My name’s Eric Belk. No, not part of the Belk’s store! I was raised on a farm, three working gardens. My mama had six kids in seven years, so we were all close in age. All my siblings still living. When my mama wanted chicken dinner she’d send my two older brothers outside to chase a couple of chickens down in the yard. Ring their necks, bring them in for chicken dinner. My dad was a Baptist minister. He preached for forty years. Until the Lord called him home, in September 2000, one year before the terrorist attacks. My mama’s still living, she’s eighty-two, she still gets around, God has blessed our family.
We were poor, back in the 60’s. In the 60’s Waxhaw was country, there was nothing around it. It was a little small town in the middle of nowhere. We were poor, but we didn’t know we were poor, we always had food on the table. I come from a family of hunters, so we always had food on the table.
I remember my father, he used to change people’s engines in their cars, their whole engine, for fifty dollars and a pair of used tires. He used to do that back in the sixties. And yet he was a minister. So I was brought up, I mean I grew up… it formed my childhood. He was a minister and I had a great childhood. I didn’t grow up in a broken home. I grew up in a nice home. I had a great childhood.
There are some things you will never forget. What happened, it was on a Wednesday night, I was like thirteen, and my father was preaching, you know, he was letting out the church. We grew up on a dirt road, and Tommy, he lived on another dirt road. As my father was letting out the church, praying to let out the church, Tommy came through the back of the church door, and he was weeping. My father saw him, but he went ahead and let out the church, dismissed the church you know. And I followed my father and he went back to see Tommy, he was standing at the back church door. And my dad said “What’s wrong?” and Tommy said, “Preacher, your house is on fire”. Two days after Christmas. My dad said, “How bad is it burning?” Tommy looked and said “Uh, I can see it through the forest, your house is a total loss.”
We lost everything but the clothes on our back. No insurance on the house. Lost everything.
Well, anyway, my father goes, “Well Hallelujah! I’ve been trying to get you in church for a long time, why don’t you come to church?” Tommy started crying even more and goes “You mean, you just lost everything but the clothes on your back, and you’re trying to get me to church?”
My father looks at him and goes “If the Lord wants it to burn, then let it burn!”
That was my father.
But three months later… the neighborhood gave him everything, gosh, credit card, everything. Three months later we moved into a brand new brick house. The neighbors, the community… my father was well known… communities come together.
I grew up, went to middle school, I was on the tumbling team. We used to get out of school, and we used to come up to Charlotte, and perform at Charlotte’s pep rallies. I was on the tumbling team. And half time at football games. I used to play the clarinet and I was in the band and I was out there at half time on the football field, doing the marching band thing. Everything was going all right, and then I got to high school and got into the wrong crowd.
See, my hair was short, with my father we had to have our hair short. I did not want to be called a nerd. Now, today, looking back, I wish I would have been called a nerd. Who knows where I would be right now. So I got to high school, and started hanging around with the wrong crowd. Now don’t get me wrong now, I still consider a lot of them my friends.
First day in high school you usually go to your homeroom, your very first day, not me. I got off that bus and made a bee-line to the parking lot so I could get high. That’s what I did on my first day of high school. And I would just skip school. You see Parkwood High School in Monroe is right on the border of South Carolina, and I don’t know about now, but back then, truant officers can’t cross the state line. And when we skipped school, all we had to do was go across the border to South Carolina, cause it was right on the border, and there was a store down there called Max’s. I don’t care if you are fourteen years old, you put your money down on that bar and Max will sell you a beer. He’d give you a beer, don’t matter how old you are.
I got in the wrong crowd, I was smoking pot, I got kicked out of high school. when I was sixteen I got kicked out of high school.
And then in my early twenties I met a guy, and I um, got involved with cocaine. And I was selling quantities of cocaine. I’ve been on half a dozen prison camps. There was a nine month investigation, I was selling quantities of cocaine to an undercover SBI agent. They don’t like that, but I was selling to him for nine months – quantities.
I was fixing to break balls on my pool table… we had an illegal bar going, it was illegal. You could walk into this bar, put seventy-five cent in a coke machine, and get Budweiser, Miller, Miller Light. There was beer in that coke machine. We had three trailers out back. One was a gambling trailer, one was a dope trailer, one was where you, uh, took your date. So I was fixing to break the balls for twenty dollars a game, I’m pretty good at pool. The next thing I knew, the SBI and FBI was surrounding the place, they bust in the doors, it was all over the news back in the mid-eighties. The next thing I knew I was laying on top of the pool table with a gun to my head.
It was a nine month investigation so I sold to this agent for nine months. I was facing fifty years plus… After going through the court system for a year and a half… you see I had people selling for me, you see I was buying in quantities, so I had people selling for me, and thirty people got busted and everybody was pointing their finger at me, cause I was the one supplying them. So I couldn’t get a lawyer in Monroe, conflict of interest. Everybody was turning state’s evidence on me. I had to come to Charlotte, I had two lawyers, and they wouldn’t even drive to Monroe without twenty-five thousand dollars cash in their hands. I’m facing fifty plus…
But I went through the court system for a year and a half, and I finally plea bargain for six years. Better than fifty years plus! Course, that’s the old law, now the felony is eighty-five percent of your time. Before they even took the shackles off me when I walked in that prison, you know you’ve seen it on TV, the shackles on your feet, you know, chain through your belt loop, it was automatically cut in half, three years. That’s for good time and gained time. And you only do a third of three years, so I was out in a year and a half. A lot better than fifty plus.!
When they convicted me for that cocaine, I had a girlfriend, a beautiful young lady. And I ran. The day after new years I disappeared. She did not want me to go. The court had convicted me and now I had to go to jail. She started crying, she didn’t want me to go. Her hometown was Brunswick Georgia, fifty miles from the Florida line. So, the day after New Years we disappeared, I didn’t tell my family, I didn’t tell nobody, we just packed up and left. And she had everything set up. Cause she had her family there, she had me a place to stay, a job, everything was already set up. We disappeared and left for Georgia.
I stayed there for three years, I loved it, on the coast, right there on the beach. I loved it. But after three years I got tired of looking over my shoulder, and I come back. It was funny, when I came back I walked in to the Sheriff’s department at eleven o’clock on a Sunday night. There was a county woman sitting behind a computer and a county man sitting there, you know, the police. It was about eleven, eleven-thirty on a Sunday, and they said “Yeah, can we help you?” and I said, “Yeah, come to turn myself in.” “Yeah? What for?” “I got caught trafficking cocaine about three years ago” They asked me for my social security number and I gave it to them. The woman, she printed something on the computer, she looks up to her partner and she said “Yeah, he’s right, he’s wanted.” I’ll never forget, the county man chuckled, he didn’t want to deal with the paperwork, he said “Son, come back around noon tomorrow and turn yourself in.” He didn’t even arrest me! I could have left again if I wanted to!
ERIC DOES HIS TIME. HE GOES BACK TO PRISON TWICE FOR DUI’S BEFORE HE LEAVES THE PRISON SYSTEM FOR GOOD 20 YEARS AGO.
I’ve never been married. I’ve been engaged about three or four times, never made it down the altar. Man I’ve bought too many rings. Too many rings! I was making good money. Car, everything you know. But then I started drinking. I’ve always been a drinker, but not drinking like that. But then it got to the point I started drinking everyday. And I had lost a couple of good jobs because of my drinking. But I started drinking every day, thinking about a drink, wanting a drink, can’t wait to get off work to get a drink. In the year 2000, one year before the terrorist attack, my father passed away. I was at work. At that time I was doing heating and air and I had a walkie-talkie on and one of the owners of the company called me on the walkie-talkie and said “Eric, drop everything you are doing and get on home.” See my father wanted to die at home, we knew he was going to die. He had cancer. He was in a hospice bed in the living room. You know, he wanted to die at home. He said, “Eric, drop what you’re doing and go home”. I knew right that second that my father was dead. I knew right then. And you know what I did? On the way home, I stopped at the store and got me two 40’s, cause I knew what I was going to see. I sat there at the campground and killed them two 40 oz beers. I mean, before I even went home to see my father. So yeah, I was drinking pretty bad.
I started drinking every day. And in 2008, I had just got another machine shop job, only been there about two or three months. It was a small machine shop, that’s why you need to get with a company that’s established, this was a small machine shop, they only employed like twelve people, and I was the last one hired. So in 2008 the economy crashed, as ya’ll can remember. And in that last month I ended up just sweeping floors. And since I was the last one hired, I’m the first one to go. I drew unemployment for a little bit, but they said we got to let you go.
I had a place then, but after what I had saved up, my money ran out, and I got evicted from my house, I had nowhere to go. I just had nowhere to go. I slept in tents. All over Charlotte. Lots of campsites. Some campsites, we had like seven tents out there and stuff, but the cops kept running us off. They find out where you staying and they run you off, got to get out of here.
So the past few years, I’ve just been sleeping downtown on a bench. You can’t lay on a bench downtown, it’s against the law. But I’d use my backpack to lay on. As long as your feet are on the ground, they can’t do nothing to you. You got to have your feet on the ground. You know those little bars in the middle? They used to not have them bars, they put them there so you can’t lie down.
ERIC’S FIRST NIGHT HOMELESS
It’s rough, cause when you, you don’t know what to do when you’re out. You have no idea what to do. You have no idea where to go. You walk around in a daze, really, what am I going to do? Where am I gonna go? What’s going to happen?
When I first got on the streets, three guys attacked me. Beat me half to death. Matter of fact, when the firemen got there they put a sheet over me. They thought I was dead. And believe me I did too. I spent two weeks in the hospital, and uh, they beat me half to death. When the ambulance came by, they found a pulse. Everybody thought I was dead, and they had put the sheet over me. That’s how bad I looked.
When I first got out there it was rough. Really rough. Since I’ve been homeless, I’ve seen like ten people dead, murdered. Ricky Bobby, one of my best friends, when I got beat that time I told you about, all my stuff was laying out on the sidewalk. He went and picked everything up. It was cold, so I had my big coat, so they didn’t get my phone, and I called 911. They said, “Can you get to the main road?”. I’m going to try, I was hurt, I was beat up so bad I collapsed. I got out to the road and collapsed. Ricky Bobby came out the next morning and picked up all my stuff, my wallet and all that, my phone and all that. About a month later, someone jumped out of the bushes, stabbed him in the neck. He ran into the 7-11 and bled out in the bathroom. Bled out and died. Big Mike, dead. Dicky, they found him in a motel room, with his needle in his arm, heroin. Dead. I’ve done seen all the people die on the street.
I’m afraid of dying on the streets. That’s what I’m afraid of, I don’t want to die on these streets. So, I had to make a choice. Like the Bible says, the Lord says you can choose curses or blessings, you can choose death or life. He said take life. Choose life.
I heard about King’s Kitchen. I knew I needed the Lord back in my life. I need to go to church. So I started going there, King’s Kitchen. I went there for a while, and I started volunteering. I mean, I’d help in the kitchen, not getting paid just volunteer. Well, they noticed that, they noticed I was volunteering. One day Bo, he’s the executive director of King’s Kitchen, he said “Walk with me to the bank.” He was walking to make a deposit. He looked at me, on the way to the bank, and he goes, “You want to change careers?” I said “Yeah, I’ll sweep a bathroom for five dollars an hour if give it to me.” He said “Allright”. And they gave me a job!
The preacher, I love him to death, Jim Noble, I call him Preacher. He’s the one that runs the kitchen. Not only that, he’s the one that owns all the Rooster restaurants. But the King’s Kitchen is for the homeless. King’s Kitchen is non-profit, it’s for the homeless. Today they feed. They feed Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. And today they’ll feed. After Bible study, they feed. I mean, it’s a real good place.
THROUGH KINGS KITCHEN AND THE CHARLOTTE MECKLENBURG DREAM CENTER ERIC GETS INTO HOUSING
It’s nice to go into the grocery store, to be able to buy what you want to buy. It’s nice, not having to worry, I’ve got a place to stay, you know, I can go to the store and get me a coke. And getting off work, people walking down the street say “Where you going Eric?” (Big smile) “I’m going home” It’s just so nice to say that. “I’m going home.” It’s been a long time… but anyway, I’m home, I’m home. It’s nice, I love it.
Lord I’m happy. Thank you, Lord thank you.