Denver explains that despite what many think, there is a code of honor in the “hobo jungle”: friends share what they have. When one of Denver’s friends leaves town, he leaves his old beat-up car for Denver to watch. Denver rents out the backseats to sleep in for a few dollars a night to other street people and for a little while makes a consistent little profit, until the police impound the vehicle. For reasons unknown to him, Denver begins to mentally withdraw from the people around him, becoming meaner and more defensive and even buying a small handgun for protection.
Once again, Denver’s story demonstrates that often, homeless people are working as hard as anyone but with little resources to utilize. The moment in which Denver begins to withdraw and buys himself a weapon marks another critical juncture in his development into a mean and distant figure.
When three gang members try to rob Denver, he scares them off with a metal pipe, hops into his friend’s car (which had recently been reclaimed from the police) and follows them back to their neighborhood, yelling that he’ll kill them when he finds them. After a few minutes, Denver realizes the police will be there soon and flees, traveling all the way back to Louisiana with his handgun. After running out of money in Shreveport, he unsuccessfully attempts to rob a bus and finally turns himself in, now that he has police looking for him in two different cities.
Denver continues to devolve into a dark and violent figure. His own depiction of himself greatly contrasts with the gentle, kind-hearted boy he once was, as well as the gentle man he will again become. This stark change demeanor suggests that one’s experiences and environment both play a formative role on their personality.
In May 1968, Denver is sentenced to twenty years in Angola prison, the “darkest, most vicious prison in America. A few days in, another prisoner gives him a knife and tells him to keep it under his pillow to protect himself from the other inmates. Within Denver’s first few years, at least forty inmates are murdered, and hundreds are wounded. He admits, “I did what I had to do to protect myself.” The inmates are also put to forced labor working in the fields on plantations.
This, too, demonstrates the power of one’s environment to make them mean or violent, often just for the sake of survival. Denver’s enforced labor in Angola prison also demonstrates another method of modern slavery, legalized by the 13th amendment soon after the abolition of slavery so that plantation owners could continue to use cheap or free labor to farm cotton.
Denver is released from prison after ten years and returns to Fort Worth, where he winds up sleeping on the streets in the business district next to a church. A woman who works in one of the offices starts bringing Denver a sandwich every morning, but the church people never pay him any heed. After a few years, Denver is pushed out of that district by “revitalizin” happening in the city. Denver takes up residence in a different part of the city, across from the Union Gospel Mission. After a few years, the mission’s manager, Don Shisler, finally manages convince Denver to sleep on one of his beds rather than outside, in exchange for cleaning up around the building every now and then.
In this passage, a large group of Christians are depicted as disinterested in the struggle and trials of others, while a random businesswoman is the one who shows Denver selfless compassion. This nuanced portrait of religion indicates that such acts of compassion may be compelled by Christianity, but certainly are not exclusive to Christians.