image ©Johnny Sajem

Family Portrait

by Karen MacDonald

His arm is lovingly draped over her shoulders, his fingers holding a cigarette away from her skin.  She stands close to him with a comfortable smile, holding their cute Chihuahua dog. A handsome pit bull/terrier mix dog stands between them looking at the camera, one ear flopped over.  John and Pepper, Chico and Deuce posed for this portrait in the parking lot of a church where they’re spending part of the day.

Pepper and John met a year ago at a methadone clinic and have been inseparable since.  She says she’s never been cared for like this before.  By the time each of them was six years old, they’d been started on the road of harsh knocks in their dysfunctional and/or abusive families.  He spent many years in jail, she spent many years selling her body, both of them hooked on drugs.  Now their addictions are cigarettes and state-sponsored methadone.  They each have multiple serious health issues, they have survived living on the streets–and they have each other and their canine companions.  

The money they manage to panhandle goes to the dogs’ food, bus passes, and cigs.  Their food stamps go mostly to support the woman who invites them to spend the nights at her apartment.  John hopes to land a job at a pizza joint near where they’re staying, though his felony record doesn’t help.  They’ve been attacked (with the scars to show), they’re ignored by individuals and the system, they’re sick, they’re tired.

And still Pepper says she loves life.  And they love each other and Chico and Deuce.  They’re a family.  They’re astute and compassionate.  The dogs are sleeping on the strip of grass between the parking lot and Wetmore Road.  Looking at Deuce, Pepper says, “’This dog is so judged. It’s because he’s part pit-bull….He’s not judged by the content of his character, but by his species….’”

In a different, though related development, there’s a push to prohibit (homeless) people from selling papers or panhandling on street medians in Pima County.  This would go along with a similar law in the city of Tucson.  The judging goes on, individually and societally.  Our work of compassion goes on.

(The story of John and Pepper and the quote is found in the Tucson Weekly, May 5, 2016, article entitled “The ballad of John and Pepper, hurting and homeless” by Brian Smith.

image ©Johnny Sajem