“You’re a free man Mr. Franklin,” said the deputy on duty. “Good luck to you.” Ernie just nodded and sulked his way out the barbwire gate. It was late summer so it was still light and warm. All Ernie had with him were the clothes on his back, jeans, running shoes, a T-shirt, a red and green flannel shirt. All that was in his pockets was his now expired driver’s license. It felt good to be in his old clothes Ernie had not worn them for 9 months. Instead he wore the scrub blues of the Jackson County Jail or “Jacky’s” as former residents called it. After being kept in Jacky’s property storage his clothes smelled stale and musty but for Ernie it was wonderful to have them on. They were his at least they fit right. One was not always assured the proper size clothing at Jacky’s. Too big or too tight was always just right at Jacky’s.
For nine months Ernie had paid as his debt to society but he knew his payment would be a lot more. His family and ex in laws shunned him. With a record work would be hard for him to come by if it was to come at all. ‘What now?’ he thought to himself, ‘no money… no job…no prospects… it looks pretty hopeless. I don’t even have buss fare to get downtown to the shelter. I guess I’ll just have to walk.’ And walk he did, heading towards the inner city where the homeless shelters were. He had no other place to go. Some of the other residents at Jakcy’s suggested that he head to the shelters first and get set up with a place to stay, fresh clothing and regular meals before he started to look for work. Its would be a five miles from Jacky’s to the shelters as the crow flies. Ernie’s walking rout would be longer winding among suburban developments and business parks. It would be hours after the shelters closed before he got there. At least it was warm tonight.
‘Well God’ he thought, ‘it looks like just you an me… it sure would be nice if you held off those rain clouds, not like any request I would make would have any weight with you. I have made such a mess of things, now I have nothing. All the good things you allowed in my life I’ve pretty much destroyed.” Ernie looked to the west as he walked along and noticed the reddening sun set. It was one of the best he could remember. It had been a long time since he had seen one. Billowy thunderheads reflecting the suns setting rays in hues of pink, red, gray and white. Lovely… if he could find some shelter. Ernie kept his gaze to the west as he walked along. The ever changing brilliance of the hues gave his step a lift and a little hope in his heart. ‘What now?’ He continued to wonder. ‘How can I get work? I’ll need papers, my Drivers license is expired and who knows where my Social Security card is. With a click of a mouse my record is available to anyone who would consider hiring me then, they would reconsider. My family will have nothing to do with me anymore. I am truly alone.’
Ernie felt a nudge from his spirit. “Ok…Ok so I am not ‘completely alone’, thanks for reminding me.” An hour later the sunset was gone and the clouds began to open up. Ernie took paths under trees and overhangs as he made his way through the various neighborhoods. The rain didn’t last long and Ernie stayed relatively dry. 17th Street was the main city drag, full of shops, restaurants and clubs. It was also the place where the underworld of the city exposed itself. It was not unusual to see people of the suburbs strolling along enjoying the night life crossing paths of pushers, prostitutes and panhandlers. It seems every large city has a place like where both the ragged and the rich mingle. For Wellington Parks, it was 17th Street.
“What now God? … What now? Talk to me God… I’ve been praying for months to know you… really know you… not just of you…but you… please let me know you! Only you can know how desperate I am for you…only you can know that.
“I know the plans I have for you”
‘What plans? Am I to live in the consequences of my choices forever?’
“Plans to prosper you and not harm you”
‘Jeremiah 29 something? God is that really you or am I just talking to myself?’
“Plans to give you a hope and a future”
‘Hope is good…’
“You will call upon me and come to me and pray to me”
‘I am calling now! Show yourself to me and hear my prayers’
“I will listen to you”
‘I know you will listen it’s my ability to hear and listen back that seems to be a problem’
“You will seek me”
‘I am seeking!!! God Please! … something, anything, I am so desperate for you’
‘Where? Oh is this you God… When will I be able to know for sure? I am seeking but I feel so lost’
“I will be found by you… I know the plans I have for you”
The sun had long set when Ernie reached downtown with the bustle of the city’s night life all around. ‘I should probably find a place to curl up and at least get some sleep. The shelters will not open again until morning.’ Ernie began to duck away from places where people were milling about trying to find a place to spend the night where he would not be noticed.
‘I’ll get some winks and deal with the shelters tomorrow. Hmm… that looks like a quiet alley, and there are covered areas in the recessed doors. Maybe I’ll just push one of these dumpsters in front of one of these doorways and no one will even know I am here.
Whew! Smells like cat pee… maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Well I’m in the alley anyway might as well take a look.
Let’s see… this one doesn’t look too bad, better check for cats first. Hey… wait a minute… this thing doesn’t seem to have a door back here… HEY! Who is that?
Must … Breath!!
Yes! Pull! Pull! Hurry! I can’t hold out much longer!