Up until 1996, Joseph Jones was strong and fast and wild.
“I could jump high, I could kick high, I did all kinds of crazy stuff high. I didn’t have to be on the ground,” he said. “Now I can’t do that. It hurts my feelings.”
Now when he walks, he moves slowly, leaning on a makeshift cane battered by use. He stops to rest on a bench alongside Mountain View Drive, near the tree where he sometimes spends the night.
He comes from Lakota Sioux roots in South Dakota; raised in Alaska by an older sister who settled down on St. Paul Island. For a while, Jones worked on fishing boats. He made some trips around Alaska, caught crab and halibut and salmon and saw Attu and Bristol Bay and Seattle.
Then one drunk night in 1996, he tore up his knee after a brawl on St. Paul. It didn’t really heal. He couldn’t walk without pain, and it became hard to hold a steady job. Things went bad. When he got caught with too much cocaine in his pocket about a year later, he spent some time in jail. Now, nearly two decades later, he lives on and off on the street in Mountain View.
His older sister died last summer. His children are gone, too. Jones drinks, watches out for his friends on the street and watches his back. Life is rough, and precious.
“I’m so lucky I’m alive,” he said, sitting on the bench by the library one hot summer afternoon. “But, you know, I don’t want to be here either. I’m in pain – I got stabbed, I got shot – I hurt. And that’s not a good way to walk around, because at one time I was one badass little boy.”