Jules Green woke up at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving in the front seat of his Buick LeSabre, winced because he slept the wrong way on his bad shoulder and started to pray.
He thanked God for letting him live another day and daydreamed for a while about the ministry he wants to open with his friend, George.
Green started the engine and pointed his car out of the parking lot to drive around town until noon, when volunteers at Augusta Rescue Mission would pass out turkey and mashed potatoes to the city’s homeless.
When he arrives, he’ll eat next to guys who recognize him from night shelters instead of being with family or friends.
On a day like this, after waking up in a parking lot, Green’s thoughts still don’t drift to the years that led him here.
“I’m just happy because Jesus Christ wakes me up every morning, I’m happy to be alive, and I just think we got to thank God for all he give to us,” he said.
GREEN, 51, grew up in New Orleans’ 7th Ward, where guns and violence were all around him.
He attended high school with both parents at home, shined as a promising forward on the basketball team and as a strong wide receiver on the football field.
But growing up in the 7th Ward, Green learned toughness, not a diploma, would help him survive.
By 10th grade, he dropped out of school and picked up a pistol, took it to a bakery where he used to buy doughnuts and took $3,000 from the safe.
Green met eyes with a baker in the store who recognized him from the streets. A week later, feeling trapped, Green went to the sheriff’s office to turn himself in and, at 17, was sentenced to five years in prison.
Being on the defensive in prison each day hardened Green, and when his sentence was reduced and he got out at 19, he found a new way to survive: selling heroin to junkies. He vows he never once touched the drug himself.
“Why would I make somebody else rich by using, when he can make me rich?” Green said.
THE SECOND TIME Green used his .38-caliber pistol was a year later, on Annette Street in New Orleans. In front of a crowd, Green confronted a man who refused to pay him for drugs from a deal a week earlier.
Reflexively, he reached for the pistol, shot the man once in the head, once in the chest and watched the body fall to the ground in the afternoon sun.
“What trickles in your mind when you do that is, first, you want to let people know you’re nothing to mess with, that you will hurt,” Green said. “When people see you do that, they don’t come at you. It was survival. There you go. Simple as that.”
But prison this time was different. As he matured, he started feeling a void, so he began talking to God. Green received an 80-year sentence for murder, but “by the grace of God, before I knew it I
was in court eligible for parole.”
AFTER 22 YEARS in prison, Green left New Orleans at age 44, moved to Atlanta with his brother and tried to piece his life back together.
He worked a steady job polishing brass and tile at a merchandise market but had to leave Atlanta after a falling out with his brother and girlfriend, he said.
He moved to Augusta in 2002 with few belongings and hope for something new in a city where he didn’t know a soul.
He developed a habit of drifting. He learned how to find jobs through temp agencies and worked enough to get some food and gas for his car. He lived in a storage trailer with just a mattress and a candle, in an abandoned house on Broad Street or in motel rooms when he had extra cash.
He hadn’t spoken to his family since he left New Orleans after prison and isn’t sure whether his brothers and sisters were swallowed by Hurricane Katrina or are simply ghosts of his past.
Now, Green says he’s content living off the unknowns of each day. He wants to open a ministry to help people feel God like he felt in that prison cell in New Orleans. Days of gratitude such as Thanksgiving make him long for that dream even more.
But walk into a shelter on a holiday, Augusta Rescue Mission Executive Director Rusty Marsh says, and stories of struggle, loss, loneliness and hope are a dime a dozen.
“A holiday can be depressing for the homeless,” Marsh said. “They’re separated from families, they’ve burned bridges, but they’re not alone.”
On Thanksgiving, after Green ate his green beans, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, he looked around and could say he’d been blessed.
He remembered the holidays of his childhood, when his mother cooked a turkey in a warm house but said there is no use dwelling on memories.
The past is the past, Green said, and after tucking away both the good and the bad of the years behind him, he just wants to look ahead.
“We didn’t just come on this earth by no accident,” he said. “Don’t nobody know what’s in store for him. After everything, I made it, and I want to help others make it.”