The Real Change Portrait Project


Michael Johnson

"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. Im not like that now, thank God for that. Im just sad that I was so gone, I was so lost. I call it a life of hell, Ive been in hell. Then I came back to the world changed. Michaels 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. Hed like to write a book about his life, starting from when he was 8 years old, where Ive been and where Ive walked. Part of that includes telling the story how he was abused as a young person and how hes 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. Its hard for them to put me in a school that can help me because I cant pass tests. Im not giving up because I know theres always a will and theres 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 cant 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, Im 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 dont like the homeless, and I fight that. I say that just because Im homeless, Im still a human being. He would like there to be a dream house for people who are homeless theyd be allowed to stay there for a month and then theyd 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, hed 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 its ever been. Im going to do good this time. I want to work with people that are disadvantaged. Im going to do the right things I need to do to help myself and help somebody else in the process.

Artist: Nina Dempsey

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