Wendell Wallace, Creativity in the Face of Adversity

art saves boston homeless



“I was shot in the head at the age of seven.”

Above is a captivating statement made by Wendell Wallace, a homeless man that we came across on the streets of Boston who immediately opened up to our team about his life, his addiction, and his art.

“My brother-in-law taught me how to use a gun in case anything went down. He was 13, I was seven at the time. While in the process of showing me how to use the gun, he took it off safety… it fired. I was shot in the head. I was told that I wouldn’t live. The right side of my brain was missing, part of it, which restricted everything on the left side.”

This was the first of many, many hurdles that Wendell Wallace has had to overcome in his life.

Wendell, also known as “Tub,” is a man who some can say has led two lives. Because of the transition of growing up in a privileged white environment to trying to survive on the street, has provided him with a clear understanding of how damaging addiction can really be.

Wallace went from attending private schools and furthering his education in college to being subjected to the impossible life of homelessness. He went from going to class to robbing houses-and was incarcerated seven times. How did this happen?

“During my process of being in college… crack cocaine became involved, of course, me being ignorant to everything and inquisitive, wanted to know…I got involved with crack cocaine. I went from being in school, to being in people’s houses (committing) occupied burglaries. Stealing this, stealing that… that’s how I supported my habit. I stole from my family, I stole from my family’s stores..I stole from my family’s everything.”

Wallace continues to refer to an “era” of crack cocaine. Most notably known in the 80’s of being introduced to main society, many would agree that was the beginning of mass incarceration for black males. In his own words, this era of his life was where he was taught to be “black”. Wallace fell into a life that he had never known before.

“I developed an alter ego, another personality… the bullet was one thing, Wallace was another”.

Addiction is a very real disease that some people undermine and discredit. It is not chosen. Like many other diseases, people do not have a say in the matter. Wallace is a living, breathing example and a victim of this. Wallace continues to struggle with his addiction, understandably so. Facilities to treat people with addiction are few and far between, and are often overcrowded.  The resources are just not there for addicts like Wallace, and it’s hard to get out of the lifestyle that he has fallen into. With no resources, it has proven very difficult for Wallace to leave the life on the streets.

Wallace is married and has one daughter. He is estranged from both his wife and his daughter, but that doesn’t change his love for both of them. He hopes to reunite with both of them soon.

“My wife doesn’t want me involved in my daughter’s life at all.. she wants to just be friends with me for the simple fact that she doesn’t know how I’m living…. she doesn’t want [my habits] around my daughter, I respect that.”

Wallace stays positive, his art is an outlet for the frustration and the daily battles that he faces living on the street.

“The last thing I drew, the facial image was my self-expression of depression. It’s really an exercise, one side of the face is a man, the other is a woman. I was trying to get my curvature and lines and everything and my detail precise, as close as I could. When it comes to art I am a detailed artist for the simple fact that I like to get the lines as perfect as I can, because I’m not perfect.”

His art and his writing are the things that get him through the day. They are the things that keep him going and keep him positive in an undoubtedly negative situation, and it is very inspiring.

“I’m living a life right now that I’ve never experienced before, but I know somewhere down the line I’m gonna start writing about it, I’m gonna start drawing about it… but there’s always that side of me that wants to go back to this life, that wants to go back to that old life. I believe, I know, and have a standard that my purpose in my life is to show others my experience and what I’ve been through my writing, through my art, and through my association of people.”

The homeless are often ignored, they are often looked down upon, but they have a story. Lastly, they have a voice that has a right to be heard. Wallace faces things that most of us could never understand, and it’s important to remember that.

Read more about the people of Boston and their stories here!

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