Willies escape
Photo essay by Fred Zwicky
  Willies escape

Willie York says the street has been his home for most of his adult life. A cycle of alcoholism and sporadic violent crime and a heavy dose of misdemeanors led Willie to a life on the street, panhandling for whiskey money.

 Dressed in garb created from duck carcasses or trash bin  
refuse
 After climbing out of his hut, Willie  
shaves in preparation for another day. Local  
hunters left him two ducks during the night,  
which he will cook over afire. The hut is  
built in an area planned for redevelopment  
just blocks away from the heart of downtown  
Peoria. Willie intentionally builds his hut to  
be very small so that his body heat will keep  
him warm during frigid winter nights
Dressed in garb created from duck carcasses or trash bin refuse, he often completes his street persona by using correction fluid on his face.

Community opinions of Willie, a Vietnam veteran who lives in Peoria, range from amusement at his antics and out- landish outfits to outright disgust at his history of criminal behavior and drunken tirades. Willie, 55, periodically rejects shelters or offers from relatives for lodging.

He survives partly through using the legal system to his advantage. During the harsh winter months, he intentionally creates public disturbances to spend a warm night in county lockup. Other times, Willie calls the police himself on a pay phone, requesting detox. Occasionally, he commits crimes designed to draw a longer sentence in state and federal prisons. Intentional or not, Willie's offenses range from striking police officers to attempted bank robbery to throwing an unlit Molotov cocktail at the federal courthouse.

Though Willie says he has spent time in psychiatric hospitals, court-appointed doctors have declared him sane. Most police officers and judges privately admit they have little idea what to do with him. His court-appointed lawyers now request maximum sentences.

Before release from federal prison one winter day, a guard explained to Willie that if he wanted to stay, all he had to do was show insubordination to the staff. Willie just smiled, saying, "I want to head down to the jungle and party a little first."

In Willie's eyes, the system works just fine.

Fred Zwicky is a phofojournalist for the Peoria Journal Star and a frequent contributor to Illinois Issues. Most recently his photographs appeared in the November issue of the magazine.

24 / January 2000 Illinois Issues


After climbing out of his hut, Willie  
shaves in preparation for another day. Local  
hunters left him two ducks during the night,  
which he will cook over afire. The hut is  
built in an area planned for redevelopment  
just blocks away from the heart of downtown  
Peoria. Willie intentionally builds his hut to  
be very small so that his body heat will keep  
him warm during frigid winter nights
After climbing out of his hut, Willie shaves in preparation for another day. Local hunters left him two ducks during the night, which he will cook over afire. The hut is built in an area planned for redevelopment just blocks away from the heart of downtown Peoria. Willie intentionally builds his hut to be very small so that his body heat will keep him warm during frigid winter nights.

Answering a disturbance call in front of a local hotel,  
police officers groan as they realize one of them will have to lift  
Willie the rest of the way into the paddy wagon because he is loo  
drunk to climb in. Police officers say they do not see any humor in  
Willie's antics
Answering a disturbance call in front of a local hotel, police officers groan as they realize one of them will have to lift Willie the rest of the way into the paddy wagon because he is loo drunk to climb in. Police officers say they do not see any humor in Willie's antics.

Willie transforms his jail cell into a universe of alien  
visitors, using soap to draw the planets and toilet paper molded  
with spit to create creatures
Willie transforms his jail cell into a universe of alien visitors, using soap to draw the planets and toilet paper molded with spit to create creatures.

Illinois Issues January 2000 / 25


A devil all too familiar  
to local police, Willie yells  
drunken curses at the arresting  
officer after being charged with  
criminal damage to property
Police say Willie used a magic  
marker to draw six pitchforks  
on the side of the newly constructed police station
Above: A devil all too familiar to local police, Willie yells drunken curses at the arresting officer after being charged with criminal damage to property. Police say Willie used a magic marker to draw six pitchforks on the side of the newly constructed police station.

 Standing just across the street from the police station,  
Willie quickly downs a bottle of cheap whiskey
Standing just across the street from the police station, Willie quickly downs a bottle of cheap whiskey.

Back on the street during intense subzero temperatures,  
Willie warms himself in the blast of exhaust vents behind  
a dry-cleaning shop
Back on the street during intense subzero temperatures, Willie warms himself in the blast of exhaust vents behind a dry-cleaning shop. His dinner of scraps salvaged from a Dumpster cooks under the steaming run-off dribbling from the dry cleaner exhaust vents.

26 / January 2000 Illinois Issues


 Willie entered the federal prison system
After throwing an unlit Molotov cocktail at the federal courthouse and later scuffling with court bailiffs, Willie entered the federal prison system. Willie said he'd heard nice things about the new federal minimum-security prison in Pekin, anil wanted to check out the facilities for himself.

Willie enthusiastically greets  
passersby
After 21 months in federal lockup, Willie enthusiastically greets passersby. Within an hour of his release, Willie bypasses meeting his parole officer, choosing to buy two bottles of whiskey, a condom and may be some "weed."

Illinois Issues January 2000 / 27


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