January 15, 2015
“I think God is evil. I don’t think God is fighting the Devil, I think God is fighting mankind and that he's kind of jealous of the human race... God is supposed to be right there to protect us all, and I don’t see how God is doing his job. He’s not my protector.”
Kenneth is especially hesitant when the case manager first approaches him about the interview. He is wary of the girl with the recorder and the camera, who so clearly does not belong to this world. He seems incredibly tough and unapproachable, and he responds to my first questions with the shortest answers possible. He tells me of his decision to enlist, how he was a young black man living in the city in the 1970s, where social pressures were building and he was surrounded by drugs, gangs, and violence, and he saw the army as a way out. He’s grateful for his time in the military, glad of his decision, but his life hasn’t been easy since then. He bounced around from job to job, girl to girl, struggled with depression and alcohol and drug addictions, winding up homeless on different occasions. He felt incredibly lost for much of his life. He didn’t know how to take care of himself, how to be responsible, struggled to take life seriously. Like so many of the Vietnam vets that I've met with, he wasn't prepared to deal with the return to civilian life. Now, he finds himself living in this house for the second time around, waiting for subsidized housing. He’s on disability, is grateful to have a steady paycheck coming in and a roof over his head, grateful for the support and help he gets from this place, hopeful that this will be the time everything changes.
I’m surprised when he first asks me about religion. We’ve ended the interview, I’ve turned off the recorder and am setting up my camera to photograph him, when he suddenly asks if I believe in God. He doesn’t, can’t, not after everything he has seen. He tells me that he believes in people and their inherent goodness, that “we all want peace, deep down,” but that if there is a God, he’s not a kind one, but one that is jealous and unforgiving. He seems like he’s been waiting to get this off his chest, has been struggling living in a house that celebrates Christian values. He loosens up considerably after this conversation, seems much more comfortable, opens up for the camera. He shakes my hand every time he sees me now, asks me repeatedly how I’m doing. He is chatty and sociable and always smiling, and I am continuously amazed at the contrast between this and the man that I saw the first time I met him, the man who put on such a tough and unapproachable air.