the 20th because we know that everyone else like to go out on the town, drink beer, do what they do, and they’re broke by the 20th .  So we loan out the money and come pay day, you gotta give us our money.  If you don’t give us our money, we beat you up.

KG:  Do you still keep in contact with any of them?

DN:  We did, for a while.  Every year, we used to meet up at the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and, maybe after 2 or 3 years, it got hard for us to meet up because to make reservations, you have to make reservations that same night before you leave for the next year.  And it got a little bit too hard for us.   {21:58}  We all just disbursed, and since then I haven’t heard from none of them.


KG:  How did the members of your community respond to you after your military service?  Do you think their opinions changed?

DN:  No, they was waiting for me to actually be crazy.  And it was like, “He ain’t crazy.”  So it’s maybe not true what they say about the Marine Corps.  But it is true, but it just didn’t happen to me.


KG:  Did it change your world for you?

DN:  Yes it did.


KG:  How so?

DN:    It made me look at things a little bit different. More of a survival.  They did teach me how to survive.  And it’s also made a better man of me.  You go in as a boy and you come out as a man.  You have to come out as a man if you want to live.  So, you go in as a scared boy, and you come out with a strong mind, strong man.


KG:  Why did you leave the military?

DN:  It wasn’t for me.  It wasn’t my type of life.  One of the things that I disliked about it, {like} lieutenants, second lieutenants, captains, stuff like that.   They have a certain sticker on their car, and every time you see that car, you have to salute that car.  The regular Marines had a red sticker.  All the other colorful stickers were the officers, so you have to salute.  So they may have their kids and these kids may be 16, 17 years old, with all their friends in the car.  And they pull up and you still have to salute that car because it’s got that sticker.  And I felt that, to me, that was, I would say, segregation.  You know, racial, because most of your lieutenants were, no offense, Caucasians.  And they’d sit there and laugh at you because they know you gotta salute that car.  So it was like, ”Hey, let’s ride up to these Marines and watch what they do.”  It’s like something they get high off of because we gotta salute their car.  So, little things like that, wasn’t for me.  I was starting to mature, and I was starting to see more of the {….}  it’s not for me.  Everything that goes on out here in civilian world goes on on base.  You just don’t hear about it, because if you hear about it, you wouldn’t want to send your kids.  {Indistinguishable?} You got murder, robbery, rape, robbery, all that  (25:04)  goes on on base, too.


KG:  This is kind of a 2-part question.  When you were in Ohio, how exactly did you become homeless then?  Just remind me.

DN:  I was working for this one company.  It’s called {K&D} Management.  They own all these big time apartment buildings, apartments, complexes, all of them in Ohio, in Cleveland.  And I was working for them and I had got an apartment through them, so that half of my pay went towards my apartment, and then they gave me money.  Something had happened where I needed a bedroom set.  And so you go into these apartments, after people leased them, and we go into them and , we throw it away.  So I went through the procedures to get the bedroom set.  I filled out all the paperwork.  I had my supervisor sign off.  I had the building manager sign off.  I had security sign off.  And that’s the only way you could get the bedroom; you had to have all these signatures.  So, I got the bedroom set.  I strapped it on to the top of my truck.  I took it home.  And I would say, probably about a week later, they was saying that I moved property from the premises without permission.  But I said, “I got the papers, right here.”  So when they sent it to corporate, after they terminated me there, they sent it to corporate.  So I wrote corporate a letter, because corporate was way out there in the boonies.  So, when I went to go out there, they wouldn’t see me.  Cause you have to go through theses gates and stuff like that.  So I called and I faxed them a copy of the paperwork that I had.  But that wasn’t any good, so, like I said, I was terminated.  So my rent went from $250 a month to almost $700.  And I don’t have no income; I’m not working.  What can I do?  I stayed there as long as I could; then I had to move.  When I moved, I put half of my furniture, I gave it to my daughter.  The rest of it, I put it in friends of mine, in their garage, where it’s still sitting at today.  Then I was just basically out on the streets, wherever I could stay.  Friends.  I may go up a friend’s house and sit there and watch tv and fall asleep.  Then when the sun come up, I had nowhere to go.  Sometimes I’m out sleeping in my car.  That’s how I ended up homeless.


KG:  (28:25)   How did you, so you’re in Richmond, how did you end up hooking up with {… }

DN:  That one night, I stayed downtown at the shelter.  The next night, or the next day, I sold, I pawned everything I had.  I got enough money to go stay in the motel that night.  Then that Sunday night I went to another shelter, you have to go to so many shelters, I went to another shelter and I stayed there and then I went back to the VA, trying to get help from the VA.  And they say, ”Ok, there’s nothing we can do .  What you have to do is, you have to go somewhere down here on West Gray Street to register there for being homeless, and then we can do something from there.”  So I know you have to be there before 4 o’clock. So I left work, and I rolled all the way down there.  I got there, my watch said 10 minutes to 4.  But when I got there, the man said, “You’re too late.  It’s 4 o’clock.”  I said, ”It’s 10 minutes to 4.”  He said, “Well, it’s too late.”   So, what am I gonna do?  I went back to the shelter on 7th Street and I stayed there.  That morning, I was off that Wednesday, I went there and I got there about 8 o’clock that morning.  I sat there from 8 to 9 and they came out the room, out the back, and made an announcement, “All the shelters are full.  We don’t have nowhere else for you…there’s no room.”  So everyone else was getting up, was leaving, I set there. I stayed there, and I stayed there, until they finally called my name, and I went back.  And the guy said, “You heard the announcement I made.”  And I said, “Yeah, I heard the announcement, but somebody got to do something.  I can’t take it out on the streets no more.”  So he did intake on me there.  I guess he’s for the veteran.  So that night, or that day after I left there, in fact {indistinguishable}  no, I was off that day.  So, the next day he calls, me, he said, “I found you a bed, but it won’t be ready until (that Thursday).”  So that’s how I ended up here.


KG:  What did you do in between?

DN:  Stayed out on the street.


KG:  What was that like?

DN:  Cold.  It was kind of, it was weird, cause, like I said, I got a scooter, cause my license is messed up.  And it don’t burn no gas.  So I was able to ride.  I usually keep like 2 or 3 dollars in my pocket, and it takes like $1.50 to fill it up.  So I just ride.


KG:  (31:40)  What is the hardest thing about not having your own home?

DN:  Dealing with the riff raff and staying in a place like this.  It’s not for me, but it’s a roof, so I have to accept that much, but as far as dealing with people that’s supposed to be adults, that’s not adults, you can tell people that’s used to having things, and you can tell people that’s not used to having things .  And you can tell the people that just don’t care.  And all that’s here.


KG:  Do you have people here that you talk to every day, that you’re friends with?

DN:  Yes, I have some friends that we talk every day.  My bunkie, I talk to him.  And there’s a couple other guys that I can communicate with.  And some that I choose not to.


KG:  Do you ever feel lonely?  (32:45)

DN:  Yes.


KG:  How do you deal with that?

DN:  I get on my bike and I ride.


KG:  Nothing wrong with that!  So, what is your daily life like now?  What do you do every day?

DN:  I was working.  I’m not working anymore.  I got let go from that.  I was trying to help somebody.  Well, not help somebody.  Going by the rules, but they said I didn’t go by the rules.  If you got time, I can break that down for you!   What happened was, there’s this lady named Miss Geraldine, she’s an old lady, but we were friends, we used to joke and stuff.  So at the Goodwill, if you work there and you buy stuff, you can’t buy it in uniform.  So, she wanted some items that she had gotten and they wouldn’t let her get them because she was in uniform.  And she asked me would I get them after I punch out.  “Sure”  but I got a jacket, then, I was an employee.  So I went to purchase them, my supervisor, she says to me, this was on a Saturday, “how did you shop so quickly?”  I said, ”I didn’t shop.  This is Miss Geraldine’s stuff.”  She said, “I just told Miss Geraldine she couldn’t get them.”  She explained that it was because she was in uniform.  So then she like, “I’m not gonna sell it to you neither.”  And I’m like, “Ok”  and I put the stuff  back.  I don’t understand…what’s the problem…I could see, if we was trying to steal it.  We wasn’t trying to steal it.  We were paying for it.  And so I put the stuff back.  And Monday, when I came in, she pulled me in the office and she gave me a warning and she gave Miss Geraldine a warning.  Ok, we were warned.  So, Tuesday, when I went in, I did my little work, I was driving the forklift, took the clothes to the back, moved the shoes and stuff.  It was lunchtime.  I was sitting in there eating my lunch.  The Assistant Supervisor came by, and said, “I need you to come with me”  (35:00)

I followed her.  I think we’re going back to the work area, but we’re going to the office.  The Assistant Supervisor is there, and the Supervisor, and the guy from security, he was there.  My supervisor says, “Did Miss Geraldine give you some items to buy….”  No, she said, “You went out, you punched out, you put your jacket on…”   All this is on camera.  She said, “Did Miss Geraldine ask you to purchase some items for her?  Is that the way it happened?”  I said, “Yeah.”  She said, “Well, I need your badge.  I need to terminate you”.  I said, “Ok” and I took the stuff off and I gave it to her.  I’m confused because I didn’t see where I did anything wrong.  Probably about 5 minutes later, Miss Geraldine come out, ‘cause they terminated her too.  So they terminated both of us.


Am I on the right question?! (laughs)


What was the question!?


KG:  It’s your story!

DN:  Right!  I got lost!  What was actually the question?


KG:  The question was: what your daily life is like now.  (36:30)

DN:  Oh, ok. I’m not working.  I was…, on my off-days at the Goodwill, I was volunteering for this company called The Free {Freedom?} Foundation.  I was volunteering my time with them.  On my day off, I would go up there, ‘cause I repair power scooters and wheelchairs.  I used to do that for the veterans in Ohio.  So when I came here and I was talking to the lady that’s over it, and she was like, “Yeah, I could really use some help.”  And I was like, “I just want to volunteer.”  So I was volunteering 5 hours a week.  And she said, “You’re too talented.  You have a lot of knowledge.  I’m gonna see about hiring you.”  So then, that Tuesday I got let go at Goodwill, that Wednesday I was working for her.  She had text me on Wednesday and said the Assistant Supervisor came to her and told her I was terminated, so I’m not allowed back on the premises.  And she told me, “Don’t worry about it.”  So I’m like “ok”.  So then later on that night, she text me back. She said, “Be here next Wednesday.”  So, I went and I talked to her and she was telling me…I had called her because she’s also my Pastor at the church.  I had called her Tuesday and told her exactly what had happened.  So then she said that on Wednesday, the Assistant Supervisor, her name is {Zee}, she approached her.  They knew I was supposed to work that Wednesday, and she said, “Don Juan Nettles won’t be here to work for you anymore because he is not allowed on the premises because he was terminated.”  And she looked at her, and she’s like, “Ok.”  But the Assistant Supervisor wanted a different response.  I think she wanted her to go into what had happened.  But she don’t know that already knew what happened.  So then she said, “I just looked at her and said ‘Ok’. “  She said she didn’t get the response out of her that she wanted, so she said she mentioned it again.  And she said, “I looked at her again and I said ‘Ok’. “  And she said as soon as she left out of the office she got on the phone because The Freedom Foundation is not ran by the Goodwill.  That’s a whole different organization.  They’re just using space at the Goodwill.  So she said that she called her District Manager and told her that she wanted me.  And so the District Manager from her company went to the District Manager of the Goodwill and they said, “Can you show us somewhere where he actually did something wrong?”  And she said, “Is it under theft?  Did he steal something?”  “No, he didn’t steal anything.  He just went against policy.”  She said, “Well, ok, y’all can’t stop us from hiring who we want to hire.”  So that’s how I ended up back there.  Every Wednesday I work 5 hours.  The rest of the time…my SSI kicked in…matter of fact, the same day I got fired!  So, between my SSI and that 5 hours a day, that’s how I do my time.  The rest of the time, to get out of this building, I ride.  I go everywhere, because I don’t know the city, so I have to ride to get lost to find my way around.


KG: (40:50) What types of barriers do you feel homeless veterans face?

DN:  A lot of letdown from the VA.  They advertise they’re there for their veterans.  They’re not.  Just going through the system, and dealing with them, I don’t feel they’re there for the veterans because everything that, if we go to them for something we need, they send us to sources outside.  “Well, go see these people.  Go to these people” , instead of saying, “Well, we have these people in place, and we can do this and this…”  It’s not like that.  It’s a lot of letdown.


KG:  How do you feel that, the fact that you are a homeless veteran, shapes the way other people think about you?

DN:  Actually, I don’t care how other people think!  Right now, I’m just basically concerned about myself, my well-being, and my survival.


KG:  What do you think civilians particularly don’t know about the experiences of veterans?

DN:  If they haven’t actually been through what we went through, they draw conclusions off of tv instead of actual facts.  So a lot of other people are misled about veterans.  You do have some good veterans, and you have some bad veterans.  I’m not saying we all are perfect, because we‘re human, we’re gonna make mistakes.


KG:  Why do you think that veterans, in general, become homeless?

DN:  Different things.  Some veterans feel as if they come out, “I served my country, so now my country owes me something.”  That’s the mentality that’s in some of the veterans’ heads, instead of just taking it as it is.  That’s a little bit why I went through depression, because I said, “Ok, I served my country”, even though I went in during peacetime.  I did get hurt in the service and I had to have surgery on my hand.  So now that I’m getting older, I’ve got arthritis in my hand, I’ve got different spots on my arm that’s numb, and stuff.  So I go to them, and I tell them, “Before I went into the service, I didn’t have these problems, but now I’m having these problems.”  And they’re, like, “Well, you’ve been out of the service this long and why is it now just starting to show up?”  I don’t know.  You know, changes in your body, different things show up.  So they’re saying that, (I had filed for disability), and they said that it’s not military related.  So they denied me disability.     I always get off the question!


KG:  The question was: Why do you think veterans, in general, become homeless?

DN:  Oh ok!  Like I said, they depend on the government to look out for them because they say, “I went in and I gave you 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 years of my life, that you owe me something.”  So, when everything runs out, then they feel that, as a veteran, “They supposed to take care of me.”  And that’s how a lot of veterans end up homeless.


KG:  How do you feel about charity, like when people offer you charity?

DN:  It’s kind of hard to say because nobody never offer me no charity!  But, I mean, it’s nice.  That shows that somebody, somewhere are thinking about giving.  Someone has a kind heart, a giving heart, and don’t mind sharing.


KG:  You mentioned how you used to volunteer for the scooter repair.  Are there any specific reasons why you felt the need to give back, and volunteer your time?

DN:  I used to do it all the time.  Before I moved here, I was a Scout Master for 17 years.  It’s more or less like the trophy that you see, when you see boys grow up and become men, and take the knowledge that you train them.  And now for as far as repairing scooters and power wheelchairs, I volunteered to do that, simple fact is because I know how to do it, and to make someone else happy makes me feel good.  So if, they don’t charge no money for none of this equipment.  If you call, and you have a medical problem, and your doctor signs off, they give you this stuff.  They don’t ask for no money.  So that’s a charity.  Not only do they feel good, when the people come in there to pick this equipment up, especially the scooters, and they get in there, and they ride, and you see that glow, and their eyes light up, it makes me want to cry because the simple fact is I’m soft-hearted, and if you’re happy, boy, I’m bubbling over with happiness.  Even though someone gave it to you, I helped make you happy because of my knowledge.


KG:  That’s awesome.  Is there anything in your life that you regret?

DN:  Being soft-hearted!


KG:  So it’s both something you enjoy and regret as well?

DN:  Yes.


KG:  Why’s that?

DN:  Because I always end up like I say, I’ve always helped people so people that I help depend on me to help them, but then when I need help, they turn their back on me. You know…


KG: Why do you think that is?


DN: I don’t know. I have not been able to figure that out and sometimes I feel that I’ve been so generous because I am lonely and hiding from loneliness and the way I get out of being lonely is like I am paying you to be my friend. And so that’s how I feel sometimes.


KG: What are you most proud of?


DN: That I am still alive. Yes. Still alive, I have 6 beautiful kids, you know, my daughter, she is doing excellent you know, she went to [undistinguishable] college in Daytona Beach, Florida. She got her bachelors degree, she went to Kent State, she got her master’s degree. Now she is a professor at the University of Arkansas.


KG: That’s awesome. Do you see her often?


DN:  No. Last time I seen her was about 3 years ago because she is in Little Rock and you know, it makes me feel good because I was a part of that because I made that trip 4 times a year for 4 years, you know cause you had to move them out of the dorm, move them back in the dorm, out the dorm, in the dorm, so I did that.


KG: That’s awesome. What are your goals for the future?


DN: Basically to get in, well I really can’t work that many hours now because of SSI, so, I still like helping people, you know, I guess I would never get out of that, as much as I try to get out of it, I don’t think I will be able to get out of it. And basically for myself to be able to live comfortably and…


KG: Do you think your desire to help people stems anywhere from the struggles you have faced in the past?


DN: Yes.


KG: Can you talk a little bit more about that?


DN: Like I say, I give my all, just like the one young lady I was dating before I came here, you know. I made a mistake, I don’t know, like I say I am basically looking out for somebody else but I opened up a checking account so I put her name on the account too so I have 2 checking accounts, a joint account, then I had my own account. So every time the money went into the account, instead of her texting or calling me and saying, “well I need this, I need that” she go in and just take all of the money out. But when I needed some money, there was no money. I called myself and I’d say well I’d do this, I’ll put overdraft protection on both accounts, that way if she takes the money out, I know I, if an emergency comes up, I can still get some cash. And bad idea. Cause she would go in there, she would take my paycheck, then go back later on and take the whole 500, so here I am $520 in the negative so when I get my check, off the top $520 is gone, you know and it was like, it upset me at that point, but then I was like ok well maybe she needed the money and I was like, they say you aren’t supposed to talk to yourself but I talked to myself and said “Don there you go being stupid again.” You know, so…


KG: Is there anything else you would like to share about your experiences? Or anything you would want people to know?


DN: Don’t become homeless. Always try to better yourself. You know, and its basically, the whole thing is if you teach other people how to survive then you have to practice what you preach. So you know, like I say, I was a Scout Master for 17 years, I got boys you know that I brought up from knee high to taller than me, they are all out in the world, they are doing good. You know I had one young man, come to me, I didn’t remember, I didn’t recognize him, I was at the store getting some gas and he came up and he was like “your name Brother Nettles?” and I was like “yeah.” He said, “man I just want to thank your hand because what you taught me as a scout, I learned a lot.” It gave me chill bumps. Like chill bumps went to my mind and I could feel my eyes watering up because I laid hands on someone that was able to come back and appreciate what I did for them.


KG: That’s awesome. Well that’s all I have for you unless you have anything for me?


DN: Well, what do you think of my life?


KG: I think everyone has a very interesting and unique story. I think, I am actually really glad you shared all of that with me. Not everyone has been as open as you have been and so I really appreciate all the details and the path. It helped, to hear all that really helps kind of give a road, a road map to people’s stories to see where they have been and where they are going in the future. That’s why I asked the goal question, you know see where somebody wants to end up. But yeah, I really appreciate you talking to me today.


DN: I have nothing to hide, its my….. [end]