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Happy Birthday, Mr. Whiskey

By Lauren Plummer, Outreach and Program Coordinator

Friday night at the Barth Vernon UMC Resource Shelter we got to celebrate our dear friend’s 59th birthday.

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“Mr. Whiskey,” as we affectionately know him, was recently freed back into the care of his friends and community from the walls of a CCA prison. When I met him a little over three years ago, he was sleeping in a parking lot in Madison, had recently had a few heart attacks and triple bypass surgery. He was drinking a lot to console himself about hard times and all the loved ones he had lost, but he’s always had a tender heart and prides himself in looking out for his friends. We partnered with a SOAR outreach worker who helped him get approved for disability benefits. Somehow, despite his terrible health, he had been previously denied, so when his back payment came, he had enough money to purchase a small mobile home. He finally had his own place after eight years on the streets, and it seemed like a dream come true.

Less than two months later, it all came crashing down. A misdemeanor for public intoxication put him in violation of his probation, and he was sent to a private, for-profit prison for two years. In that time, his home was confiscated by the trailer park, and his health continued to disintegrate. He was released from prison to the streets late this summer, with a failing heart and without a penny to his name. While we are so glad to have him back in our arms, his mischievous storytelling back in our lives, and hilarious voicemails back in our inboxes, he has come back to us weaker and more vulnerable than before.

What kind of society locks a person in a cage and calls it treatment? Takes away someone’s home and community and calls it rehabilitation? Turns him out on the street with nothing and calls it justice served? Mr. Whiskey, and everyone suffering under the weight of systemic poverty, racism, and injustice—of predatory policing, substance abuse, mandatory minimums, for-profit prisons—we see you and will fight alongside you for as long as it takes. May we all surround you with love and the divine power of community. Let this be the year we manifest housing, healing, and hope together, with all of our neighbors.

Happy birthday, friend. There are better days ahead.