Downtown Winnipeg: Personality sketches iii
This is the third in a series of sporadic reports about criminally-involved people who habitually inhabit and wander downtown Winnipeg.
There’s a lot more to them and their lives than I’d bet most care to realize.
These are true stories.
It wasn’t until only recently that C found out how old he was.
He made the discovery after a prison guard read the 41-year-old his date of birth off a corrections report.
But then, C’s ignorance about what are (to many people) simply routine facts of life maybe shouldn’t be all that surprising from a man who says his mother consumed so much liquor, solvents and hand-sanitizer that he was “drunk at birth.”
He hasn’t heard from her in three years.
Dad — his namesake — was only introduced to him for the first time at age 16 during a chance encounter at the Manwin Hotel.
Dad is blind in one eye because of the amount he drank. He and C don’t keep in touch.
Accounts of how C’s made-in-Winnipeg journey led him to a federal prison cell for the next six years vary even when recounted by him.
“Confirming the account of his life is difficult as he has disjointed thinking which he accounts to his FASD,” a report states.
But it’s safe to say that since he was 9, C’s been largely ‘living off the land,’ as it were.
That is, wandering Winnipeg neighbourhoods on foot, with the Main Street strip — and its characters and dangers and urban angels — being the constant backdrop of C’s public life, mostly lived on the streets.
He had to grow up fast, he says.
“I know know from the age of 7 to 40 on Main Street there was only pain and suffering,” he said in a recent letter to a probation officer. “When I was 8-9 year of age I felt like I was 15-16 year already. I know it sounds nuts but that part of my life.” (sic)
Then there’s also the good chunk of time C has spent occupying space in provincial and federal jail cells, youth and adult, over the years.
In his fourth decade, the FASD-diagnosed Salteaux/Cree man finds himself HIV-positive, recovering from a recent gall bladder infection that nearly killed him and a blood clot in his lung.
He’s also been labeled a convicted sex offender who took damaging advantage of a young relative introduced to him at a medical clinic in 2008.
He’s assessed at a very high risk to reoffend.
C was recently convicted of aggravated sexual assault after impregnating his 14-year-old, drug-addicted and CFS-involved niece during a 2.5 month-long criminal “arrangement.”
The two would share needles and he’d ply the girl with pills, booze and cash in exchange for sex.
C says he thought of the girl as “a stranger” and was so intoxicated for the entire year that he didn’t remember abusing her. He told a report writer he didn’t have a full understanding of the court proceedings, and had hoped to get a sentence of “time served.”
C’s criminal record is somewhat storied at this point, having amassed more than 40 convictions over his lifetime.
The vast majority of them, however, relate to his street-assimilated “trade” (his word) of “boosting” (stealing) other people’s stuff and reselling it for cash.
But when you’re 9 years old and already living on the streets — likely still bruised and broken from being frequently beaten by a stepdad’s belt and mom’s broomstick, you do what you gotta do.
Simply surviving could be said to be a daily miracle.
Reporting the domestic abuse did him no good, he says. He was “slapped in the face and discredited.” When the violence was directed at his sisters, he tried to step in and was beaten for that, too.
“He was consistently told that he was ugly, wasn’t wanted and that he should’t have been born, which led to suicidal thoughts,” he told his PO.
His six step-sisters each turned to the sex trade. His nine step brothers haven’t fared much better, with many also being locked up — at least one for murder.
By age 8, C’s already thinking of killing himself.
But C? He’s a survivor.
And he says he found at least some safe harbour from the very people who had once likely been mired in similar circumstances as he then found himself.
“He was helped out by various prostitutes and drug dealers who showed him how to live and survive in the elements of Winnipeg. He had people who showed him how to deal drugs and make money ‘boosting’ goods to sell to others.”
He also made some cash by working as a casual at a scrap yard — an arrangement that continued into his 30s.
So that’s what he did. Life on the streets, year after year. The grind.
Somehow, C managed to complete Grade 8.
At 16, CFS punted him to an independent living program and he just stopped going.
He was often kicked out of school for fighting and once — in elementary — expelled for stabbing a classmate with a pencil.
C’s first sexual experience also came at age 9, the same year he started doing drugs, eventually developing a problem with Talwin and Ritalin.
His partner was a 21-year-old prostitute with whom he somehow wound up staying with.
He says they had sex after she gave him a bath one day.
“He reported feeling weird, but believed he was “the man” as he heard people talking about sex but wasn’t sure what it was,” according to a provincial report. “He questions why people make a big deal about it.”
Other sex partners over the years included sex-trade workers, one of whom C married.
A report states they had “up to” four children, all now wards of CFS.
The five-year marriage, as one might imagine, was destructive.
“Their time together was barely a relationship as she was a prostitute that used intravenous drugs, ingested solvents and drank.” As for his part, C admits he often “hid in beer.”
It was his wife who gave him HIV.
She ultimately left him after he was jailed on a prior conviction.
His lineage hails from a reserve north of Regina, but he’s only been there once in his life — for a funeral.
He says he has found some solace with a North End mission, who’s executive director he describes as being “like a mother to him.”
He has expressed hope to change with the help of community groups he’s come in contact with in recent years.
C says he has no connection to his aboriginal heritage. He has no plans to return to his home community when he gets out of prison. That’s his choice.
That leaves us pretty much back exactly where we started.
“The subject enjoys traveling around the city, exploring different neighbourhoods. He presented how this allows him an understanding of how he thinks and other people’s journeys. He commented how he is trying to leave his criminal life of boosting things to sell others behind him.”
“He stated that he is “a city boy” and will remain in the City of Winnipeg.”