A Letter from Washoe County Detention Facility

My name is Ricky Zepeda. I am 44 years old. At the moment I find myself in a dilemma. My dilemma involves the law out here in Reno, Nevada, something I am sure some of you reading this can relate to. I have a lot of other personal issues I’m going through, but we’ll get into that much later. 

Since we are fortunate to have this platform in Street Sheet, I want to take this time to attempt to drive some of you readers in a positive direction. I strongly believe that if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. 

I was homeless as a child for years. Whenever I’m released from here, I’ll be homeless again. I lost everything before I was arrested this time—everything. Keep in mind that being homeless doesn’t make us worthless or any less than anybody else. We all have a purpose, and it is up to the individual to find that purpose. We have to get up, get motivated and help ourselves. But don’t confuse activity with productivity. We could be moving all day, but if we’re not moving with a purpose, it’s useless. 

Build a foundation based on clarity and self-sacrifice. Set a goal—a realistic goal, a short-term goal. Maintain that forward progress. We don’t have to accomplish our goal in a day; as long as we’ve made some sort of advance toward what we’re attempting to accomplish, we’ve made “progress.” If there’s no meaning in what you do, it’s activity without direction, events without reason. 

In my opinion, the system is designed for people to fail if we’re not wealthy and privileged. Well, to that, you know what I say? I’m tired of failing! Failing is no longer an option for me. 

Let your shortcomings become a launching point for success. Utilize the resources that are in your community, and let’s rise so that the next generation doesn’t have to look down in shame but stand up tall with pride and feel good about the forward progress we’ve all made. You are not alone in this fight. I know a lot about self-sacrifice, and as long as I’m able to, I’ll continue to try and bring some sunshine to your life through Street Sheet.

So it’s around 1983. I’m about 6 or 7 years of age at this particular time. I’m with my older brother (who isn’t more than a little over a year older than me) and our mother. We are homeless, moving around from place to place. Downtown Los Angeles is where we call home. The ’80s were a real rough time in Los Angeles, and to make matters worse my mom is deep into her heroin addiction. Of course at this age I didn’t have a clue. At times she would leave us at a park, laundromat, or even a bus stop bench. She would be gone for about an hour or two, and when she would come back it seemed as if she was always tired and sleepy. She would leave my brother in charge and tell us she was going to go see a friend to try and get some food. Sometimes she came back with food; other times she didn’t. 

I can remember being balled up, lying in my mom’s lap on a bus stop bench, crying because I was so hungry. All night she would wave the bus by. At this time in Los Angeles the bus would run all night long. I can still remember the days and nights of being homeless. The unfortunate journey took us from park to park, sleeping on store roofs. I was the smallest of the three of us, so my mom and brother would boost me up into a window of some abandoned apartment or house, I would open it up, and we would sleep there for the night. 

My mom eventually was arrested trying to buy drugs one day as we waited for her at a laundromat.  When it closed we wandered around until about 2 a.m. A police officer saw us, picked us up and introduced us to the “system.” My life changed forever. At the time my brother thought my mom had abandoned us, and for years he didn’t speak to her. It was only when he was about 25 years old I was able to convince him to talk to our mom. 

I’m 44 years old now, and I’m currently locked up in Nevada. But at the age of 18, I inherited my mom’s disease. I remember the first time I started doing drugs, and I wish I had never picked up that spoon. Soon I’ll be headed to a program but my story doesn’t end here. 

We will see success eventually. If it’s not from me, it’ll be from you. We must believe with love.