Photos and Reporting by Jose Olivares
“The streets” is a loaded term, with its many meanings always circling back to urban life. The term is anything but bourgeois.
“Growing up on the streets” can imply involvement in gang activity. A “street” is a slang term for a hallway in prison. “Living on the streets” can mean being homeless. And taking to “the streets” refers to raising hell against systemic injustice.
41-year-old Ricky Perez, a self-proclaimed 'Street Soldier', embodies all of the above. To Perez, the streets represent his home. He first grew up on the streets, spent years in prison, is currently homeless and has been an ardent fighter against systemic injustice.
What Perez has seen during his time on the streets has been humanity at its rawest.
When we spoke, he told us of his injuries, some sustained when he was allegedly jumped a few days prior.
Ever since, he’s been in contact with Our Town Reno, wanting to share his story.
We had been communicating through random, sporadic phone calls. As a homeless man, access to a consistent phone is difficult, so Our Town Reno was unable to speak with Perez unless he called. A couple of times he called from a cellphone he borrowed. A few times from a pay phone. And once from a phone on the fifth floor of a local hospital as he waited to hear results of a blood test.
We finally were able to schedule a meeting this past weekend. Our Town Reno spent approximately five hours with Perez, listening to his stories, jokes and philosophical thoughts.
There is no way to know if the stories he told Our Town Reno were exaggerated for theatrical effect, so we advise the reader to take them for what they are.
Happy and Painful Memories
Our Town Reno picked Perez up next to the RTC bus station. Because of his injuries, he uses a walker, which we stowed in the back of the car as we drove to find food. The walker has a black bag attached to it with a gaping hole. Every time we would take the walker out of the car for him to walk, he would check, ask and clarify that none of his possessions had fallen out of the hole.
Perez is from the Silver State. “I’m from Las Vegas. Born and raised,” he said. Growing up, his mother would take him and his brother to Mexico to visit family. He fondly remembers the food and culture. “Cow tongue is a delicacy in Mexico,” he said with a slight grin.
Perez dropped out of high school in the 11th grade and went on to receive his GED some time later. According to Perez, he and his younger brother were worlds apart. “The only thing we had in common was our mother,” he said. “My brother was full-blown homosexual.”
Perez told us how his younger brother died of AIDS in 2012. However, this was not the only family tragedy in his life. He remembers how his younger cousin died of a meth overdose. He still thinks her death was suspicious because of the astronomically high amount of meth, he says, which was found in her system.
Gang Life leads to Prison Life
The only thing he allowed to publish about his gang life is that his actions as a young man – at approximately 19 or 20 years old – landed him behind bars. Perez says he spent approximately 20 years in a Nevada prison. He was recently released.
His experiences in prison were expectedly unpleasant. He remembers a time when he and his cellmate were jumped. Perez was stabbed seven times but as he says, he was able to put up a good fight.
In prison, he was able to read books spanning a variety of topics. One of his favorite books was a biography of Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
Life is a River
We sat together at a local Mexican restaurant. I sipped on a soda and Perez devoured a carne asada torta and rice tacos. As we chatted about each other’s lives, he would drop golden nuggets of philosophical and life advice.
“You never want to go backward,” he told me. “You always want to go forward. Life is a river. We must live it while we can.”
During his time in prison, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) represented many prisoners in Ely State Prison in Riker v. Gibbons (https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/riker-v-gibbons-order). Prisoners sued Nevada regarding their medical conditions in Ely State Prison. For this, Perez now holds the ACLU in high regard and sees it as one of the best organizations in the country that “really fights for the people.”
Moving to 'Weird' Reno
“I came up to Reno on a Greyhound on August 12,” Perez said. “Reno’s kind of weird. People are weird. They’ll openly stare at you.”
His time in Reno has been anything but uneventful. Perez is currently homeless and is struggling with a busted knee after allegedly being jumped one day. Throughout our time together, he would frequently grasp his knee, clench his teeth and double over in pain. Although he would try to dismiss the pain and pass it off as if it truly did not phase him, it was obvious the pain was truly affecting his concentration as we spoke.
The story of his injuries and of his struggles on Reno’s streets is to be continued...
In Part 2 of this series, we’ll learn more of Ricky Perez’s experience of getting injured as a homeless man in Reno as well as get more of his insights gathered from his turbulent life.
Series Reporting and Photos by Jose Olivares for Our Town Reno