04 New and Old
Part Two of Project Rehab
Chapter 4: New and Old
Rupert didn’t choose the building in Shelbyville. If anything, the building chose him.
His outward appearance of the hairy-scary Survivor star didn’t blend well with his headquarters in the Nora area of Indianapolis. Just down the road, health food stores dotted the shopping centers near Indy’s Monon Trail. The old Monon rail line is now a trail that hipsters and new-age folks walk or bike as they commute to and from downtown Indy.
Although his wife, Laura, grew up in the area, this isn’t a location one would expect to find a mentoring program working with convicted felons.
One of the first decisions Rupert made after the 2012 election, as he faced the accompanying debt, was to attempt sell his office building in the Nora section of Indianapolis. With his businesses faltering, and having to rebuild his celebrity appearance schedule, he didn’t have the income to pay the bills. For the first time in a long time, as building owner, he’d have to charge his mentoring program rent, just to keep making the mortgage payment on the building.
Rupert wasn’t running just a mentoring program. He was trying to change the community he was working in. Nora, where his headquarters was, wasn’t the community he needed to serve. Nora was too upscale, and Indianapolis was too large to be affected by what his small program could do to reduce the incarceration rate in the county.
In October 2014, almost two years after he closed up the Rupert for Governor headquarters, Rupert finally sold his Nora offices. That marked the end of over twenty years of mentoring in Indianapolis. A new chapter was just beginning. Rupert and his program were moving their operation to Shelby County.
The year before, after their conversation at the motorcycle ride, Mayor DeBaun had spent several days in meetings with Rupert. They usually gathered in the mayor’s office in the limestone monolith that was Shelbyville’s town hall. The drab gray stone structure stands a block west of Shelbyville’s circular downtown meridian intersection. The intersection is the little cousin of Indianapolis’ impressive Monument Circle, near which Rupert’s campaign office was located.
The months following the motorcycle ride, where DeBaun and Rupert had talked of common interests in repairing what Rupert simply called “the system,” the mayor began pulling together the people who could make or break bringing a Rupert’s Kids extension program into his city. These early meetings with the county prosecutor, probation officers, the county sheriff, and city police chief all needed to happen. None of them realized at the time, months before the Nora building sold, that the relocation wouldn’t be an extension of the program. Rupert’s Kids was moving to Shelbyville due to the sale of the building in Nora.
A month after Rupert signed papers to sell his old office, the sidewalk outside of 26 West Broadway in Shelbyville was awash in tie-dye. Colorfully swirled T-shirts hung from the metal frames of pop-up canopies along the front of the old building.
The tie-dye shirts were visible against the Bedford stone façade of the three-story building. The tan of the first-story’s limestone contrasted with the aged and worn red brick of the façade on the second floor and above. This was a building from more than a century before, when ceiling heights were tall, towering twelve feet or more overhead. Windows stretched upward; upward, glass fingers in the stone and brick walls. A pigeon swooped in and landed on a window ledge of one of the third story attic windows. It disappeared inside the building. Where there was one pigeon, there were sure to be many, many more.
A long green dumpster occupied several of the parallel parking spots in front of the building. Crumbled plaster, dusty and crumpled cardboard boxes, and a worn and faded office chair apparently from the 1970s, were piled in the giant steel bin. Rupert and his guys were beginning to clean out decades of debris from the old building.
Two young men – one Caucasian, clad in a lime-green and yellow tie-dye t-shirt over a gray hoodie sweatshirt, the other dark-skinned wearing a down-filled vest over a long sleeved white T-shirt – struggled to maneuver Rupert’s life-sized pirate statue out through the door of the run-down structure to help attract attention.
Today was the grand opening of the new facility. The mayor and other town dignitaries came over to cut a ribbon and have a photo opportunity. Rupert, the mayor, and the others held scissors. On the count of three, hands squeezed, metal scissors sliced, and the ribbon parted into multiple pieces. Paul Gable, now managing editor of The Shelbyville News, had sent a reporter to write a small piece for the next day’s edition.
“Have you seen the place yet?” Rupert asked me, sticking his hand out in greeting. This was the new office of Rupert’s Kids, and soon to be a community center full of office space and conference areas to help the people that inevitably walked through the Rupert’s Kids’ door every week.
Rupert’s goals included meeting rooms for the organizations that could help the community’s disadvantaged. “We’re reaching out to [a drug and alcohol rehab center] to come in once a week with low-cost counseling programs. It’s not just booze and pot down here. We’re dealing with crystal meth and heroin in this county.”
“We had a girl in here last week,” Rupert told me, his eyes conveying his compassion. “She met with Georgette,” he said pointing toward his social worker’s office in the back. “And six hours later she was in the emergency room with an overdose. [Indianapolis] is more violent crime. Down here,” he said waving a calloused hand out at Shelby County, “we’ve got more drug use and trafficking.”
“Let’s go upstairs,” he said, returning to his happier mood. He led me around into another musty section of the building. We passed a couple of rooms full of dusty office chairs and cardboard boxes collapsed under years of abandonment. Around a corner, he flipped on a light switch. A single incandescent bulb glowed dimly in the murky darkness. A flight of wooden stairs, with a rickety handrail nailed to its side, rose toward a wall with peeling light-green paint. The stairs took a right-hand turn and climbed up beyond sight. “Watch your head,” he said ducking under an exposed bulkhead. It didn’t appear to be attached to any sidewalls. Due to the ongoing demolition of non-supporting walls, it hung merely to create an annoyance. “That will come out soon,” he said, disappearing around the bend as he climbed.
At the top of the stairs, the old architecture soared with high ceilings again. He led me to the west side of the building, over Georgette’s office, and the rest of the new Rupert’s Kids headquarters below. The vast space upstairs was lined with more of the tall windows. They reached up eight or ten feet above their starting point toward the ceiling. “Twenty nine of those windows. Each one $500 dollars to replace. Almost $15,000 just in windows for this building.”
The ceiling above the windows was cracked, its plaster had split, with a ten-foot long by five-foot or so wide section, bare to the wooden lathwork above. The floor below that section was covered in crumbled plaster fallen from above. Most of that pile was blanketed by soft down and guano from the pigeons that now roosted in the attic above. “We’ll spend the winter knocking down the plaster, and redoing the walls and ceiling.”
“And evicting the pigeons?”
He smiled and nodded. “This will be my office,” he said sweeping his arms wide toward the front of the building that overlooked Broadway. “I always wanted a corner office,” he said with a chuckle.
“Is this where the pool tables and game room is going?”
He shook his head. “This isn’t a rec-center. It’s a community center. It’ll be a nine-to-five center for the programs the low-income, at-risk folks need, he explained. “Vocational education, computer rooms. People can come in to work on their GEDs. If we have the ability, we’ll reach out to medical professionals for a sliding-scale medical advisor.” I could sense his excitement. This was what he had been trying to build in Indianapolis. Now he had a blank canvas in Shelbyville.
“We’ve started with very little resources and no government dollars so far. We’re going to create a path to a better community, and show the state,” he paused, “SHOW THE WORLD,” he said emphatically “how to do it.”