A Life of Homelessness — Part 1
Dispatches from Mark Patrick Gansert
Nearly four decades ago, at the age of 15, I was kicked out of my mother's house by her boyfriend. This came after 3 years of nearly non-stop mental and physical abuse at the hands of my mother.
I wound up at a Salvation Army shelter for men. This was the mid-1980s. Unfortunately, the laws at the time labeled me as a juvenile delinquent, which led me nearly directly to what was reform school and being a ward of the court.
My “real” first job was at a drive-thru hamburger joint where a friend from high school was the manager. He knew of my situation and took pity on me.
For only two weeks, I was allowed to work before a family court judge put me into reform school for a 30-day "“valuation,” which was not really an evaluation but more a punishment—for continually running away from abuse.
When released back to my mother's house, the abuse continued. My closest friends would come over and sit in my room while we played video games. However, the real reason was to have witnesses so I wouldn't go to school with a black eye or fat lip.
This arrangement worked for a little while, however, when they left, the abuse went unabated. During this time, I, now a ward of the court, was eligible to take my GED, which I did and easily passed.
During the summer of my 15th year, I spent most of my time hiding at a medical software company. The owners of the company knew my mother and her abusive ways.
When forced to attend work-related functions where my mother worked, her co-workers would ask me if I was okay. They knew how she was.
I'd go to the software company and make coffee, sweep up, and learn about programming. I hated to have to leave at the end of the day.
After my 16th birthday, my bosses at the software company bought me a gift: a used Dodge pickup truck with a camper shell. I immediately turned it into a place to sleep. I would sleep overnight in the parking lot of the software company.
It was a godsend to me.
But my juvenile court officer was continually riding me because I was never at the house. It didn't matter to him that it was so stressful and awful that I couldn't sleep in that house. My pleas fell on deaf ears and he filed for a revocation of my supervision.
Which led to me being forced back to reform school for a 3-month stay. Having a GED was absolutely unheard of to the people in charge of the reform school. They didn’t know what to do with me. So I ended up mopping floors for 3 months straight until I was released back to my mother's house.
My mother and her boyfriend (who actually was still married to his wife) decided that I would only be able to come into the house at night and had to leave in the morning.
I wrote a letter to the judge asking to be emancipated from my mother.
This didn't sit well with her.
During a particularly violent attack, as she swung her fist to strike me, I turned away to avoid the blow. Her little finger got caught in the neck of my shirt, and she ripped the tendon in her little finger.
Her boyfriend, who was sitting there watching child abuse like a television show, got up and attacked me. We ended up in the front yard, me, a 16-year-old, and him a WW2 Marine. The neighbors next door called the police who rolled up as he landed a punch to my stomach.
Both of us wound up in handcuffs. Shortly after this, my supervision was revoked again. I went back to reform school on an indefinite commitment.
Reform school was a welcome relief. This time they placed me in college-level classes, and I had, within a matter of months, competency certificates in Data Entry and the Building Trades.
Thankfully after I spent 6 months in reform school, I was spared from being sent back home. The reform school psychologist actually listened to me, talked to my best friend, and began to understand the situation.
Upon discharge, they shipped me to a homeless shelter.
I was now 17 and completely homeless. My court supervising officer had me enroll in college. I was released to a town with a large state university.
When I realized exactly how easy college was, I started taking massive amounts of classes per semester, between 21-23 credit hours. My college advisor, a doddering old man who sat in a disheveled office which smelled of old man body odor and mimeograph fluid, would sign anything his assigned students would hand him. This helped immensely as 21 hours is typically three more classes than a full load, which is usually frowned upon.
After two packed years, including least 18 hours of summer classes, I earned a Bachelor's degree—in the most useless of majors: Philosophy.
Getting my degree was of great benefit to me as it allowed me to move from the typical undergrad housing. Typical undergrad housing had meant that I lived in my truck on school breaks. I moved into graduate school housing, and they didn't kick me out during the holidays or summer.
The next year at the beginning of classes, I found myself having an assigned roommate, as they ran out of undergrad housing. My new roommate was a mess. He had zero ability to maintain himself in an adult environment.
Now I was 19 and working nights at the city morgue as a custodian. I only took ridiculous classes to maintain my full-time status. Literally: Basket Weaving and Hi-Fi stereo classes.
One late night after I got off work, I answered a phone call. The girl on the other end started talking and kept talking. We really hit it off. After 4 hours straight hours on the phone, we realized that we weren't talking to whom we assumed. She thought it was my roommate and I thought it was a girl I had met between classes.
She drove 400 miles to meet me the next day.
The day after that, I withdrew from classes and went to live with her.
Six months later, on December 23rd, we exchanged vows in front of a judge.
Two months after that, she was pregnant.
To be continued.
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