dark photo, up close, of a car and rear-view mirror

The story you are about to read is true. The names have been deleted to protect the innocent…

I was house-sitting in a recently renovated home where I had done the electrical work. The renovation wasn’t complete and the owner felt that it was better to have someone stay there because it wasn’t in the best of neighborhoods. I had been there a couple of months when a roofing contractor offered me a job if I would provide him with transportation to the worksite in Wheaton.

I accepted the job and received a portion of my pay after the first day with the promise that I’d receive the balance the next day. At the end of the second day, it was obvious that he hadn’t received the payment for the work we did,. and when I dropped him off at his sister’s apartment, he told me that if anyone was looking for him, to tell them that he would see them tomorrow.

When I returned home, two young men approached me, handling themselves as though carrying concealed weapons, and asked for the contractor’s whereabouts. When I told them what he had said, one insisted that I drive him to where I had dropped the roofer off while the other followed us in another car. Being forced to go anywhere against one’s will constitutes kidnapping.

When we got to where I had dropped off the roofer, I didn’t know what apartment he was in, but they did. A woman told them that he wasn’t there and he didn’t open the door.

During the drive back home the kidnapper said that the roofer owed him $85 for crack cocaine. He pulled over in a wooded area and threatened to shoot me if I didn’t give him my car. I was taken by surprise but I knew that the car wasn’t worth risking my life over. I gave him the keys and walked home.

That night I spoke to the roofer on the phone who then informed me that he wasn’t going to pay me, because I brought the other men to his apartment complex. Talk about adding insult to injury.

I had been kidnapped, car jacked, and now I was out of two day’s pay for comparatively hard labor. I spent the next two days trying to negotiate the return of the car without involving the police. They failed to return the car as promised the second night so I called the police in the morning, knowing full well that I wouldn’t feel safe staying at the house anymore. When a police officer arrived and I told him what had happened, I was surprised by his response. He informed me that people rent their vehicles out to drug dealers on a regular basis and call the police when the cars are not returned on time. The officer assumed that I loaned my car out, despite my insistence to the contrary, and wouldn’t make a police report of the stolen car!

I borrowed a dollar from the officer so that I could leave the neighborhood and I began to eat and sleep on the street along with the other homeless people on Capitol Hill, not far from my last apartment.

Due to a prior act of kindness on my part, I knew where to find the niece of one of the carjackers, because I had given her a ride home to a liquor store parking lot on the Maryland/D.C. border. When I found her there again, she invited me to sit with her in her mother’s car while I drank a beer and told her about the situation. While sitting in the backseat, I noticed a missing knob on the instrument panel and scratches on the passenger-side door, just like the ones that I made while moving furniture in my car. It suddenly dawned on me that I was sitting in my own car and the niece, her mother, and her son were living and sleeping in it!

I tried to negotiate with the mother to get my car back and explained that she couldn’t buy or sell a stolen car! But she wanted me to pay her $200 to get the car back. It started to get dark, and getting nowhere, I decided to leave.

Meanwhile, my good friend and former next-door neighbor had told my story in an internet chatroom, and a woman from the Justice Department wanted me to contact her. She, in turn, made some contacts and told me to go to the police station to report the car stolen. A detective at the police station called my parents and explained the situation. The next day my father and I went to the parking lot and called the Maryland police when we spotted the car. By the time the police arrived, twenty minutes later, the car was gone. However, we spotted it moving to the D.C. side of the street when we were leaving. We then called the D.C. police while we kept our eye on the car from a distance. Before the D.C. police arrived, the car had moved back to the Maryland side. It became apparent that we weren’t going to get the car back that day.

A few days later another friend of mine, a former repo man, and I made another attempt to reclaim the car, but again the car moved before the Maryland police arrived. As we were about to give up, we spotted the car parked in a vacant lot two blocks behind the liquor store, and the mother was getting out. We went around the corner, out of sight, and returned in about five minutes to take back the car ourselves. I could feel my adrenaline pumping as I jumped in my car, turned the key, and drove it out of the lot and onto the nearest freeway. I recall doing a Tiger Woods fist pump as I drove down interstate 295 headed for Capitol Hill.

From then on for the next year, I slept in my car near the library on D street, during which time I became involved in vending the first issue of Street Sense.