"Michael Johnson" Watercolor by Nina Dempsey
Michael Johnson has been homeless off and on for the past 30 years. “I committed a crime, and I went to a mental institution, went through a program there. I’m not like that now, thank God for that. I’m just sad that I was so gone, I was so lost. I call it a life of hell, I’ve been in hell. … Then I came back to the world changed.”
Michael’s roots include Creoles in Louisiana and a grandmother who was a full-blooded Blackfoot Indian. He grew up in Bremerton; his dad was in the military, a Vietnam veteran.
He’d like to write a book about his life, starting from when he was 8 years old, “where I’ve been and where I’ve walked.” Part of that includes telling the story how he was abused as a young person and how he’s struggled with drugs and alcohol and disability all his life. “I was going to go into the military until I got in trouble. That messed my career up. I was going to go into the army, and then I was going to become a cop.”
Writing a book is ambitious. Michael is dyslexic, which makes it doubly hard. “I can read but I see my words upside down. It’s hard for them to put me in a school that can help me because I can’t pass tests. I’m not giving up because I know there’s always a will and there’s always a way.”
Michael sells Real Change at Westlake Mall. The paper “has been a real inspiration in my life. I come down here and [vendor staff] are kind, they explain things to you, they tell you what you can do and what you can’t do, they develop a positive atmosphere.” He also feels part of a community of vendors. When he sees another vendor on the street, he thinks, “I’m a vendor, too!” and says that vendors really look out for each other.
Michael thinks a lot about what it means to be homeless. “A lot of people don’t like the homeless, and I fight that. I say that just because I’m homeless, I’m still a human being.” He would like there to be a “dream house” for people who are homeless — “they’d be allowed to stay there for a month” and then they’d have a base for trying out other things.
As for what he would try out, he has a lot of ideas: travel, writing articles and educating people on drug and alcohol abuse. Someday, he’d like to go to college. “I have to start doing something; I have to continue to educate myself. My awareness is a lot higher than it’s ever been. I’m going to do good this time. I want to work with people that are disadvantaged. I’m going to do the right things I need to do to help myself and help somebody else in the process.”