Homeless And Sleeping In A Chevy Cavalier

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

ESTHERVILLE, Iowa. — B.J. Johnson has faced a turbulent life so challenging that he lived in a car as a high school student for 5-plus months in Tallahassee, Fla.

Every night, he parked his car in one of 20 locations he felt safe at after eating a burger or two from McDonalds from money friends and teachers gave him so he wouldn’t starve.

When B.J. was just a baby, his dad Keith was sentenced to life in prison without parole while his mother Theresa was in and out of jail fueled by drug addiction.

His saintly grandmother Shirley Ann Edney took on the mammoth responsibility of raising B.J. and his five brothers and sisters from the time he was six months old until her death Sept. 27, 2013 — nearly 17 years.

Currently the rightfielder for Iowa Lakes Community College (Estherville, Iowa), this young man never told anybody at Rickards H.S. in Tallahassee about being homeless until his signing day to Iowa Lakes late in his senior year of high school.

He simply didn’t want to be a burden to anyone. At signing day, it gave him the opportunity to tell people what a torture chamber of hell he had endured through his young life.

This powerful message was presented to help people understand they can overcome anything in life.

B.J., who was the captain of his baseball team and elected Mr. Rickards H.S., only wanted his friends and teachers to see the positive side of him day to day with a smile that has melted thousands of hearts in Florida and Iowa.

He grew up in a 3-room, 2 bathroom trailer home owned by his grandma, and he cherishes everything he receives in life. It is the way he was brought up by this marvelous lady.

“It was difficult growing up,” said B.J, who is now 20 years old.

“My grandmother raised me from the time I was six months old, and she meant the world to me. She drove me to visit my father in prison. My grandmother took custody of me and my five other brothers and sisters when I was six months old. My mom was on drugs and in and out of jail. And my dad was in prison.

“I’m not absolutely sure what my dad did to get a life sentence since he really wouldn’t tell me. But my dad acknowledged he was convicted of eight felonies. I do know one was attempted murder and a couple of robberies. He has a life sentence without the prospect of parole and is serving his sentence at Liberty Correctional Institution in Florida.

“As far as my mom, I knew she was doing drugs. But I didn’t know what type of drugs since I was so young. I have been told by my brothers and sisters she was hooked on crack cocaine.

“That was only one of the drugs she used. It was really, really bad, and she couldn’t stop. She also loved her alcohol.”

Life Changing Death
B.J. said without his grandma, he doesn’t know how his life would have turned out.

“My first memories of her was when I was three years old. I was told that I went back and forth between my mom and grandmother at an early age because of my mom’s drug problems and being in and out of prison.

“My grandmother lived in a trailer house which had three bedrooms and two baths. My grandmother didn’t like my mother, honestly. She didn’t like her due to the fact that she was on drugs constantly and left my brothers and sisters and me on the street.

“I was 16 years old when my grandma died as I was attending Rickards High School.

“When she passed, it was a time when three of my sublings had moved out. But three of us still had to be cared for, and we were able to stay at my grandma’s trailer for a period of time.

“My older brothers and sisters were always coming back to my grandma’s house. Either something was going wrong, or they needed a place to stay. When my grandma died, my oldest sister Shevonn took over the house briefly. But then she started going through her own ‘storm,’ so she decided to move to New Jersey.

“At that point, nobody was able to pay the bills on the house. My aunt from New Jersey had to shut it down. At that point, we had to move in with my mother in another location in Tallahassee. She came back into our lives when my grandmother passed away, which was a blessing.

“She was living with a friend named Nick. So I stayed with them for a few months along with my sister and brother. It got to a point where I felt Nick really didn’t want us there. In my heart, I didn’t want to be somewhere that I wasn’t wanted.

“My grandmother left me her car which was a blue 2002 Chevy Cavalier. I had a driver’s license, and my aunt helped me get it insured.

“I could have stayed at Nick’s if I really had to. But again, he really didn’t want me there. I didn’t have anything to give this man even though he was giving us a place to stay. So I decided to just live in my car. My goal at that time was to make it as a college baseball player.

“So for a little more than five months, I lived in my car and slept there. All of my brothers and sisters as well as my mom and friends wanted to know where I was staying. I would tell them that I was staying at friends’ homes and was fine. I never told anybody that I was living in grandma’s car. The last thing I wanted to do was have them panic or worry over what I chose to do.

“But the reality was that I was parking the car at night in probably 20 different locations. It might be at a park one night or a lake. Then another night, I might park it next to my friend’s home after asking permission and making up a story of why I needed to leave it there. Then the next morning, I would drive to school.

“The key was being in a place that was safe. I had a pillow and blanket inside the car plus some clothes to change into.

“I chose to sleep in the driver’s seat at night because that is where my grandma sat when she drove. I wanted to be as close to her as possible. I was able to lower the back of the seat down.”

Johnson said never during this 5-plus months of sleeping in his grandma’s car did a police officer knock on the window in the middle of the night to inquire what he was doing in the vehicle.

To read more of this inspiring story about B.J. Johnson, purchase the Jan. 5, 2018 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE. The rest of the story explains how he survived day to day and what his source of food was. It also explains how incredible people from Rickards High School helped him out, including the Guidance Counselor who ultimately became his mom.

The story also delves into his superb baseball skills as he signed with Iowa Lakes Community College and how he became an instant celebrity on campus as he swiped 19 bases last season as a freshman and earned a Gold Glove in right field for his defensive skills. B.J. was also involved in one of the greatest moments in Iowa Lakes baseball history last season as he became a leader on the team.

This special feature story is in Collegiate Baseball’s 2018 College Preview Issue. It features a rundown on the top teams and players on all levels of college baseball. It also includes a rundown of the top 92 draft eligible college players in the nation who have a chance of being picked in the first three rounds of next June’s MLB Draft, plus much more. To purchase this issue, CLICK HERE.