Still Standing, Katrina Reflections: The Last Time I Talk to Mama

Lily Thneah

Gerald Anderson helped rescue dozens of Hurricane Katrina victims and looked after hundreds in the projects to keep them safe. He has just published his dramatic memoir, “Still Standing: How an Ex-Con Found Salvation in the Floodwaters of New Orleans.” Now, ten years later, he reflects.   

You and your family, became separated during Katrina. How did you reconnect? 

In 2005, after I was evacuated to D. C., they set up a website at the Armory where you could find lost family. Some people helped me. They ask my last name. They say there be a million people with that name Anderson. But then they find my sister Valerie. So I phoned and talked to my mother, my sisters, brothers, nephews, the whole family.

Tell about the last time you saw your mother? 

Right before Katrina, when I say good-bye to her at the Superdome.

The last time I saw my daddy  also b the first time I live with my daddy, about 20 years ago when we in prison together. I don’t know if he still alive.  

When was the last time you spoke to your mother?

At Pollok, a U.S. penitentiary in Louisiana, they had you sittin’ at meals with people from your home state. A young guy looked at me and said, “I know who you is. “If I’m not mistaken’ you Tuna uncle. That’s what they called my nephew, Terry, on the street.

The young boy, told me, “After Katrina, your mama and your sister stayed a few houses from where I used to stay at.”

I told him, how often do you talk on the street, and he said “Man, I call out every day.”

I said “Do me a favor? Try to locate my family.”

He say, “That’s nothin’. I can do that like the snap of a finger.”

So come the next day, goin’ to breakfast, a few of the homeboys was tellin’ me that someone was lookin’ for me. I say to myself, I hope it’s the little guy, who was lookin’ for my family for me.

So I see the little guy and he say, “Man, I got the number for your family.”

It was like hittin’ the lottery.

I rushed to the phones to dial out and a recording come on that talks to your people and tells them, “You have a collect call from a federal inmate.” And the recording say your name.

I hear “Hello.” And I say hello back.

Me not talking to my mother for a while, it sounded kind of funny. That’s when I say, “Hello, Ma?”

And she say “Who is this?” That’s when I know it’s my ma. A big ol’ smile cross my face.

I said “This is Joe. That’s what she always call me.”

She said, “Joe, what you doin’ in a federal prison?

I say “It’s a long story.”

She say, “What bank you done rob?”

I say, “I didn’t rob a bank. It’s a long story.”

She say, “Then what you in jail for?”

I told her, “They say I been sellin’ drugs.”

“They say? I tell everyone here, if Joe not dead, he must be in his bird house, just like his daddy.”

I say, “How that Mommy? You know they gonna kangaroo me,” which means I was convicted mostly because of my record.

She say, How you doin’?”

I say, “I can’t be doin’ too good. I’m in prison.”

She laugh.

I asked about my sisters and brothers and she say some of them here. And then I hear her yell, “Joe on the phone.”

She say, “I been sick lately. I been in a wheelchair.” When I hear that it put chills in my body. She say she got a IV in her hand. I feel real bad when she say that.

She told me, “Joe, I’m glad you in prison, rather than layin’ on the ground somewhere dead.”

I told her, “You know real legend don’t die, they just multiply.”

That was a saying and that was the last time I talk to my mama.

On Thursday, September 10, at noon, come to the Martin Luther King Junior Memorial Library at 901 G Street NW to hear more of Gerald’s story. After a conversation with editor Susan Orlins, Gerald will be signing his book.  


Issues |Family

Region |Washington DC

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