Before the shelter closed, a woman I had served soup to earlier in the night had heard about my project and was intrigued enough to approach me.
“You can interview me if you want! I think my story goes well with your project!”
I immediately recognized her from a previous visit. Despite the dreariness of her situation, her relentless cheer and gratitude left a distinct imprint in my memory. Her smile was enough to light up the room, but just to be sure, she took lengthy steps to vocalize her optimism.
The humility of the situation struck me when we sat down together, as our contrasting appearances suggested that she was the one who was just there for a visit, not I. After all, unkempt hair and absent-minded fashion sense paralleled well with my slouched posture. On the other hand, she sat straight with her legs crossed and hands clasped neatly at her waist. Her perpetual grin and charming outfit gave the impression that she was ready for a night out downtown rather than an inadequate night’s sleep on a cot. Her name was Camille, and she began to direct me through her life tour before I even had the chance to pull out my list of questions.
You have struggled with mental illness, why don’t you tell me about that.
I was a victim of a sex crime about a decade ago and I testified in court, and my name was legally changed and everything. That’s what first triggered the paranoia and psychosis. I kept thinking his family was coming to get me. I have never experienced fear like that before, but he got out of jail and then went right back for the same thing! Since then I have just been trying to think positively and for the last while and it has been working pretty well.
That’s good to hear, and you said you are here because of your criminal record?
Yes, I was suffering from psychosis at the time and was convinced the world was ending so I jumped into a stranger’s car and asked them for a ride. A cop brought me out of the car and something on her vest snapped and she threw her arms up like I hit her, it was just a huge misunderstanding. I wish I had gotten the chance to explain it to her in court. I spent ten months in jail, I was petrified and got horrible legal advice that I should just plead guilty. I should have tried to clear it up in court because it has really affected my whole life in a negative way you know? Being a transexual in jail was really hard when I feel like I am a woman and had to be with a bunch of men, especially when I knew when I was innocent.
I have a deposit saved up and am trying to find a place to live but I’m in the same problem that a lot of homeless people face who have a criminal record. My withheld judgement got taken away because I missed a fine when I was in jail. One of the most upsetting things is that I can’t vote because I am a very political person and really want to be involved but I lost that right.
Wow, and you’re still seeing the effects of that after a decade? What type of activism were you involved in?
I’ve done activism for a few things, racial profiling, police brutality, etc. My mom and I did the Add Words campaign in Boise and we marched in Gay Pride. I took a lot of flack from the gay community for working to pass the HIV Status Notification Law. I understood what they were thinking, like if they had to tell people about their HIV status they would think they would never find love again. I understood that but my uncle was in law enforcement and he was pushing me for it and I thought it was the best decision. I also have a charity called DREAM. It focuses on the homeless right now, I try to include any projects I can that focus around the homeless. I also run a homeless support community that I hold here (at the shelter) once a week.