A Fierce Kind of Love, a project of Visionary Voices
Institute on Disabilities at Temple University

Stories from
Selinsgrove Center and KenCrest Services


recorded at KenCrest Services April 2015
PHOTO of Thomas
photo by JJ Tiziou

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LIVES LIVED APART Interview with Thomas Recorded April 23, 2015

PHOTO of Gail, who interviewed Thomas
GAIL'S COMMENTS: "I guess what struck me when I was doing it, and stays with me still, is that there is so much more that unites us than divides us. People are people. Everybody has a story. And it's just a question of eliciting it from them really.

[This experience] made me, to a certain degree, question the nature of institutions—quasi-institutions of special situations for people with disabilities. I think that there are really two sides to that question and they need to be explored deeply. But I think we, as a culture and a society, need to devote more resources and more attention to human needs, and this is one area of human need that merits greater resources and greater attention."

Gail: Let's see. You want to just say a few words so I can test the sound level on this, Thomas?

Thomas: Yes.

Gail: OK.

Staff: I tested the levels before so they should be...

Thomas: When she said that. It didn't start when I said that, did it?

Staff: No, what you said before wasn't recorded.

Thomas: OK, alright.

Staff: It just started right now.

Thomas: So it's (inaudible) what I said now?

Staff: Yes.

Thomas: I thought it was... oh man. Can you.. Is there any way to put that back?

Staff: What you share?

Thomas: Take it back... take the words off? I didn't know. I didn't know you pushed the button.

Courtney: You're fine. You did exactly what they wanted you to do, OK?

Thomas: Oh, OK.

Courtney: There is no wrong thing on this, OK?

Thomas: Alright.

Staff: And you're going to get a copy of this and if there's anything you said you want to take off later, you can take that off later, OK?

Thomas: Oh, OK.

Staff: OK Gail.

Gail: OK.

Staff: I'll be right back.

Gail: Let's see. Is this on?

Staff: Yep, everything is recording and the levels have been tested and you should be just good to go and pretend this isn't here.

Gail: OK. Will do. Thank you.

Staff: I'll be right back.

Gail: Let's see. It's April 23rd, a Thursday. We're here at KenCrest. It's about noon. My name is Gail Freedman and I'm here talking with Tom who's going to share some of his story with us. Do you just want to introduce yourself and say hello and give your name, Tom?

Thomas: Hello. This is my coordinator, Courtney.

Gail: Courtney is in the room.

Thomas: Courtney, yeah. Courtney. That's what her name is. She helps me a lot. She looks on me while I do my work and makes sure I do it right. I clean bathrooms, do upstairs bathrooms. I do trash. I take the trash out. What else? I do... I mop the stairs. I mop this way and I mop the other way. I mop. I do all the bathrooms, clean bathrooms, mop a little.. the ladies room. I do upstairs first where her office is if she has any trash. Go around Mary's and get the trash up there. What is it? Third floor or second? It's the second floor but that's about it. She's just the one... she's the coordinator. She's my coordinator. She's basically the one that looks on what I'm doing while I do my work so that's basically what I do. That's why I'm a janitor. The other guy who was cleaning... he was doing it before I even came. His name was Charles and I came to this place because I wanted to be somewhere where it's quiet and I can work with less quiet. I used to work at Bridgewater and that's where I came. I worked for Owen and I didn't really want to. That was my last stop. I didn't want to... I used to reload trucks and unload trucks and I didn't realize. I wanted to get out of life because it was too much. I was getting lousy pay and they only have me between 30 and 40 bucks an hour every two weeks. I like this place because it's more safer because not too many people talk and I like it because it's quiet, it gives you more opportunity to do what I have to do, you know? And I feel like my watch by looking at my watch I catch on to what I'm doing. I don't do my watch all the time. I don't look at it all the time but I add up the day of my clock of my watch but I don't watch it... I don't look at it all the time, you know. How many hours I look. I just look over sometimes and catch on how much I do look to how much work I do and by then I look at my watch. Not all the time I'm working. I catch on after I work how many hours that I worked and I add it all up in my head, you know, and that's how I do it because I work six hours a day and that's how I do it. That's why... when she looks on at me she doesn't want me to get in trouble so I just do what she tells me to do and I just do it. I do my work; no problem. My boss, the other guy that I was working with, he had another job, his name was Charles. He was the main one. He was the one that was teaching me how to clean the bathroom and stairs and everywhere else, you know? So that's basically what I did. So now I know how to do it but she's... Courtney, she catches on... learning me how to do it and teach me how to do it as she goes because she told me before. She said I can see what you do when you're working and she says I do a real good job because when I first came here I had an ice cream and it was my very first ice cream before I started. She told me that I can take the day because I took off the first day before I came here actually because I was new so she let me go. She let me go on the first day because nobody really works. When you start a job nobody works on the first day unless it's a different work area. I had to work on the second day. That was the day I started, you know? I came to work. My mom and dad were at the meeting, the company, my supervisor... my supervisor Darren, Eric, people at the office you know? Things... good things that I can offer you. I mean it... what I mean is this job makes me feel better. It gives me. It teaches me. I'm learning how to do it. I'm learning myself. All she's doing is catching on and making sure I do my job. She's teaching me and as I do it I'm teaching her. It's two different ways. I'm going forward and she's going backwards. We go back and forth at the same time, you know? And every once a while you look at her time that I do for her to put in... It all depends on how much work I do. That's all and that's it. That's basically what I... what I can actually say about my job. That's about it.

Gail: That's a lot.


Thomas: I just wanted to let you know because it's basically. I'm a worker. Well, that's basically it. That's all I wanted to say. I don't have anything else to say. Is that good?

Courtney: You worked for Elwyn, right?

Thomas: Yeah I worked at Elwyn.

Courtney: Where did you go to school?

Thomas: Owen but I went to a private school.

Courtney: OK, you can tell them all about that.

Thomas: I was going to a private school because first off it was Kindergarten back in 1971. It's when they built the Veterans Stadium and Larry Bowa got the first hit in the stadium and the time I was in Kindergarten, that was in 1971. That was the day they put the building up, the stadium. I didn't even know because I was just a little kid. I never caught on to it. I just didn't know, you know? I was just a kid, a five year old little boy. I didn't know nothing about that so but when I was in kindergarten I had my first girlfriend. It didn't really matter, you know? It was no love spell. It was just a little girl that I really liked, you know? It's kinda funny, you know? You're in school and you're in kindergarten. You start off in Kindergarten but I liked kindergarten because I passed kindergarten. I didn't flunk. I passed and then when I went to... when I went to... when I was like ten, when I was like... yeah, ten years old. I went to Elwyn. I went to school there and I only went there for eight months... eight years... eight months. I graduated there. I was 21 years old. I was... I made a lot of friends, you know? I made a lot of friends, you know, friends that they liked me, I liked them. I had a friend. His name was Leonard. I had a friend called Robert, a friend called Billy, Phillip, Drew. A lot of my friends, a whole bunch of my friends I had in school and a lot of... like my whole family didn't like school. I loved school because I knew as soon as I got out of school I knew I was headed. I was heading towards the world and to get out of school and the more you are heading... the world is a big world and I studied it so hard in my schools that yeah, I studied so hard in my schools that I loved it. I loved it. I had to teach, you know? Sometimes I go to the libraries. I read every library in one big library. I read them, the whole... you know? I learned about science, Kennedy's, you know? Kennedy's... Jessie James, all stuff. All the stuff that I wanted to know, I knew because when I was in school I loved it because when I was in school I knew I was heading towards something and that was school. I mean that was school and when I had school I knew I was heading towards a big thing, the biggest thing I could ever have walked into. It's like walking into a big (inaudible) so I loved school because it teaches you things that people don't even know and I studied my whole life off in there and I studied every book in the library that I could see and sometimes I could study at home but most of the times I'd study at the library because it was more quiet and I can teach myself some things and have a book by reading it. That's basically what I wanted to do because I knew I was going to go through a lot of hard work and school... I loved school. When I was in school I knew I was heading for a big thing out of school. I knew I was headed towards the world outside. When I graduated I knew, as soon as I graduated, I knew. I definitely knew what I was going through. As soon as I graduated I knew because I graduated June 15th, 1985. That was what year I was born... I mean year I graduated and I mean I love school so much but when I graduated... I mean it was scary for me at first. First time I got out of... when I first went to school. I liked it but when I got out of school it was the hardest thing I could ever walk into because school taught me things and I could still remember the days that I was still in school. Like my mother said when you get out of school you keep on moving on and if you don't like the place where you move on you've got... it's like school, you know? You keep learning and learning and learning. It's like Courtney. If she doesn't... say she leaves, she goes somewhere else to work, you know? Work is like school, you know? I learned. School is like work. You've got to work, you start at work and learn at school but when you get out, you go to school. School is like moving on. It's like you get a job, you start working on. You move on. You work at a job and then in a couple years and then all of a sudden you worked there like 16 years and then all of a sudden if you want to stay, you want to stay but if you don't you can move on. Everything in your life that you have to do, everything that you actually wanted to do in your whole life, you can decide if you want to go or not. That's how you do it and that's how she... maybe Courtney does. She tells things that I did, you know? I caught on, you know? I didn't want to stay at one little... one job, you know, all my life and I didn't want to work all my life at one other job because if I did it wouldn't get me nowhere, you know? I'd just be working the same job. I'd be just working the same job that I did now, so but that's... but as you learn on... teach, learn on, you go to a different area, I mean different place and every place you go to is an atmosphere, a new atmosphere and you walk into a building nobody knows you and you know once you get to know them you get a little nervous like I am now so... When I first came here I was upset because I was talking about my girl and she isn't here anymore so... That's about it. I have nothing else to say.

Gail: Can I just ask one question?

Thomas: Yeah.

Gail: How old are you now?

Thomas: 51. I don't look 51. A lot of people think I'm like 20.

Gail: Yes, you've aged very well.

Thomas: Huh?

Gail: You've aged well.

Thomas: Yeah I just know a lot of things.

Gail: Yes, you do.

Thomas: A lot of things that people... I know birthdays... I know birthdays, I know where people live, I know where stars live, I know what day you were born, I know what day your birthday is, what time they were born at, you know what I mean? I just know a lot of things. I just know a lot of things that people don't know. They think they do. Like the people I live with, the staff, they don't know the things I know. They don't because if they did... I don't say nothing at my house. I don't say nothing because why should I share my stuff, share my life with them? I don't do that. Only certain people I do. Like if my family wants to know, that's different. That's different. If my family wants to know my life, that's different. I can say it to my family but I ain't going to say it to no strangers. You know what I mean because Courtney. Courtney knows my mother and father. Courtney, you know that. She met my mother and father because didn't we have an ice cream meeting here? The first day. She let me go the first day because she said you start tomorrow so I took off that day she told me to take off so I came the next day. She said you can start the next day so I did so I came into work but I was scared the first day I walked in the door but I didn't know... I knew what I was walking into but it was a new atmosphere but every job you actually get and where you go as you learn and learn you've got to keep on moving because if you don't, time keeps on moving and moving and it's not good to stay in one little place because if you do its going to hurt you, you know? And who wants to work at the same place at the same time. It's like looking at the clock, you know? See I know all about that and a lot of my friends... a lot of people I know and live with, they don't know nothing about that. I tell them things that I know that I heard about, you know, things that I know about, the people in my house, they don't know what I know though. I never discuss my business with them, you know? They're the same way. I ain't going to spill my guts... I'm not going to sit there and spill my guts with them, you know? I mean I could talk to my mom. That's easy, you know? I could talk and you know, talk to them because it's more easy because I feel more relaxed with my family. Courtney, you know what I'm talking about. I mean I just feel comfortable because I grew up with my family. MY mom was 26 years old when she had me. I was born in 64 and my sister was born in 62. She's two years older than I am, I'm two years younger but we're like 15 years apart... no 15 months apart, excuse me. Yeah, 15 months apart but we used to call her small names when we were little but now my name is Thomas, I can call my sister Carol now because Caroline sounds like Carol as you look at it. That's her big name because we're older know. I mean some people do that. They call their names by their big names because they don't really call their little names anymore. You know? They call by Carol... say like Carol like Caroline so I call her Carol because she's my sister, you know? But that's about it. That's all I can say. I'm finished Eric... I mean Courtney. I'm done. That's all I can say. I don't know what else to say.

Gail: One more question, can I ask?

Thomas: Yeah.

Gail: You talked a lot about moving on and doing different work and different things in the future.

Thomas: Yeah.

Gail: What kind of future or moving on do you see for yourself?

Thomas: For me? Just doing a good job for Courtney and thanking her for all the help she gave me. Write a letter once I get out of here. I was thinking about that last night too. You know? Write a nice letter when I leave here to thank her for all the help she gave me. That's about all. You know? That's about all.

Staff: I'm sorry, Courtney, did you?

Courtney: What he wants to do in the future... if that's the question.

Staff: Ask the question again, yeah?

Gail: Oh, OK. Can I rephrase the question again and ask what would you like to do in the future?

Thomas: Yeah. I just want to pay her back all the things that she taught me to do. Like there's a guy named... what's his name? She told me... (noise) He curses all the staff out. That's out the window. She just told me. If he says anything just toss it out the window, toss the trash out, you know? Don't worry about him. Just walk on. Write him off and that's what I do. I don't say nothing to him. When I walk by him I don't say nothing, you know? I just do what she tells me. You know? If you see him just walk by. Don't say anything because all that stuff he's saying is trash. He talks trash, Courtney, you know that. He talks trash, the whole thing.

Courtney: Talk about you. Talk about you, OK? What type of work do you want to do?

Thomas: Here?

Courtney: Anywhere. What's your dream?

Thomas: I like working on... I like to work on driving a train sometimes. Trains, you know like freight trains. You know? I'd like to work on them like clean them... not drive the, but clean them. Clean the seat, you know? Stuff like that. Not drive it. You know what I mean? I don't know... I think I'll be a lousy engineer when I get out of here. I'd rather clean it, clean stuff because I'm kind of used to it because I used to work with my mother at Cavanaugh's. I worked there for six months with her and I worked on the tables. I got tips on the table. I worked off the tables, cleaned the seats, vacuumed the floor, cleaned the bar. Worked the janitorial in the bathrooms and then I worked myself. I earned myself into the kitchen. My boss was named Herman. My mom knew him so, you know. There's a lot of things I know about, you know? But that's about it. I mean so... I don't think I have anything else to say. Courtney, I don't think I have anything else to say.

Gail: OK, that's a wrap. Thank you so much.

Thomas: Is that recording my voice?

Gail: Yeah.

Thomas: I don't hear anything.

Gail: You don't unless you wear earphones.

Thomas: Oh can I hear my voice?

Gail: We'll play it back for you in a couple of weeks.

Thomas: So I get a picture with it?

Staff: You'll get a CD with the interview on it.

Thomas: Oh it's like a small interview, a small tape?

Courtney: Like you'll put a CD in the car, you know how the CD player in the car?

Thomas: Oh, OK. Yeah, you're right.

Courtney: And you will be getting your picture taken today, alright?

Thomas: Oh, OK. I didn't know that. She just had a meeting with. I didn't know I was getting my picture taken.

Courtney: We talked about it yesterday, remember?

Thomas: Oh yeah. I forgot. I forgot Courtney.

Courtney: It's OK. I did too.

Thomas: Well that's about it. I've got to get back to work.


Photos by JJ Tiziou

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