Knute and I both felt conflicted. When the man had entered our home, we assumed he was in need of help, lost, or mentally impaired in some way. Knute observed a large scar on his head and presumed a brain injury. Today, the prosecutor called us to testify in her case of criminal trespass. She confided (although the jury was not allowed to know) that he was a repeat offender, this was a parole violation, and he also had several DUIs.
We each gave our account of the five-minute episode, saying that he was disoriented, we assumed in some kind of need, and no, we hadn't been scared. Then the defendant took the stand, and we learned that he did have a brain injury, he was a long-time alcoholic, he had been drinking heavily at that time, and that he was renting a room in our neighborhood. He no longer lives there and we don't know why, but his "stuff is still there, probably in the garage by now." He had been a temporary manual laborer, but is now out of work. He was in the habit of working until mid-afternoon, taking a bus to our neighborhood, buying some booze and drinking himself silly, and then walking about a mile to where he was staying. We were about half-way along his route.
The man was obviously troubled. He was struggling to tell his story accurately without implicating himself more deeply. Apparently his defense was that he had no awareness of what he was doing, which I can believe, but which the prosecutor and responding deputy thought was a ruse. We didn't stay for closing arguments, and we don't know what the jury decided.
As we left the courthouse, the defendant also came out to smoke. He smiled at us and said this was good motivation to stay sober. Who knows whether that was genuine or not? Does it matter?
This guy is unemployed, homeless, without access to his belongings, with a traumatic head injury, a police record, and a serious, decades-long battle with alcoholism. Does society have any responsibility for this member of our community? Or did he bring his troubles on himself and our best option is to put him in jail? Or is there a better solution? I have no idea.
It never occurred to us to ask the man to leave our house. We wanted to help, and when he was unable to respond to our questions, I called the police, assuming they would have appropriate resources. But do they? They took him to the jail so he could sleep it off, and he was released the next morning. To what?
How much responsibility do we, as a society, a community, a connected group of intelligent, compassionate beings, have toward one another? Are we able to lift ourselves out of our own troubles enough to help someone worse off that we are? Are we willing to invest in programs, residential support services, medical care, and counseling to help someone pull himself out of a state of desperation?
If I were in his shoes, I don't think I would be able to quit drinking. I think I would find life too depressing, discouraging, dark, and lonely. Knowing his history, I'm sorry I involved the police. I wish I'd known to give him a hot meal, a warm jacket, and a ride home.