This is a long story, but if you read it I feel like you may be glad you did, so buckle up.
Last Thursday, November 9th, I was at work and got called for mutual aid just outside my jurisdiction. We responded to a man who threw a brick through a windshield and threatened a woman. When we arrived, he had already fled into the woods. Myself, Chief and Asst. Chief were on scene holding it down until the county units arrived. When they did, we went back in service and headed back to the city limits. On our way back, we came up on a man walking North on the side of Highway 167 carrying a heavy-duty trash bag and a back pack. He looked the same age as the man from the previous call, so I pulled in front of him and approached him with caution to ID him. The suspect from before was said to be armed with a knife and “all methed out” according to the person reporting the incident so, as with most situations involving people who could likely be under the influence of drugs, I was ready for anything.
When I asked the man for a driver’s license or state ID he very quietly informed me he had none. Sometimes when you’re identifying someone, for whatever reason, people don’t have their ID on them or anything to prove who they are. When this happens you get their name, DOB and social security number so you can call it to dispatch and make sure that they are who they say they are and don’t have any warrants. When I asked him for that information he advised me that his name was James Martin Lloyd and I’ll leave his birthday out of this, but he gave me it. He said that he didn’t know his social security number and that he had never had any form of identification because he has been homeless for most of his life. After calling what I had into dispatch nothing came back, from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Dispatch widened the search parameters while I contacted the deputy on scene to get a better description of the suspect in question. The homeless man, James, stood behind my car with the other two officers with me. After getting the description from the deputy and no positive results from dispatch I determined that after I had a look in his bags to make sure that he didn’t just change, I could let him go and go back to work. My chief waved me over to the side and said to take the man north just past our jurisdiction just to help along his journey. She gave me her credit card to buy him a meal at Hardees on our way out of town. After checking his bags and finding no clothes matching the description of the suspect, we loaded up in my car and went through the drive-thru where he ordered a mushroom swiss burger, fries, and a cherry coke. We barely exchanged 10 words during the ride, partly because he was very timid and soft spoken, but also because the cage in my patrol unit makes it hard to understand anything said from the other side.
When I got to the jurisdiction line I decided to go a bit further to the gas station up the road. We got out and I brought his food to a picnic table telling him to sit down and eat and I got his belongings and sat them next to him. I asked him if he needed anything and he was hesitant to tell me, so I went in and bought an assortment of water, snacks, potted meat, medicine, and a few Ziploc bags with my own money. I say my own money, not to brag, but because I didn’t clear it with my Chief to use hers and because I noticed something after the interaction. I noticed that I didn’t really check the prices on anything before buying it. I only spent like $36 so it’s not really a big deal but I realized after the fact that in most cases when I’m buying something for myself I always try to find the cheapest option, I am on a police officer’s salary after all. It was odd. I brought him the stuff i bought and sat down at the table and asked him if I could ask him some questions and talk or if he just wanted me to leave. He said okay, and we talked for about 15 minutes.
James is a slender, tall man around 34 years old. His skin was in terrible condition because of being in the sun all day and not having a place to clean up. He was wearing black shorts and a light blue t-shirt, had long hair and patchy facial hair, both lighter in color like a dirty blonde. He spoke with an accent that almost sounded British, but later told me that it was because of his teeth, they were in bad shape because of his situation. In his back pack he had a few items of clothing, socks and shirts, and a book that I didn’t get the title of. In the trash bag was trash and some half empty coke bottles and half eaten protein bars. It was apparent that he did not litter because of all the trash he had with him, which I thought was cool. Just as you wouldn’t throw trash on your bedroom floor, he doesn’t litter along his journey because the earth is his home. He seemed like a prideful man, didn’t ask for anything and was skeptical of accepting things from me and even hesitated when we offered him a ride. May be because he doesn’t trust police officers, but from the homeless people I’ve encountered they all are kind of prideful and don’t ask for help unless they need it. There is a difference between actual homeless people and begging pan-handlers.
He told me he was going to St. Louis and when I asked why, he said “St. Louis Good, Florida Bad”, which I found funny because Florida is a garbage place. The whole time I talked to him he spoke in short sentences, communicating like I would imagine an alien would. It was like talking to someone from another planet, probably because he doesn’t really interact with many people and it was apparent that he was a little nervous because I am a cop. He said he has been stopped a few times by law enforcement and hadn’t had a problem so that is good. He said he was coming from south of Ocala, Florida best he could remember and had been travelling for almost 3 weeks he thinks. I did some rough math and that averaged to somewhere between 20-25 miles a day. So, I asked him if he hitchhiked at all and he said every 2 or 3 days someone comes and offers him a ride, he said never purposely “thumbs it”, but he doesn’t always accept the offer. The conversation got a little deep when I asked him why he was homeless. I did not press him to speak to me, I assure you.
James said that at an early age, maybe 9 or 10 years old from what he can remember, he left home and never looked back. He said that his parents were abusive and that he remembers just leaving one day, with nothing but the clothes on his back. I was taken aback, I asked him how, how did he make it this long without either being picked up by some form of authority and put into the system through DHR or died because of the lack of any formal survival training, let alone just life skills. He said he learned. He said no one was around, and the forest was his home. My mind was blown. I asked him where he was born when I initially stopped him, to help dispatch with identifying him, and he said he had no idea. Unbelievable to me. After our conversation I told him to hold on and went to my car and got a flash light, pocket knife, old pair of boots and a boonie hat to give to him. I also wrote down my PO Box address, Email, and phone number on a piece of paper and folded it up with a business card and the rest of the cash in my wallet, put it in a Ziploc bag and told him to hold on to it. I told him to contact me if he ever got the opportunity, a post card, email, or phone call, anything. I said I’d love to hear from him along his journey if ever possible. He shook his head in agreement, we shook hands, and as I backed out to leave, he was throwing away the trash he had collected thus far in the trashcan at the gas station.
This isn’t a story about how I did a great deed and should be praised for it. This is a story about how I was in the right place at the right time in the right circumstances to not only help a fellow human being, but to learn a little bit about myself. If I hadn’t been called to help the County I would have never been looking for a man in that area and even if passed James on the road later I probably wouldn’t have even stopped. Then, he would’ve just continued his journey along the road drifting from place to place just free as a bird. It made me think that if I took the time to follow a whim more often, stopping to talk to someone or doing something out of kindness, maybe it would be a good thing. I envy James in a way. That man has no responsibilities, no taxes or bills. He has no sense of time, just “walking in the sun and sleeping in the moon” according to him. He isn’t obsessed with trivial meaningless things like social media and what silly thing the president said on twitter. Call me crazy, and I realize that I am blessed to have what I have, but there is something appealing about wandering freely in nature. The only thing he must do is survive. He is living like our cavemen/hunter and gatherer ancestors did, working together to live another day without being mauled by a beast or starving to death. It made me think of all the recent mass shootings and acts of violence going on around in this country. Maybe that is what this world is missing, a common mindset of community and survival. Maybe we would stop killing each other and realize that we should care for our fellow mankind, regardless of their status or appearance, to live harmoniously and happy, and cure this sickness we most certainly have. Now I realize that he could just be a man running from something or a murderer that gave me a fake name and story to avoid prison, but I’m glad that I met James Martin Lloyd. It was a good thing. Hopefully he makes it to St. Louis and if I hear from him I’ll be sure to update you all.