Emerald Voices: Remembering Laten Arnold Jenkins Jr.

by Lawrence Jenkins

In memory of Laten Arnold Jenkins Jr., who passed away at a downtown Seattle bus stop the day after Thanksgiving. Lawrence Jenkins, Laten’s youngest brother and best friend (currently incarcerated), would like to speak on behalf of his family and the community that supported Laten through his battle with addiction, mental illness, and homelessness.

Laten was a high school star athlete, tech genius, and natural leader who always looked out for his family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers in the community. He never wanted anything other than peace of mind and relaxation outside of playing basketball, learning computer science, and making sure everybody close to him was okay. Laten was introverted and extremely quiet around people he did not know. But those closest to him would all agree that he could’ve been a world famous comedian!

The turning point for Laten came almost suddenly. He was robbed for all his checks he saved from working at McDonald’s by a stranger he entrusted to come into our home 20 years ago. Laten left home for a couple of days, and when he came back, he told us, “I think I had some bad weed. …” This is when his struggle with schizophrenia began, although he was not diagnosed until years later when he was heavy into drinking and living on the streets of downtown Seattle where he made his home, “street family,” and community for 10+ years.

It completely devastated me to see my hero and protector have to experience this turn of events and go through this process. I knew I had to become his hero and protector in order to help him overcome that struggle. There is no how-to book for brothers looking out for brothers (and family looking out for family); all I knew to do was just “show up,” no matter where he was at, no matter his condition, no matter how many times we had to repeat this process. I always came through for my big brother no matter what. When I was sent to prison, other family and friends “showed up,” and they would tell me how he was doing over the years. He became well-known amongst his peers for sharing food, or what we call “breaking bread,” with others. I was proud to know that even though he was struggling with addiction, mental illness, health conditions, and homelessness, he was still honoring and carrying on our family traditions and legacies.

My plan, upon my early release, was to go get Laten and take him with me to my farm where he could have peace, freedom, and tranquility, even though his only dream was to live in an apartment right on Alki Beach. And that’s what I want to highlight in my ending.

Laten was a loving, honest, caring, funny, brilliant, yet simple man. He was a son, a big brother, a cousin, and an uncle. He was dearly loved and will be deeply missed by more people than the many hundreds of passerby “civilians” who saw but did not acknowledge him lying on the street the day he died.

To those of you who value family, community, and humanity: In honor of my big brother, let’s do more to “show up” for those who are struggling with addiction, mental illness, other health conditions, and homelessness — not with just a handout to offer something to help them get through the day. Be prepared and ready for those moments when they are ready for a hand up and out of those situations. We can help plot a better course for those who may find themselves going down a similar path. Why leave our trust in a “system” that is becoming more and more obsolete when we have the intellectual capacity and physical ability to create our own system, which is simply a process, to help liberate our loved ones from these types of struggles?

There are no throwaway humans out there. This is something I have to try to remind the world right now from prison, before me and my family can begin to heal.

Rest in peace, Big Brother Laten.

Lawrence C. Jenkins, 32, is a political prisoner, scientist, educator, artist, and community leader. While serving 26 years for an officer involved shooting (with no one injured) and currently fighting for sentence reduction/clemency, he does urban farm development consultation, political education, organization, and community art exhibitions. Lawrence C. Jenkins, #306665 Stafford Creek Corrections Center, can be emailed at www.jpay.com.

Featured image is attributed to Christian M. M Brady under a Creative Commons 2.0 license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).