MICHEL: Are you from here, James?
JAMES: South Carolina.
M: And what brought you to New Orleans?
J: I've been in New Orleans on and off since '65 (hands me his I.D.)
M: Did you get this recently? (he nods yes) What kind of work do you do?
J: Locksmith. Me and my brother had our own business.
M: When did you leave it?
J: About 9 years ago, I just came down here - he kept the business ... the business kept on.
M: When you left the business, what were you going towards?
J: (signals drinking from a bottle) Nothing ... I got a wife ... I was drinking moonshine.
M: Are you drinking now?
J: No, I haven't been drinking since the end of January.
M: Congratulations. Are you part of an AA program?
J: Yeah, I go on Tulane [Avenue].
M: Do you find it helpful?
J: Not really - I was drinking for a long time.
M: Could you tell me more of your background and history, whatever you want to share?
J: I've been an aircraft mechanic, worked on top secret planes, for about 6 years. I was working on planes that got shot up in the Vietnam War. Ones that got shot up we'd work on and send 'em right back.
M: That's pretty specialized work.
J: It was.
M: You'd see some of the damage from the war ... that must have been difficult.
M: Business as usual?
J: Business as usual. I worked from three o'clock in the afternoon till one o'clock in the morning. It was in two shifts.
M: When did you leave that? What work did you do after that?
J: Worked offshore ... for about 12 - 15 years.
M: How did that work out?
J: I was on one that blew up in the Gulf of Mexico. It exploded. blew up, we lost 7 guys. I laid in the water for twelve hours before the Coast Guard got me out. That set me back, now I can't pass the physical.
J: Then I went back to being a locksmith, in South Carolina. I own a home in South Carolina. I own a home in Indiana ... bought the house in Indiana in '72. My wife lives in the house in Indiana.
M: Do you keep in touch with her?
M: So what brings you back here...?
J: (Signals drinking again).
M: It's a relationship between you and alcohol ...
J: (Nods yes) Since 1965 New Orleans has been my drinking hole. Drinking and heroin. I was doing both. I quit heroin on the third of January.
M: Did you have some kind of treatment to help you with the heroin?
J: Cold turkey quit. I went to an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center on Canal Street. Sr. Vera sent me over there. I already knew them - I've been there before. They sent me to Lafayette for 60 days -
M: To dry out? - You got back on, the time before last?
J: The day I got out - went to the bus station. Bought the ticket and had an hour wait ... so I went straight to the liquor store - bought a quart of vodka and had it drank before I got back to New Orleans ... yeah ... I didn't eat for a week - drinking.
M: So, what's changed your mind about drinking now?
J: Sr. Vera, the bible and the Lord Jesus Christ - and you spend 60 days in the jailhouse and you'll learn real quick that it's time to quit.
M: So being put in jail was a wake up call for you?
J: I've been in jail 18 times here in New Orleans - that's since '65 - that's a lot of years there.
M: and every time it's related to ...
J: Alcohol - except the last time, I wasn't drinking - at Italian Plaza - well they locked me up, that was October 5th until December 4th. I was sitting on a bench reading a book - 3 o'clock in the morning ... Mad Max gave me 60 days.
M: Mad Max?
J: Judge. They call it criminal trespassing. They took my I.D. and I didn't get them back. When the police have a quota to meet and they haven't picked up enough people - that's when they got me ... just being in the wrong place at the wrong time...
M: Sr. Vera helped you obtain an I.D. card?
M: (I look at his I.D. again)
J: I'll be 67 in June - born in Greenville, South Carolina!
M: Did you meet Sr. Vera through the "Feed Jesus" program?
J: Yeah - she's my angel - she's just perfect on everything she does. 'Cause it's true.
M: She has a lot of compassion.
J: She does.
M: Any advice for someone who is struggling with an addiction?
J: Find access to Sr. Vera ... see, if you're doing something all the time you don't have drinking or dope on your mind... I'm drinking coffee all the time. And I'm always doing something over here ... till my hernia operation - third operation - too many hernias - I pick up stuff that weighs too much - can't ride my bicycle - Sr. Vera says not to - her and Dr. Jim. After I get my operation, I'll be off for a couple of months -
M: Is it O.K. if we share your story?
J: (nods yes)
Please direct comments and questions to:
St. Joseph Church
1802 Tulane Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70112