By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“Before I met Franklin, some of his peers were telling me about how difficult he was,” Porter says, “how he would never come to our program. When he came through our doors, I was expecting trouble, but met a brilliant young man in search of knowledge. He is like a sponge; he takes information and runs with it. He is wise beyond his years.”
I caught up with the young hood-rat filmmaker at the UCEPP on Sixth Street and Gladys Avenue right next to the park the city has deemed unsafe for children due to the number of predators there. Franklin is lanky, light-skinned and wearing black jeans and a T-shirt, with a black L.A. baseball cap pulled over an Afro. He’s more reserved than a Tibetan monk.
“I seen some shit before, but not really,” he tells me. “Not like this. I seen a whole gang of crack pipes before but not a whole gang of people smoking crack pipes. All the smells .?.?. all of that. When they empty the Porta Potties out? Man. I got used to that, but at first, man. You ever smell that? Everything stinking. Crazy people going off their meds. All that stuff. I never seen nothin’ like that. Dead bodies laid out. You ever seen a dead body that’s been there for months? Man, that’s horrible. The first dead body I saw? I was 11.”
Franklin dispenses the details in an ultra-condensed, high-speed discourse. He’s told his story before. It’s a bit of a performance, but not like the Tommy Lee Jones press junket for The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada at the Bel Age or anything like that. This is real.
“I was 10 when I moved downtown,” he says. “We had a house, then an apartment in Pomona, my dad and all my sisters and my mom. My dad went to prison though. So, it’s all good.”
I ask him what happened after that. When he homes in on a box of donated chips and candy on the other side of the room, his delivery becomes even more rapid.
“Something happened in that house, so we had to move up outta there,” he tells me. “A fire. But I don’t know what caused the fire. Before we moved to the apartment we was in and outta a friend’s house. Then, our church helped us get an apartment. We got evicted from there. I don’t know why. Cuz everyone over there was Latino. We was the only black kids around there but .?.?. we was mixed anyway. Right after he [Dad] went to jail, the manager evicted us because he was scared of my stepdad. My mom, my three sisters and my brother all went to the [Union Rescue] Mission. We left to Inglewood for a few weeks then moved into the Ford Hotel.”
“And now?” I ask.
“We got two small rooms and a sink and two bunk beds. It’s kinda get crazy in there cuz no one got their space. No one got their privacy, so it’s a whole gang of fights in the house. Everyone screaming in the hallways. Alcoholics going at it. People fighting over crack. Normal routine.”
You could throw a rock from the Ford Hotel where Franklin stays and hit a sleeping senator in silk pajamas staying at a five-star hotel if the window was open and your aim was true .?.?. well, you might need a slingshot, but you get the point.
“When I was in the third grade I was like a straight-A student,” Franklin remembers. “After I got here, I turned into a straight-F student. It wasn’t cuz I was dumb or nothing. I’m smart as hell, thank you.”
He laughs. I ask Franklin if he’s angry.
“I think I got a little anger in me. Just a little bit though,” he laughs again. “Living down here has messed me up bad in my head, I think. Real bad in the head. At first I see homeless people, right? I feel bad for ’em. I throw ’em a couple of quarters, couple of pennies every now and then. Now I see ’em, I don’t feel bad for ’em. They get me angry now. ‘Go get a job, homie. Quit smoking crack.’ Then come ax me for some money. You see the same stuff too much, it’s gonna numb you up .?.?. you ain’t gonna feel no more.”
Just then, right on cue, a paramedics truck pulls up outside the door and tends to a body. Someone is down on the sidewalk.
“That’s a stabbing right there,” Franklin says, craning his neck to inspect the scene before he tells me about the lady who inspired his documentary.
“This lady, Doris, got chopped up on the side of the [Ford Hotel]. I was on the balcony watching it. I said, ‘Ooooh, she got chopped up bad.’ A whole gang a times. And there’s a whole gang of people around her just watching. No one was trying to help her, nothing. Except this taco dude jumped out [from his catering truck] and hit him. Like 15 men right there, just watching her get chopped up. No one tried to help her. So when we went down there, she was already laid out. Lady was naked; [the paramedics] cut all her clothes off. They put this mask thing over her face, tried to pump her with air. Put little electro things. Trying to revive her. She came back to life .?.?. put her in the ambulance. She died anyways.