New Orleans, LA
Jaw: The oil spill happened in 2011 —Deepwater Horizon. I was a young man, just turning twenty-one. I had two jobs in the hospitality industry when it happened. I was busting my butt, working, working, working. I went from making $1600 every two weeks to $500 every two weeks. People were coming to restaurants and would be like, “Where ya’ll seafood come from?” and we’d say, “The Gulf of Mexico,” and the people would just get up from the table and walk out.
So, I lost out on a lot of money. The British Petroleum people didn’t compensate me for none of that. My life changed dramatically very fast.
BW: So, you had your own place before that?
Jaw: Yeah, in the CBD. 200 Carondelet. I was on the 18th floor. I was living life; I was having fun. Being a person at that age with no kids and making [all that money]--that’s pretty much wealthy. I learned the valuable lesson—all that money I was making—I was just spending it, just being young, going out partying, eating, taking this one on a date, taking that one on a date. I was able to afford those things, but then the oil spill happened.
I had to go back to living in the hood on food stamps, getting work that was unreliable as a laborer, trying to work on the garbage truck just to make money. The mission was impossible the whole time. After that, it brung me to the state of being homeless ‘cause I didn’t want to stay in nobody’s house by nobody else’s rules. So, fuck it. I’m going on the streets.
It was rough in the beginning, but I had to make it through some kinda way. I found out where all of the necessities was for homeless people. It was better. I was able to wash my clothes, and I found somewhere to get my mail.
Once I found those places, I started maneuvering around them. I found a little community with tents, and that’s basically how it was for the four years.
BW: So, today you’re not homeless anymore?
Jaw: No, I’m not homeless anymore. Life is crazy now. I stay in the French Quarter.
Me and my mama always had a tight relationship, and she was always wondering why I didn’t come to stay with her in Atlanta. When I was on the streets, I built up a lot of anxiety and paranoia, so I had a little mental health situation I had to deal with. My mom—she takes care of me; she makes sure all my bills is paid. As long as I’m doing positive and not doing negative—I know I could sell drugs, but I’m trying to take a different route. It would be nothing to go in my neighborhood and give somebody money for product and then just distribute it. I try to keep focused—positive vibes only. You know, you reap the stuff you put out. I’d much rather paint all day and sell nothing, but at least I know it was positive.
I also became a big part of politics in New Orleans. I’m actually the reason why the New Orleans Police Department wears body cameras now.
I used to work the night shift behind the casino and walk on Rampart to go home in the 9th Ward at two or three in the morning. The police would roll up and be like, “Whatcha got on you?!” and see if you would run. I went to a coalition meeting, and I told the New Orleans Independent Police Monitors Association about how NOPD used to jump out on me, like put you on the car and frisk you, put their hands in your pocket and your groin.
They don’t do that anymore. When those cameras got installed, that cut out all those illegal stop and frisks. I actually met the Chief of Police Michael Harrison at the IPM meetings. He’s a really great guy, but he’s still police.
BW: What turned the tide?
Jaw: Just me being a young black man going in there and speaking on issues that a lot of my peers wouldn’t speak on. They’d be scared that they might have a warrant for a traffic ticket or something. I had to step up and speak out.
BW: Think about how many other people’s lives you’ve impacted in this city because you stepped up. You’re a hero in a way.
Jaw: I felt like I had no choice.