Papa G: The Dilemma and the Continuing Saga....

The Dilemma!

Papa G is one of my chief dilemmas. His presence causes me to weigh my love versus the efficiency of the program. He causes me to ask "how do I love you with Kingdom Love; the kind of love Jesus expressed in the Gospels?"

Papa G earned his name from his past affiliation with Chicago's own Gangster Disciples. Today, he is an alcoholic. A chronically bad alcoholic! His addiction means he continually rotates in and out of jail for public intoxication, drinking on a public way and urinating in alleys. He is the kind of alcoholic that gets the shakes when he hasn't sipped a beer. His fragile body would go into massive shock and he would quite possibly die if he were to simply stop drinking!

Sadly, Papa G never learned to read or write! On top of that, he seems to have the mental capacity of a 7 year old (the same age as my son). This 58 year old man has been a victim of a defunct schooling system which never took the time or effort to assess and help him function with his learning disability. In fact, he was never assessed! He just plodded along knowing and trying to hide this disability, which hindered any possibility of him finding long-term employment and left him living in a state of chronic homelessness.

The Papa G we experience is the result of an ignored past. It seems he has been forsaken and forgotten or has run away from everyone: Yes everyone, except of course, the Gangster Disciples and a few folk in the local Uptown homeless community.

One day Papa G steps into our lives. This older gentleman sleeps behind Adli's at night and chills with the drunken crew on Wilson during the day. Some of our regular homeless friends mention his infamous nick-names, yet not knowing his birth name. It was winter and they tell me the story, "Some local thugs threw some firecrackers on him as he slept under a mound of blankets and they caught fire!" Luckily, he was unscathed; but because his drunken friends had a deep compassionate concern for him and feared his safety, they beg relentlessly and plead with me to find him a safe spot to sleep at night! We give him a bed and he joins our little community at CCO. 

This fragile old man looks far older than what he is. He is slim and wrinkled, with a natty clump of hair. As I start to get to know him and see the effect of alcohol on his life, I see how helpless and hopeless he has become. I see how he needs desperate help. Papa G should be receiving “disability income” and have a medical card, but he doesn't have either! He barely generates a little cash by passing out fliers for less than minimum wage. We start case-working him by setting up appointments, but quickly discover that he needs someone to hold his hand, or else he'll never get any housing or sustainable income. He’ll simply fade away into the night! Papa G is a grown man, who can in no way function or survive on his own. He needs others.

Papa G's loving homeless community, who fights hard and drinks hard, cared deeply for him and became his lifeline. Pushing him. Helping him keep safe when dangerously inebriated. Urging him. Advocating for him. Assisting him downtown to get his State ID. Loving him through all his tirades.

Yet, Papa G is a man who reaps havoc wherever he may drunkenly roam......


Papa G's quiet demeanor turns into something savage after he's been slurping down his bottles of Dimitri Gin and cans of Natural Ice. He suddenly becomes loudly obnoxious; he stumbles into people and urinates where he shouldn't. I am convinced he blacks out and doesn't know what he is doing and saying. It doesn't matter who he argues with, how big or dangerous the person may be, he'll yell his catch phrase; "I'm a mother-f@#%ing gangster, I'll beat your mother-f@#%ing ass, you don't know who the f@#% I am! I'll kick your....." 

His first stay at Cornerstone didn't last long; in a horribly drunken state, he urinated in a garbage can in front of some families. He was confronted by staff, so he started yelling all his favorite slogans, threatening them and even took some swings at some men who could have easily snapped him like a twig. 

Yet, Papa G didn't leave the neighborhood, in fact, he started sleeping and passing out in front of our doors. Winter returned and again we feared his well being, so we felt obligated and gave him another chance by housing him again; this time, far away from the families.

This is the dilemma; the Papa G dilemma. He obviously needs desperate help, but he constantly does things that warrants termination from the program. His cussing and drinking cause mayhem and he ends up putting himself in danger because he is old, fragile and drunk! But staying in the shelter is far safer than the streets, where he has been the target of hate crimes, police brutality, local thuggish bullies, his friends occasional angry outbursts and life-threatening weather.

Love needs us to question and analyze these dilemmas.

Love provokes us to break from the rules and choose the narrow road; to choose the path of radical non-conformity.

Love will have us sitting down and listening to his rants, while trying to tolerate his sometimes foul and rancid stench.

Love will put us in harm’s way when we forgive the verbal assaults and try to be a peacemaker.

Love will take us on the rugged path of faith, courage and chaos. The smooth path of normalcy and rules would logically toss Papa G out into our mean streets, but Love takes that confusing action and allows this man to stay despite the tension and conflict he always causes and will continue to cause! 

Love realized that in this large city, he was viewed as an intolerable wretch. We tolerated; so we became his only option.


The Continuing Saga....

Papa G had roommates. Some had known him for years, but they all moved into their own apartments. Then new people came and were placed with him. They (old and new) would all vent their frustration about being on the receiving end of his drunken tirades and his relentless stench of not showering. We would constantly try to keep the peace, while also trying to keep Papa G healthy and safe. That was no easy task!

Though the roommates complained, though sometimes they wanted to kill him and toss him back onto the streets; they actually cared for him! Deeply, they cared for this man they considered an annoying nuisance! They had been on the receiving end of numerous verbal assaults (we all have!), but they knew Papa G was a sick man; possessed by the lethal bottle, illiteracy and many undiagnosed symptoms! They cared!

As we moved into the second half of 2010, we started hearing less and less complaints about Papa G. But concern for him rose, his roommates started telling us how he wasn't eating and was getting thinner. When we spoke to him, he just told us that he was "alright, just sick!" The days turned into weeks, which turned into about 3 months, and he was hardly eating anything at all. Honestly, the alcohol that was once killing him, was now keeping him alive! He stopped eating all together, so sipping beer provided him with the only calories that entered his fragile body.

A lump had grown on the right side of his throat, which had made it extremely difficult and painful  for Papa G to eat. We hadn't seen the lump because the weather was getting colder and he always wore multiple layers of clothing. But it was getting bigger and eating had now become virtually impossible. We eventually got him to see a nurse and she told him to go to the hospital asap. He didn't want to go to our local hospital; so he hopped on the L and made his way to Stroger (formerly Cook County) Hospital.

At this junction, it would have been easy to say "adios" to Papa G, thinking our dilemma is now gone and simply return to the many other dilemmas that constantly await us.

But Love now calls us to persevere and travel down an entirely different road, as we have started meeting a new Papa G, with brand new dilemmas....

Papa G had left our facility! We had been looking for answers for years and had always come up short! We had put a lot of hours into this fragile life, but for numerous reasons he had been denied housing, SSI and was on many waiting lists! But at this particular point of time, he was gone! Stroger Hospital kept him and he was not going to return!

It was December 2010, and Papa G was poked and prodded for about a week. He was hooked up to IVs, being fed fluid though his throat and, yet, the lump remained. Sandy and I visited him often. Trying to find out answers was extremely difficult, as now he couldn't talk and the reality that he was never able to communicate through writing was undeniable. The nurses tried to be helpful, but they weren't the doctors who had the answers. The doctors were simply impossible to find. We called, but they never responded. Eventually, we discovered Papa G had throat or voice box cancer and he needed to move into a nursing home.

When Papa G finally went to Stroger Hospital, he was without money and family. We, and the homeless folk that surrounded him, had become his family. We were his case workers, advocates, visitors and payees. We tried to make contact with his biological family, but we were without luck! We were his family. On several occasions, we drove some of his homeless Uptown crew out to visit and fellowship with him. Upon seeing them, with us, he would grin and get a little twinkle in his eyes.

As advocates, we helped get Papa G into a Nursing Home, where we visited him, helped him get some minutes on his phone and brought over his "washed" clothes. With a lot of difficulty, he began talking again and we discovered more family members than just the unreached emergency contact written in his file. With constructive use of modern technology, we contacted one of his long lost sisters, who communicated to his other brothers and sisters. I set up his phone so he could actually keep in contact! Eventually, they ended up having a beautiful little family reunion around their sick brother stuck in a west-side Nursing Home. He had been lost, but was now found! It may not have been ideal, but it was special and moving to the reunited Walls family.

Without getting into all the details, we frequently visit Papa G. He now has his biological family, but he still needs us and the homeless buddies that helped him survive for years on the street. He now has medical benefits and disability income, but he still needs help getting certain essentials, like helping him pay for his phone so he can keep in contact with his family. He still needed us to hold his fragile hand and to pray for and with him as he prepared to have all his teeth pulled out in preparation for his chemotherapy. Papa G still needs us to keep on praying and visiting him as he ventures into the painful reality of his future. A future that foresees various therapies, eating only fluids and isolating nursing homes. 

Papa G's story isn't a tale of hopeless tragedy. He has found a new life freed from an alcoholic addiction, where he can think and act clearly. In many ways, he is now living a healthier life. He is an example of a man possessing a wonderful child like faith. He enjoys a simplicity rarely witnessed in our modern urban environment, where he is free from the addictive vices of modern technology and cherishes times of fellowship and just chilling with his buddies. Papa G may not live the American dream, but in a strange and humble way, he enjoys his fragile life and loves his Heavenly Father.

The first "beatitude" comes alive when I think of my friend; "blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." Papa G has continually challenged my commitment to love with a love gloriously found in the gospels, prayerfully rising against fear, neglect and embarrassment...
Love calls us to persevere.
Love calls us to compassion.
Love calls us to weigh our options.
Love calls us to take the narrow road.
Love calls us to keep on loving through all the ceaseless dilemmas and continuing sagas.

The End! Well, at least until we meet again....

Today (4/25) is a sad day for me and the people who know this humble man. 

I discovered that my friend, Papa G (Donald Walls), passed away on February 5th. Since returning from New Zealand, I'd heard rumors, yet no facts, about his fate. He was no longer in the Nursing Home and people had supposedly "seen" him in Uptown. I called his cell phone, but that number is now owned by someone else. I, and his numerous friends, have been living in the mystery of "is he dead or is he alive?"

Yet, in this sadness, I can celebrate in the fact that when he died, he had reunited with his family, who loved and cared for him.

Papa G; Donald....
Please know that you are missed. 
I will always remember coming to the Nursing Home and hospital on many occasions, holding your hands and praying for and with you to the One that makes "death have no sting!"
Please know that you are loved.
May you Rest In Peace



Here is a link to something I recently wrote that Donald should have included in (bringing the number to 10), but at that time we were still wondering is he was dead or alive: O Death, Where is Your Victory?
One more Link, Donald was included in this: Mysteriously Dead OR Mysteriously Alive?
2 comments

Popular posts from this blog

Uptown Trauma

Can't Read or Write

I'm Grieving!