Ikeal poses for a photo on Mission Street. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan

Ikeal, who also goes by the alias Pierre, lives in a Single Room Occupancy hotel on Mission Street and shared with Mission Local some of his struggles with mental health and faith, although we started on the topic of his hair. 

A Southern twang shines through when he’s being playful, and his raspy voice cracks when he throws his head back to laugh. As he agrees to have his picture taken, he spreads his arms wide, sticks out his tongue, and jokes, “Don’t break the camera though.” 

This is only about four, four and half months. Some people think it’s like four or five years, you know? I said “no, brother, not this here.” This stuff grows like a weed patch, you know? Or a dry field on a rainy day, when rain hit and everything changes. 

I’ve been wearing it like this since I was in Vietnam. I’m a Vietnam veteran. I did two tours of duty in Vietnam, three years. I’m one hundred percent service connected, considered psychiatrically disturbed. But I’ve been telling that lady for 30 years, I’m not crazy. And she’s been telling me for 30 years that there’s nothing normal about me. So I don’t know what to tell you. 

My psychiatrist at Fort Miley. Yeah, but I told her like this — I said, “you know, after dealing with you since 1990, I think that you need to come out here and sit in this chair that I’m in, and I need to sit behind that desk.” She said, “why?” I said, “that thing — whatever it was I had back in 1990 — it’s been transferred over to you and we need to change positions now. I think it’s time that I bring you back. You’re the one who was crazy, you just don’t know it.”

She said, “you know, Pierre, you’re like a bowl of Rice Krispies — you know those guys on the box?” I said, “who, Snap, Crackle, Pop?” She say, “yeah.” I say, “well, what about them?” She say, “you just ain’t poured the milk on you yet, Pierre. You know what happens with those Rice Krispies when you pour the milk on ‘em. They just ain’t poured the milk on you yet, but when they do, that’s what’s going to happen, you know: Snap, Crackle … “

She say, “yeah, I see you, but the thing about what I’m looking at is, I think you might physically be here but in your head, you’re still running around in those jungles back then yet.” She said, “I don’t think that part of you came back home yet … I’m looking at you physically, but I don’t think what’s above shoulder blades came back with you. I think that part got left behind.”

They locked me up five months in a psych ward, Thorazine me out, you know, I got the kind of medication that I can be inside a building and the building can be like an earthquake, falling down. My doctor said, “this medication will make it where, no matter what’s going on around you, won’t even bother you. While everybody’s running and the rest of the building falling, you’ll be sitting there.” 

My job was rescuing pilots and disposing of whatever it was that hit ‘em. My grandpa was a Baptist preacher from Louisiana and I was raised on the Bible, but it took me 90 days in Vietnam to realize that, hey, these people are trying to kill me. And you want to know what happened? All that Christian stuff I had in me, it was like I took a big ole thing of Ex-lax and it all went out the back door. And the devil horns came, the tail came, a fork came … and you know, it was on, honey. 

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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim over eight years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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  1. Wow, Pierre! Even though it took 90 days for the transition from what had been the norms of Christianity to what became the realities of war to sink in, that still must have been a whiplash experience.

    Wishing you safe travels, Soldier!