George / 72
George was in the army for 2 years, he fought in Singapore between1956-58.
He used to be a photographer, he had his own dark room and took photographs for the Area News. He photographed communities and earned £10 a picture.
“Volunteering saved me. I had worked all my life then I got Protestant Work Syndrome. I was suddenly made redundant, and I felt useless. If you can’t work, you think you’re useless. In 1995 I volunteered helping the homeless and it gave me purpose again. I try and help other people but one thing you learn here is you don’t ask questions.”
Jackie / 55
Jackie is a 55 year old punk rocker. She has a shaved head and a lime green Mohawk.
She has a shopping bag with different types of coffee in it. She is preparing for her daughter getting out of jail on Friday.
I had noticed Jackie across the room the previous day and thought I could never approach her because of her strong appearance, however, she was really easy to talk to.
Jackie wore a rubber band that had S.O.P.H.I.E printed on it. I asked what it meant. It stands for, Stamp Out Prejudice Hatred and Intolerance Everywhere. It was in memory of a 21 year old girl called Sophie Lancaster who had recently been kicked to death for dressing as a goth. She was standing up for her boyfriend Robbie who survived the attack. Jackie has spoken to Robbie since and he cannot comprehend what has happened. A rock concert has been arranged in her memory and Jackie is going to attend.
Jackie told me an interesting story about how she was present at the 1971 Ibrox disaster in Glasgow when a stairway in the football stadium collapsed killing 66 people. She said she was 5 years old and her brother threw her onto the pitch. Had he not, she would have been crushed.
I asked Jackie what a punk rocker was. She said, “a rebel with a cause.”
She answered pretty quickly, something tells me she has answered that question before.
I spoke to the next person for a few hours. I just listened and learned.
For the purpose of the blog I am going to change his name.
Matty / 47
As a child Matty was beaten by his father, and his mother told him he was evil. He was a white man in Manchester's predominantly black, gooch gang. He grew up during violent times and made a lot of money as a drug dealer.
Matty's health has deteriorated and he looks older than his age. As I am introduced to him he seems lovely, he is happy and smiley and I instantly feel comfortable in his company. Matty talks very openly and honestly, he talks about getting flash backs. I ask him what they are of. He explains it is of him standing over someone watching them bleed. Speaking very quietly, so others cannot hear, I have to lean in to listen. I ask him what happened. He explains that he shot a man in the head and watched him bleed. I go nervous inside. I said, did he die? He said yes. I asked why? He said the man was black, from Jamaica and he was trying to kill him too. To clarify I said, so it was either him or you? He said yes.
There was silence.
I said, "how did it feel?"
He paused, looked me straight in the eye and said, "good...really good."
I couldn't quite believe what I was hearing. He was like a character from a film. He served his sentence. I asked how he got caught. He smiled and said the police were very clever.
The longer we talked the more I warmed to him, but my head kept repeating words that has clearly impacted me.
I almost cried as he talked about losing a 15 year old son. He said he wanted to escape the drug scene but he couldn't as his family are involved in it. I heard from someone that his children are now dealers. Matty seems quite a powerful man in one world, which contrasts his current situation.
Matty gets irritated with people turning up to the day centre drunk or on drugs. He seems to know about everyone in there. He points out who is high, who is drunk and he points out a young girl. She is pregnant and a prostitute. He says she is always pregnant and she still drinks and takes drugs. He gets really upset for her unborn child and her children.
“In life good and evil are together. Everybody lies. Everyone is too soft. I won’t say I’m sorry if I’m not. A man is a coward if he hits a woman. People all make mistakes, but they don’t learn. Make mistakes, don’t learn, make mistakes, don’t learn. I have hands in everything, but I’m a nice guy. Drugs, it’ll never stop – there is too much money. Money was my drug. I am a loyal person, but I do have two phones (smiles). I know too much. My head doesn’t stop. I never really sleep. I’m always looking at the door. I had the lot, house, car, jewellery, 2 gold teeth and I lost it all in one go. You can loose everything in a day. But, my mum told me, there is always people worse off.”
In the threat of contradiction Matty seems to be a man of strong morals. A man who I photographed the previous day comes over. He is a convicted pedophile and Matty does not like him. The man goes right into Matty's face and says, "look at you, you think because you have money, a car and women you are better than everyone else, look at you." I watch as Matty's face changes, his eye are locked and he is getting angry. He has pulled his shoulders back and he is fighting with himself not to react. I see in him a man who can be very scary.
Obviously trying to provoke him the man is told to move away. Matty is agitated and mumbling to himself, he has made a fist. I tell him not to react and that it's just a sign of jealousy. Matty threatens that something will happen to that man one day.
I ignore that.
Once I left I was told that there was someone in the room who would do any favours Matty asked as he still has a lot of control over the drug scene.
It's strange to hear, but he really is a lovely guy.
Only later do I realise he is the man I see every week sitting in the car on the soup run.
It turns out he is not a pimp, but looks out for the street workers.
I realise my company is somewhat dangerous and controversial but I will never forget the stories I heard and the people I met that day.