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This is Freedom

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Freedom stands in the doorway of a New York City drug store, drinking a Coke and calling out to all who pass by to get their attention.  When customers approach the door, he opens it with a smile and a loud, friendly greeting, hoping for a donation.  He's clearly a regular fixture at the drug store as several customers call him by name, and one young gentleman says he was eight years old when he first met Freedom.

Freedom now 57 years old, lives at the Bellevue Men's Shelter on 30th Street in Manhattan, he hasn't always lived in a state of transition.  He lived on and off with his wife, who died in 2018, and with a sister who passed away in 2020.  He also spent some time living with a girlfriend, but for the past 10 years, he lived on the streets until he entered Bellevue.

Born in North Carolina with the given name of Charles (which is still his legal name,) his mother moved him and his sister to Brooklyn in 1968.

They lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Fort Green Brooklyn, and Freedom graduated from Franklin K. Lane High School.  As soon as he graduated, he took a job as a house painter.  He said painting is the great passion of his life.

Freedom has a family of his own.  Married at the age of 19, he and his wife had two sons.  One lives in South Carolina and the other in Tennessee, but Freedom has not had any contact with either one in many years.

The only time in my conversations with him that Freedom showed anything other than exuberance was when he talked about his two sons.  He wondered out loud if he was already a grandfather.  He said sadly, he may never know.


Freedom wasn't always free.  In 1988, he was arrested for burglary after breaking and entering a shop in Brooklyn.  He spent three years in a prison in upstate New York.   

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When he was released, the Fortune Society helped him get a job as a short-order cook on a cruise ship.  However, he missed Brooklyn and did not enjoy working on a cruise ship, so Freedom returned home.

Even though it has been over ten years since Freedom has held a job, he still talks of finding a job as a painter and getting an apartment in Brooklyn.  When asked what was holding him back, he repeated several times that he needed to update his resume and went back to opening the drug store door and happily greeting customers.

In the meantime, he appeared to be happy opening doors for others.  This is an engaging man, well known in the community who, at least for now, does not have to use a concrete pillow as he uses the shelter pillows for warmth.

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