The last time Dwayne Hudson spoke to his children, it was October 2004. The next seven years were spent reading, working out, studying and thinking of the now fourteen-year-old Dwayne Jr. and his thirteen-year-old sister, Asenath, whose name stems from the Old Testament. This time was spent in a Denver prison after conviction for distributing a controlled substance. The years before that were spent on addiction.
On the other side of a long-running devotion to crack cocaine, a 51-year-old Hudson describes his previous life as "pitiful" without evincing any self-pity. For two weeks, he has made it his goal as a live-in Occupy Denver protester to start conversations with new people on a daily basis, and his complicated story has made it into a couple of them. In the span of an hour and a half, Hudson comes close to tears twice, but both instances revolve around the occupation, not his history.
"When I was a drug dealer, I became my best customer," Hudson says. "I smoked up my family, my jobs, the roof over our heads. I've stolen gifts from underneath the Christmas tree. If I were my wife, I'd have left me, too."
These words are delivered from a straight face topped by a donated Ed Hardy hat and supported by a large purple jacket. Although Hudson suggests the most common misconception is that the occupation is entirely uneducated, homeless, drug addicts, he is comfortable admitting he used to fall into the third category. "The hardest part is not gravitating to those same areas you did before jail," he says. "Drugs are quick money, and the other money doesn't feel fast enough. Sometimes the idea that Jesus saves actually makes it all worse."
Hudson has been known to quote Biblical scripture in the same sentence as a reference to the Egyptian goddess Isis, and he can most cleanly be lumped into the "spiritual" category. Much of his outlook comes from years spent in prison, and it is this part of him that was attracted to the occupation five months after his April release.
"I became so excited people had gathered to stop the damaging behaviors that are bad for the entire world, and I knew I had to become a part of all this," says Hudson, currently holding a sign decorated by a tiny jack-o-lantern. "We lose our sense of community as the world continues to become larger. Right now, our needs are for sale."
Tuesday night marked the most difficult of his time on Broadway so far. When the temperature dropped, snow arrived and five people were hospitalized, he says he and others began to wonder how the night would end.
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"But when people kept coming to drop off warm food, we knew we were carrying this burden for others, too," Hudson says. His face contorts into the stage right before tears. "It took a whole lot of prayer for me, but on the other side, I know we can do it again now. We made it through the night."
Within Occupy Denver, Hudson's presence serves as a buffer between groups that he acknowledges indulge in regular infighting. On Tuesday, he was elected into the newly founded treasury committee, a position that depends almost entirely on trust and dependability. Because of his focus on increasing the group's intimacy and communication, the position depends first on concentrating outside himself and then on convincing others to do the same.
"Our concerns have to be globalized," Hudson says. "We can't just think about ourselves anymore. The self has been winning for a long time now, and we've already suffered the results of that."
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: Police arrest homeless vet Billy Reno for raising a tent."