Mike has been a part of our Community at Joe’s Addiction for about five years. He started hanging out with us when he became homeless. He had been living in a half-way house after a stint in prison. Not able to find work and unable to pay his rent there, he found himself on the street.
Over the years, Mike has occupied a chair in the middle of the room. He struggles with depression and lack of motivation. We affectionately call him Eeyore. A couple of days with Mike, and you, too, would recognize the endearing donkey voice. Life is made particularly difficult for him by chronic physical pain that wears at him constantly.
We have walked with Mike through the celebration of acquiring, and the sadness of losing, two different dishwashing jobs. We have provided winter outdoor equipment to keep him from freezing, bus money for probation meetings, canned food, laundry facilities and a place to wash up. Mike hates being dirty.
We have also kicked him in the ass, when his attitude has sucked. We’ve scolded him for sitting on that ass and expecting to just be served. We’ve required him to help out around the place, and we’ve encouraged him with each payment he’s been able to make on his court costs and fees. And a few months ago, the whole Community applauded and cheered when he finished his probation.
Then something happened. Saturday afternoons, near the end of the day, we rearrange the coffee shop for Sunday morning church. Mike offered to sweep the floor. Another day, he washed the dishes. The next week, he set up chairs.
Mike came to me and asked if maybe I would consider letting him work as a barista. I told him I’d talk with the others who are serving, and I’d let him know. Each one that I asked had already noticed a shift in Mike’s demeanor. The way things work in our little Community, is that we don’t choose people to lead. We notice those who are already serving and give them more responsibility (if they desire).
Mike learned how to make espresso, smoothies and Italian sodas. He shows up for work on time, and he leaves the store spotless at the end of his shift. Did I mention Mike’s desire for cleanliness?
I wish you could hear the confident tone of Mike’s voice when he answers the phone, “Joe’s Addiction. This is Michael?” He has felt uncomfortable with the bit of authority that comes with the job. He told me, “I don’t want people to think I’m an asshole just because I’m a barista now.” But this is how things go. The barista serving the shift has to manage not only the sales business, but also the goings on in the room.
From time to time, we have to restrict someone from hanging out at Joe’s for a while. Usually it’s because of some kind of disrespect shown for others. Recently, a young man who had been restricted for cussing out a barista one day, started showing back up at Joe’s. We had not given a specific amount of time for the restriction, but after asking him to leave one day, he just didn’t come back for a few months.
Those who are serving in the community make leadership decisions together, and one of the baristas came to me to check and see if it was okay that this young man was back. I asked her what she thought. She said, “Well, he’s been respectful the few days he’s been here this week. I guess we can just watch and see how it goes.”
Mike, who was sitting at a table nearby, spoke up. He said, “I don't mean to butt in, but it seems to me that when someone has been banned for a while and then they come back, not only should they act better, but I think they should apologize for what they did and say they’ll try not to do it again.” The other barista and I looked at each other and smiled. We told him we agreed completely.
A few days later, Mike came to me with an apology of his own. He said, “Yesterday I was a dick to someone here.” I asked him what had happened. He told me the story that near the end of his shift he had asked another member of our community to help him sweep and mop the floor. Mike’s physical pain makes that part of the job especially difficult. The person didn’t respond, so he asked a second time. The person said, “I’ll think about it.” A few minutes passed, so Mike blew up. He yelled, “Fine! I’ll do it myself! I might just take back my Skipbo cards. I know how to be a dick too.”
He hung his head and told me he was sorry. He said, “I know I shouldn’ a done it. I know I was the dick. But that guy just sits around on his ass all day doin’ nothin’. The least he could do is sweep the floor.” I burst out laughing. It wasn’t too long ago that is was Mike sitting on his ass doing nothing!
Mike apologized to him for “being a dick” and the very next day, this man offered to sweep and mop the floor. He has helped Mike do the closing chores every time Mike has worked these last two weeks.
Mike wanted me to use his real name. He's proud of himself, and so are we!