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Florida Voices | Lazarus Calhoun, A Man Against Judgment

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This is Florida Voices, a series of ordinary Floridians with extraordinary stories.
Find more in our weekly podcast, The Point.
Do you know someone whose story should be told? Email news@wuft.org.

Lazarus Calhoun, 50, suffers a lot from his wrongdoings in the past.

After three years out of prison, he still can’t live a normal life as he expected, because of his criminal record.

“There is a great misunderstanding. Because there is a bunch of great people out here (at Dignity Village, Gainesville’s homeless encampment), and you just have to get to know them,” Calhoun said. “You never judge a book by its cover. You can look a book’s cover all day long, but until you read those pages, you never know what’s in there.

How do you feel about your situation in the past few years?

What I have experienced in the past years is the fact that the job market is really low, especially for minorities. And I said minorities meaning not just people of color. I mean people of situations, if you are homeless or if you got a record, stuff like that. And sometimes we will not get paid because our address is 3055 NE 28th Dr.

How could that happen to you?

If you don’t sign a contract with the person who hires you, and get a copy of your contract, how do you prove that they own you? A guy came out here one Saturday, and asked me if I wanted to go to work. I said sure and asked how much he was going to pay me. He said 60 dollars. So I went with him. He was doing tree services. And he had me hauling logs. After we finished, he brought me back out here and dropped me off. He said: “I will be back. I had to go to the bank and get the money.” And I didn’t see that guy for about a month and a half. So now, before I go to a job, I’ll look them up on the internet. If their business is legitimate, then I’ll go.

Have you ever being discriminated against in your job search?

Yes. Sometimes I’ll go to work with a friend of mine. They will pull her to the side, and say “Oh, I don’t like him,” or “He is not dressed appropriate,” or “I don’t like the way he look,” or “Maybe he will steal something.” They are always judging. They don’t know me.

What will you do if you are being discriminated against?

There is a young lady living in the Dignity Village with her boyfriend. She is one of the main ones who discriminates against me. She talked to me so nasty one night. But due to the fact that she is a female, I didn’t say anything. I went to her boyfriend and I talked to him because it’s a man’s respect, “Look, talk to your girlfriend and ask her if she wouldn’t mind leaving me alone. Because I don’t like the way she talked to me. I’m coming to you as a man.”

Do you try to prove yourself a good person to other people?

In certain situations. And in some situations, it really doesn’t matter. Because I know who I am. And it doesn’t matter in certain situations how people feel about me, because they can’t benefit me. Now, if they can benefit me or if it makes a difference to me, then I would like to prove myself.

Are you a different person now from who you were in prison?

Yes. Definitely. I know how to deal with problems better. When I went to prison, I didn’t have patience. I wanted everything. I wanted it then. Well, you can’t have what you want when you wanted. You got to slow down, back up, and think. Now, if I be patient, I can get what I want. And that’s how I developed patience.

Can you tell me more about your story with your girlfriend?

Well, since me and her being together, I’ve gained a lot of respect from the people out here. Because they’ve seen how she was being treated in her past. Her ex-husband dumped her out of a chair, in the middle of the road. I saw her one day, and she was sad. And the next day, she was even sadder.

But if it’s something she needs, I’m going to make sure she gets it, even if I have to go to my family and search for help. And a lot of people have come to me and told me “Look, I really like the way you treat Alisha (Calhoun’s girlfriend). She is a lot happier now.” And I take that to heart. Because I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job. I want to show her that she can be treated a whole lot better than she was being treated.

I know I have a responsibility to her. We got to hospital some days ago, and we found out she was epileptic. If I allow people out here to get me angry and cause me to go to jail, what is her situation going to be like? If I’m gone, then she is helpless. I don’t want her anywhere when nobody is around, because a seizure can trigger. And people have lost lives by seizures. I don’t want to lose her like that.

Find more Florida Voices in our weekly podcast, The Point. Do you know someone whose story should be told? Email news@wuft.org.

About Yi Liu

Yi is a reporter who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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