Sunday, August 5, 2007

Amill Smith

Amill Smith
(c) Bob Perrin

When I first Met Amill Smith, he was standing at the top of the off ramp from Interstate 265 in New Albany Indiana. His hair was pure white and he looked to be about eighty or so, but you'd never guess his age by talking to him. He was dressed in a dirty white shirt and blue jeans held up by suspenders. A kinda thin man with a strong face holding up a sign that read:

Will work for food
Please read
Matthew, chapter 25 verse 31 to 46

It was kinda scrawled on a piece of cardboard. with a piece of white chalk. Now, I don't normally make a habit of stopping for every destitute soul I see on the side of the road, but this time was different. This old guy was standing out there in ninety degree heat and I just felt compelled for some reason to stop. Maybe the fact that he had white hair and was so old and it was so hot had something to do with it, To tell you the truth I just don't know. I was driving in the other direction when I saw him and I drove about two exits past him before my heart caught up with me. I just had to turn around.

I took twenty dollars and my business card and held it in my hand until I got close to him and pulled off to the side of the off ramp. When he walked over to the car, I opened the door and he said "howdy, my name is Amill Smith A,M,I, double "L" Smith and you'll never see another name like that anywhere. I got the only one out there". I said "I'm pleased to meet you sir, where do you live?" Amill explained he lived in Louisville and said " I'm a tryin' to git some food for the house". I handed him the twenty dollars and tried to put him at ease so I could talk to him.

I explained that I was a writer and I was curious about how he came to be standing on the freeway off ramp so far away from his home. He said he sometimes came up to Indiana "cause I got some people up here who sometimes give me a little work" I said I understood, and wished him luck. I asked him to give me a call if he had some time to talk to me and gave him my business card. He shook my hand with a firm grip and said "I'm not lazy now, I can work for the money. I told him maybe we could work something out and got back in my car. Amill yelled at me to read Matthew 25, verse 31 to 40. I said "ok I will" and I drove off. When I turned the car around to head back the other way, Amill was gone.

When I got home I did as Amill had asked me to do and read the passage. I'm not a bible kinda person, but it seemed important to Amill Smith so I read it anyway.
By the way,
In case you hadn't already figured it out, Amill was a mill smith when he could work, hence the name "Amill Smith".....

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hey Man Ya Got Any Spare Change?

Hey Man, Ya Got Any Spare Change?
By Bob Perrin

Jack frost nipping at your nose? no? Well then consider yourself fortunate, real fortunate. Got air conditioning?, more good fortune, wow, were on a roll now baby, got a home? outstanding! but wait, don't pat yourself on the back just yet. Unfortunately unlike the majority of us that have homes to go to, and meals to eat, our homeless do not. Did you notice I said "our homeless". Its not a new problem, its been with us since the beginning, and I mean the very beginning when we first roamed this planet in loin cloths and animal furs.

We lived off the fat of the land. We built our own shelters or found a nice warm cave to raise our families in. We had to defend ourselves when threatened. We hunted for food, We traded what we had for what we needed and we grew stronger every day. The strong survived to bear future generations, and the weak perished. We also learned early on that to get something, you had to give something in return. We learned kindness. It didn't come easy to us, after all we had to learn to kill to eat, stay alive and defend ourselves from predators both animal and human, but eventually we made allies and formed partnerships with other tribes and learned to function as a group.

We started to gain momentum as a society. "Only the strong survive" was no longer good enough for us "humans" like it was in the animal kingdom we walked upright away from. We took the weaker ones under our wing and helped them along until they too, were strong enough to make it on their own. Our souls soared. We lived up to the title "Human".


We have a homeless population of human beings just like us, that have been unable to fend for themselves or get even the most elementary kindness from this incredibly advanced society we call humanity. Now I'm not naive enough to believe we can fully fix a problem that's as old as society itself, but we should at least be able to do a better job of it than we have been.

I don't mean to over simplify the problem, but I know a huge percentage of the homeless are there through no fault of their own. In the case of women, sixty percent are there because of domestic abuse. Try this statistic on for size, One in twenty four school age children in Louisville schools are homeless. My guess is, you had no idea it was that high. These are statistics we can no longer live with. It is our moral duty as a civilized society to open our hearts and help.

Don't get me wrong now, I'm not stupid, there are people on the street that are there just to exploit the system and it infuriates me to see it, just as much as it does you, and although these people can fend for themselves, most can't. We all have our own ways of extending a hand, whether it be the offer of a job or volunteering a small portion of your time or even just a kind word now and then. Yea,Yea, Yea I'm a bleeding heart. I can hear it now, "Why don't they just get a job," am I right?, truth is, its really, really hard when you've got no home and no money.


I'm sitting at my computer in a nice home office, in a home I built with my own two hands, and if you yourself are homeless and are reading this article, you're probably thinking.. what the holy hell does he know about being homeless?. Well I was, and a newspaper like you're reading right now, was my pillow many nights. It also was my saving grace. It gave me a job. No, I don't mean writing for them, I mean delivering them door to door.

I lived in a five by eight foot Uhaul trailer in northern Washington, a very inhospitable place to be in the winter. I sold my blood to drink and panhandled to eat. To look at me now, you would never in your wildest dreams believe the the places I've seen or the dangerous situations I have put myself into. This letter will be a shock to the people closest to me now, its the first time I've ever let them know. I am truly lucky to be alive today. I can tell you one thing that I know for sure, If you want "it" bad enough, you can get it. What "it" is you must decide for yourself. Choose wisely because it must become your "lifetime goal", and if you are not 100% heart attack, dead serious about it twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, you've had it.

When you're really, really hungry your head hurts, your stomach hurts, you get weak in the knees, the decision making part of your brain shuts down and your attitude really sucks, but you learn "real fast". Its always easier to give someone more unfortunate than yourself some pocket change than to get involved. I learned fast and cashed in on peoples indifference, and I seldom went hungry.

The deep depression that I suffered after the binge drinking was what finally did me in. I fell all the way to what I thought was the bottom, and had to be literally scraped off the sidewalk in downtown Seattle. I had just sold some blood plasma and used the money to buy a bottle. I was still weak from the blood loss and hadn't ate anything all day. I just passed out right there on the street, I still, even today, suffer from nightmares of those days, but like I said, I was lucky somehow.

I learned one of the most important lessons of my life after that, and it is this: "There is no bottom". The farther you fall, the farther you have to come back. It was a long way back for me physically, mentally and most of all spiritually.

Is there help out there? The real answer is, very little. Help must come from "Within" you. If you take away any thing at all from this letter, let it be this. Everyone on this planet has within them, the ability to make a choice for a better future. Is this the best you can do? Try harder!, believe me, you always can. If you give up you'll break my heart, I see you every day on the street and I'm only "Human". If a stubborn caveman like me can break through the wall, so can you.

Take small steps, even one a day or one a week, but take the steps. I suppose I could list all the resources you have available to carry on your fight for a better life such as shelters, missions, food banks, etc. blau, blau, blau, Its all been done before, and I've read a hundred articles that list all the programs a homeless person has available to them, but ask yourself one simple question. Have they helped? are you still homeless? To be brutally honest, what it boils down to is this, and you may want to sit down for this one.

The ball is really in your court, you have to want it, it's not enough for me to want it for you. After all, its your life right?. Lay out a mental plan for where you want to be in a year from now, and stick to it. Take the first step regardless of how small it is. It will come to you, and the time will fly. Believe me, I've been there. Once you've been on the street, a part of you never ever leaves it.

Now do I still seem like a bleeding heart?... You betcha.......

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Art of Heart


(C)Bob Perrin 2007

In general, to be taken as a serious artist, you must be either extremely colorful in your lifestyle, extremely talented in your chosen field of artistic expression, own a small country, or be six feet under. Even at that, these things cannot absolutely guarantee you will ever be recognized as a meaningful artistic soul.

There is however one last element that almost guarantees your success as an artist, its called "Heart". Without heart your chances of success are severely limited. You must live and breathe your dream. It keeps you awake at night and wakes you in the wee hours of the morning. It is unrelenting, disturbing, disruptive and inconvenient. It takes your breath away and leaves you craving for more.

Artistic expression must be painstakingly nurtured over time with tolerance, love, hope and understanding. It must be recognized early enough to encourage an artist that is unsure and lacks confidence in their work, and If you are the artist yourself, you should never ever doubt your ability to be creative. There are vast differences in artistic styles and tastes, but every piece should be an extention of the artists own heart. Your own heart. The heart that is about to create a great piece of art. Your art will find its place in this world through your creativeness, and will find its market on the wings of your enthusiasum and determination. Someone will always see in your art, what you intended for them to see, and usually much more. My passion is photography, so I'll use it as an example to illustrate my point.

Anyone who has children, can immediatly identify with this image. It brings to the surface, the wandering dreams of almost everyone on the planet at one time or another, and the real life stories I've been told when someone sees this image have at times surprised me but always warmed my soul. Her name is Nakowa, and she is to say the least, a handful, a whirling ball of energy looking for her next big adventure, always moving, and never ever still.

As you may have guessed, she also was always threatening to run away from home, an adventure she had yet to muster the courage to do. Well that day soon came, and she set off down the street on her next big adventure. Now you have to understand children to be able to cope with a child like Nakowa, she was running away and that was that! and any attempt to stop her would only serve to encourage her to actually carry out her threat.

A little dose of reverse child psychology was in order here. We gathered her up, kicking and screaming and brought her home (by now she had made it out the door) and told her if she really wanted to run away, she was going to need a few things to take with her.

We made a little bundle on a stick and told her that her clothes were in it and drove her out to the local train station. I think by this time Nakowa was having some second thoughts to say the least, but was too stubborn to let on. We told her that maybe she should eat something before she left on her very.... long.... journey, as it maybe a while before she might be able to eat again. Well, to make a long story short, after all this getting ready stuff,she was so tired of the idea of running away that she fell asleep. Then it hit me like a brick. I was standing in exactly the same train station that my dad had taken me to when I pulled the same bluff years earlier. If ever there was a "Kodak Moment" this was it.

We drove home, got a ladder and my camera and drove back to the train station to shoot this image. A little ice cream goes a long way when you are taking pictures of children, especially when there is some setting up to do. To this day, over thirty years later, this image continues to be my best selling print. It has heart in it..."my heart".

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Raiders Attack Capital

Confederate Raiders Attack Indiana Capital

Once again, Corydon is attacked!

Story by Bob Perrin

History repeats itself as Corydon Indiana, once again, stands up to Confederate raiders as Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan led his ragtag band of raiders into town disrupting commerce, temporarily taking the Mayor hostage and creating all around mayhem in and around Courthouse Square.

This past Independance Day weekend, a hastily gathered brigade of Union soldiers, home guards and townspeople rallied and gathered at the battlefield (currently being used for a nature center) for an all out battle against the aggressors. Crowds of citizens drove into town to bear witness to one of the shortest (but most spirited) battles of 1863.

A Line in the Sand

As morning broke on a sweltering hot Thursday July 9,1863 scouting parties reported seeing about 2000 Confederate soldiers headed down the Mauckport road in the direction of the Capital.

Under the command of Col.Lewis Jordan, Harrison County Home Guard defenders and townspeople quickly gathered a force of about 450 in defense of their land. and by Noon had formed a defensive line a half a mile across. On the battle lines west, lay Amsterdam road On the east, Laconia road. The Ellsworth Rifles took up positions to the west under the command of Maj. T. McGrain while Capt. G. Lahue's Spencer Guards took up positions along the east.

Morgan's raiders could be seen approaching farmers fields from a mile or more away and the defenders estimated the line of approaching Confederates to be about a mile or more long. Morgan's raiders were a highly trained, experienced, disciplined group of handpicked men and the Corydon defenders, never short on courage, would have to muster all the firepower they could just to hold the raiders off. Maj. McGrains men were equipped with Henry 1860 repeating rifles, a new rifle capable of holding fifteen .44 caliber cartridges.
Piles of log rail fencing were used to construct makeshift barricades. But cover was hard to find in the newly planted cornfields just a foot or so high.

The Moment of Truth

The battle lines now drawn, Maj. Mcgrain's Ellsworth Rifles began firing as soon as the raiders were within firing range. Col. Richard Morgan ( Gen. Morgans brother) along with his advance guard charged the barricades, but the rails were too high for the horses to clear and the defending militia farmers held their ground and managed to keep Morgan's men at bay for around half an hour. Lt. Leland Hathaway of Col. Morgans regiment charged the rail piles again, clearing the rails and toppling them making a path for the raiders to follow. As the breech opened wider Morgans men followed. On the east and west flanks, raiders poured around the home guard defenders. A barrage of artillery fire zoomed over head and still the defenders held their ground.

A White Flag in the Wind

The end came just a few minutes later when Col. Lewis Jordan realized he was severely out-numbered. Col. Jordan called for a retreat and ordered his men across Big Indian Creek towards town. The day would belong to the raiders. The raiders fired two artillery shells into town from a southern hilltop and it was over. Col. Jordan ran a white flag up the flagpole in surrender rather than risk any more lives. The battle had cost Col. Jordan 4 men 12 wounded and 355 captured but later paroled. Gen. Morgan lost 11 men and 40 wounded.

The Spoils of War

Victorious in battle, Morgans raiders headed towards town to collect their spoils of war which included, $690 from the Treasurers office, $600 from two town stores Douglass Denbo & Company and S.J. Wright Co. The raiders also demanded from $700-$1000 each from three local steam mills in exchange for not burning them to the ground. Few townspeople escaped the plundering and many were relieved of cash and valuables as well as horses.

In a letter dated July 30th 1863 to her cousin serving in the Union army at Helena Arkansas, a young girl named Attia Porter recollected:

"On the doubly memorable ninth of July, a visit was paid to the citizens of Corydon and vicinity by Morgan and his herd of horse thieves. We heard Tuesday night that they had crossed the river and disgraced the soil of Indiana with their most unhallowed feet".

" It made Morgan so mad to think a few home guards dared to fight his men. I"m glad they done it just to spite him. However they captured most of the guards and paroled them and killed three of our men. Father was out fighting with his Henry rifle, but they did not get him or his gun. They kidnapped our little negro and kept him three weeks but he got away from them and is now safe at home"

The Battle of Corydon was the only Civil War battle Proudly fought on Indiana soil and it lives in a proud place in every Hoosiers heart.