The Standover Man, Bert and Petey

{Proberbs 28:13 esv – Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.}

The elaborate chase for illegal street drugs can be as powerfully addictive as the expectation of the end effects produced by them. Navigating the dark streets of Chicago’s ghetto’s, dressed in full camouflage, while looking for shifty eyes to connect with is an elaborate ceremony all unto itself. Successfully steering through gloomy urban terrain requires an astute situational awareness; noticing changing surroundings and reading the movements of pedestrian traffic takes time to master. Hunters become victims on these missions quite readily. Mission conscious, mission focused through mission completion.

**********

I began my career as a drug addict the day I came home from the United States Army in April of 1994. When Mama and Papa met me at the airport, I asked them to borrow their car.

“The car? Where are you going? You just landed and we haven’t seen you for two years!”, Mama’s anxiety couldn’t be restrained.

“Far away, Mama. I’m going far away.”

Papa shook his head in disgust. He handed me the keys, anyway.

**********

In the early days of my career, I was an easy mark for street thugs, hustlers and gangsters. I was unaware of the logistics of buying dope. Too many times I handed my money over blindly only to be standing empty handed at the end of the transaction. Eventually, I evolved into a fearless “standover man” – aka a thief of thieves – aka a white-boy version of Omar Little in Chicago. In other words, I made my living through the high risk role of strong arming drug dealers and robbing “high end” grocery stores.

In the open air market of Chicago’s street drug sales, dealers pay a “tax” to the gang chiefs for “property” to safely work their trade. Every corner, gangway, alley and vestibule that drugs are sold from has been paid for in advance. These properties are then monitored and guarded like a military perimeter. Where ever there is one drug dealer, waving down traffic and calling out street prices, you can be sure there are far more soldiers in the shadows – observing. They watch from rooftops, parked cars and they silently stare out from behind darkened windows in abandoned buildings.

My technique had no military prowess nor logistical design to it. I simply rolled up to a transaction in my car with money in plain sight, snatch the illegal “merch” from an outstretched hand and drive off as fast as I could.

As time went by, during this career, I had no real care concerning my own personal safety nor did I give any thought to what could possibly happen to me if I was caught. Quite simply, I was on a self-imposed death march with no real desire to push on in this life. I was already dead on the inside, I believed. I was without hope.

Crack cocaine was the only “medicine” that quieted the screams which echoed from my past. Soldiering, as a profession, can haunt even the most seasoned of veterans. I had found out early on, while stationed at Ft. Benning, Georgia, that I could weather the storm of screams with some medicine. However, I couldn’t always financially afford to treat the dis-ease that had me in it’s grip. So, as a result – sometimes – I just took what I needed and ran.

Looking back, some twenty-five plus years later, I have a criminal rap sheet as long as my arm. I’ve been in and out of jail, stayed multiple times in modern day sanitariums (drug treatment centers) and have found myself homeless on numerous occasions for extended periods of time. I’ve lost way more than I can remember, in this life. And, I’ve caused an ungodly amount of harm.

Regardless, God still had plans for me that were good.

**********

{Psalm 51:1-2 esv Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!}

Today, Meldie and me went shopping for our outdoor “friends” that congregate in our backyard. Back there, we have squirrels, raccoons, a few wandering outdoor cats and an abundance of different species of bird. We attempt to feed them all, yet “Bert” – our resident squirrel that rules the food intake back there – seems to have his way with whatever edibles find their way to the feeders.

Meldie has never smoked crack. Nor, has she ever taken anything that didn’t belong to her. We met at a Church, a few years ago, that I stumbled across while living in a local homeless shelter.

Nowadays, I earn my living honestly by working construction.

Together, we co-parent a Betta fish named “Petey”.

Published by rrlgabriel

R.L. Gabriel is a US Army Airborne Combat Medic (veteran), former drug addict, father, husband, construction worker and follower of Jesus. He writes with an uncommon honesty while chronicling his past and describing how he walks by faith. His self reflecting memoirs will be published weekly. He lives in the American Midwest with his beautiful wife Meldie. Together, they host and tend to a diverse group of backyard critters while raising an indoor goldfish named Petey.

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