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February 5th, 2003 Chris Lydgate | News Stories
 

Double Jeopardy

Identical twins struggle to break free of the streets of Portland.

     
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Sheltering from the rain outside Peterson's on Southwest Morrison Street, Bryan and David Hudnall are trying to scrape together enough cash for a pack of smokes. Business is slow. Rain is the panhandler's enemy--it drives the crowds indoors and lets passersby shield their conscience behind their umbrellas. Today it's pouring out of the sky, soaking through the layers, chilling the skin, turning the sidewalks slick.

Clad in a brown Carhartt jacket, two black hoodies, black jeans and a gray T-shirt that says ARMY, David leans back and chugs a Vanilla Coke while he scans the street, his eyes roving over the terrain like a Bedouin surveying a sandstorm. A passerby tosses down a tiny yellow chocolate bar. Quick as a wink, Bryan tears off the wrapper, snaps it in two and hands one half to his brother.

Share and share alike.

David and Bryan, Bryan and David. Identical twins, born 28 years ago, 15 minutes apart. The product of a single human cell split in half, they share the same blue eyes, the same fair skin, the same gruff voice and stubby thumbs.

But the duplication runs much deeper than their DNA. From the moment they were born, their destinies have been fused together like the two sides of a coin. All told, they have spent six long years on the streets, and they bear its imprint: the bruised knuckles, the jagged yellow teeth, the blue slugs of methamphetamine abuse crawling down their arms.

On any given night, roughly 2,750 people in the Portland area seek refuge in shelters or emergency housing, according to the Multnomah County Office of School and Community Partnerships. Thousands more resort to couches, cars, bridges or doorways.

While the exact number will always be a matter of guesswork, it is almost certain to swell, thanks to a sputtering economy and the failure of Measure 28.

People wind up on the street for different reasons. Some are women running from abusive partners. Some are white-collar workers down on their luck. Some are schizophrenic. Some are winos. Some are runaways. Some just couldn't make the rent.

The twins don't really fit any of the stereotypes--or else they fit them all. Stuck in a quicksand of drugs, poverty, mania, depression and unemployment, they are a case study of street life. Sometimes their troubles loom so vast as to seem insurmountable. At the same time, there is something inside the twins that just won't quit. "There's a spark about them," says local artist Debra Beers, who has known them for almost 10 years.

What follows is a series of snapshots of two lives and one bond: a connection that has been at once the key to their survival and the shackling of their fate.

the squat

The cars roar past at 60 miles per hour, their tail lights glowing red like a swarm of fireflies. The air is thick with exhaust and the premonition of rain. Like a Spanish castle, the camp is guarded from intruders by a moat of concrete, where the Sunset Highway splits off from I-405. To reach it, you have to scramble down an embankment and hike along a muddy trail that winds beneath an overpass. The slope reeks of urine.

Scrunched under a concrete ceiling is a jumble of blankets, clothes, cigarette butts, newspapers, plastic bottles and books--including the Methodist Hymnal and a 1999 daily planner. A bedraggled Santa Claus hat, its bobble stained with mud, sits next to a discarded syringe.

"This is the best squat I've had in my life," Bryan declares, surveying the camp with a grin. "This is home!"

Setting down his pack, he snaps a blanket, sending clouds of dust into the air, and ticks off the camp's selling points. "It's a convenient location," he nods, with the poise of a real-estate agent. "And you can see the cops a long way off."

Like most street people, the twins keep a sharp eye out for the police. This is partly due to their criminal history: Together they have been cited in dozens of police reports, from riding MAX without a ticket to obstructing the sidewalk to peddling small quantities of meth.

Typically, an offense like delivery of a controlled substance will net them a short stretch in jail, followed by two or three years of supervision, when they are supposed to check in with a probation officer and submit to occasional urinalysis. If they vanish from sight, a warrant may be issued for their arrest--or it may not. The twins are never sure until the next time they run into an officer.

The other reason to steer clear of the cops is their sheer vulnerability. In an encounter with a police officer, the twins can only lose.

If they are panhandling outside Peterson's, they can be charged with obstructing the sidewalk. If they cross the street, they can be charged with jaywalking. If they throw a cigarette butt into the gutter, they can be charged with littering. In August, police officers found David carrying his anxiety medication in an unmarked container. He was charged with possession of a controlled substance.

Tonight Bryan is alone--David was arrested for a parole violation. Strange as it may seem, a short stretch behind bars has some advantages. It means a shower, a blanket, clean clothes, hot meals, and a relief from pavement paranoia.

Last week, for example, Bryan decided to visit his girlfriend, Erin, in jail. Concerned he might have an outstanding warrant, Bryan posed as his brother when he checked in at the visitor's center. Unfortunately, deputies placed him under arrest because David had an outstanding warrant. When Bryan protested that he'd just borrowed David's driver's license, he was charged with identity theft and promptly thrown in the slammer.

Bryan spent two nights in the Justice Center before he was matrixed out due to overcrowding. "I didn't want to leave," he says. "I told 'em, 'Take someone else--I want to stay.'"

Bryan was released at 2 am on Jan .27--right about the same time that police were arresting David outside the Motel 6 on Southeast Powell Boulevard for the outstanding warrant. The two brothers passed through the jailhouse doors within 15 minutes of each other: one on his way in, one on his way out.

the drug

The first time the twins shot meth was in 1993. Someone offered it to them at a party. They were 18 years old--two hicks from the sticks who had quit school, ditched their parents and blasted out of Albany, Ore., for the neon lights of Portland.

They tried to turn it down. "Then all of a sudden, there's a lot of people there," Bryan remembers. "And I'm like, what the hell, there's a lot of people watching, I don't want to be the shit of the party."

Bryan snorted a line. So did David. Later that night, they mainlined it. "I thought it was the best thing in the world," Bryan says. "I still think it's one of the best things in the world."

Meth is the jet fuel of the street. It quickens the pulse, sharpens the senses, blunts the conscience. It makes the body impervious to cold, dulls pain and sends a wave of energy coursing down the spine, transmuting exhaustion into a tooth-grinding, jaw-clenching high--all for $20.

The twins quickly spiraled through a succession of couches and doorways. "They were from a small town, living in a big city, and it just swallowed them up," says their elder brother, Jerry, who did a stretch on the streets himself and now works as a telemarketing manager in Eugene.

But if meth kept them going, it also kept them down. Using it, finding it, paying for it, meth became the focus of their entire existence. "Drug addiction is a crock of shit, dude," says Bryan.

"It's a never-ending battle. You can fight it...you can tell yourself, 'I'm not going to do it anymore.' But once you go out on the street, you're gonna see a needle, you're gonna see somebody scoring drugs, selling drugs, and you're gonna jones for it."

Craving the rush, they panhandled office workers by day and pulled tricks on Stark Street by night. They earned a new nickname on the street: The Tweaker Twins.

After their first year in Portland, the twins went back to Albany to visit their mother for Christmas. She was stunned by their appearance. "I was surprised they weren't dead," Christina Hudnall told WW, sobbing at the memory. "They were pasty white. They shook. They just looked so awful."

In 1995, David spent 10 months in the Oregon State Correctional Institution for unauthorized use of a vehicle.

He shot up the day he was released.

When WW caught up with the twins two months ago, they were pinballing back and forth in the grip of their addiction. Ironically, their recent double waltz through the jail helped them break out of the meth cycle. As of Friday, they'd both been clean for a week, thanks in part to a friend who paid for their anti-anxiety drug prescriptions.

Many drug addicts find they have to avoid their old friends in order to kick the habit; Bryan and David are confident they can do it together.

"If he's strong," says David, nodding at his brother, "I can stay strong."

the bond

Room 236 at the Century Plaza Hotel at Southwest 4th Avenue and Alder Street isn't exactly brimming with ambience. The rate is only $27.50 a night, and the clerks don't ask too many questions.

Every once in a while the twins enjoy the hotel's relative comfort thanks to an unlikely benefactor, a 71-year-old retired college professor named Burton W. Onstine, whom they first met 10 years ago. Since then, Onstine has paid for their medication, visited them in jail, let them stay the night at his house, and subsidized occasional stints in places like the Century Plaza.

On a recent evening, Bryan was sprawled on the bed, watching Comedy Central with his shoes off, the grimy imprint of his feet outlined against the soles of his socks. Bryan is 15 minutes older than his brother. He is calmer, cooler. He has spent less time behind bars. People describe him as shy or standoffish.

David is restless, pacing back and forth, cramming handfuls of Zours candy into his mouth and washing them down with a bottle of Mirror Pond, which he knocks over no fewer than three times in the space of an hour.

David is the wild card, the enforcer. People say he's more outgoing but also more vulnerable.

"They're a tag team," says one friend. "They play different roles--good cop, bad cop."

On the street, their bond is like a coat of armor. They can telegraph their thoughts to one another through shrugs and nods and winks even while they're carrying on a conversation with a third party. They look out for each other. They go fifty-fifty. "I couldn't have survived without him," Bryan says. "He's had my back through some tight situations."

"It's a lot better with him around," David says. "Because I'm not lonely."

But their interdependence is also their downfall. "They pull each other down," their mother says. "One follows the other."

"It's like [David] carries a large part of my heart," Bryan says. "I care so much about him. And that's what makes me weak around him."

The double-edged nature of the twins' connection was demonstrated when they split up.

In 1998, the twins' girlfriends, Erin and Mary, both got pregnant. The prospect of fatherhood seemed to dull the twins' appetite for self-destruction. "When the girls got pregnant, they really had an ace card," says Christina, the twins' mother. "They had a lot of control."

David and Mary moved to Tacoma, while Bryan and Erin moved to a trailer park in Port Townsend, Wash. Bryan got a job flipping burgers at McDonald's; David drove a forklift for Goodwill. The Hudnall tribe increased: Bryan and Erin had three kids; David and Mary had two. "For a while there, they were really changing things around," says the twins' father, Dan Hudnall, a construction worker in Albany.

In the fall of 2001, this precarious recovery collapsed. State welfare workers took Bryan and Erin's kids into protective custody for alleged neglect. Unhinged by the shock and shame of losing their kids, Bryan and Erin spiraled out of control. They came back to Portland, then moved to Tacoma and stayed with David and Mary. It was an ill-fated decision. The twins started shooting meth again. In December, welfare workers took David and Mary's kids into protective custody.

Before they knew it, the twins had landed back on the streets of Portland with a sickening double-thud.

At the Century Plaza, David can't sleep. Sometimes he thinks the room is haunted. As midnight approaches, he gets ready for a stroll, jamming two slices of bread into a toaster. "I have to wear myself out or I'll be too stressed-out to sleep," he explains, applying a thick coat of Cheez Whiz to his crusts. "I'm getting too old for this."

"I want to get the fuck off the streets," says Bryan. "I enjoyed having my own place. I liked the responsibility of having to pay the electricity and the rent at the same time. My whole family relied on me. I loved that. It made me feel important, to come home from work to a place where your kids and your girlfriend's been waiting all day for you. They'd sit at the window and wait for me to get home. Same time every day. The drugs weren't a big problem. I could take drugs or I could leave 'em. Most of the time, I'd say, 'I have to get the kids some diapers, so I can't do no dope.' I always picked my priorities."

"But now I don't have no priorities," he sighs. "If someone wants to get me high, I'll get high. I'm not worried about the consequences. I'm not worried about losing my kids--I already lost 'em."

By every objective measure, the twins are in dire straits. Their children are wards of the state. Bryan's facing criminal charges for selling $20 worth of meth to an undercover cop. Erin's in jail and pregnant again. But look on the bright side. They're warm; they're dry; for tonight, they've got a roof over their heads. And they have each other.


WW has written about the twins before. See "Gutter Punks: On the street with Portland's lost tribe," Sept. 11, 1996

 

 

AGENCIES WORKING WITH STREET KIDS INCLUDE:

Outside In: (503) 223-4121 www.outsidein.org.

 

 

New Avenues for Youth: (503) 224-4339, www.newavenues.org.

 

 

Harry's Mother: (503) 233-8111, www.jyp.org.

 

 

Salvation Army Greenhouse (503) 239-1245, www.cascadesa.org/
Programs/
Greenhouse.htm

 
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