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How did homeless advocate Troy Isaac become who he is today?

Troy Erik Isaac helps LA's homeless any way he can
Troy Erik Isaac helps LA's homeless any way he can

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Troy Erik Isaac is a homeless advocate who travels all over Los Angeles by foot helping any person he meets—he almost never ignores a phone call. But maybe even more compelling is his long, sometimes troubled history.

Troy Isaac was born in Houston. He grew up in an unstable home and moved to Burbank when he was 12. Not long after, he had his first run in with the law:

“I did not have a gun, I had my hand under my shirt,” said Isaac, describing an attempted stick-up robbery he committed.

“I went to like a parking lot and I wanted the lady to give me her money," said Isaac. "And she says 'I don’t have money, but I have makeup.' And I says 'I don’t care, give me that!'"

He said the woman called the police, and he was arrested not long after. He was given a few months inside Juvenile Hall, but it was the first offense of many, and started Isaac down a long, difficult road in the prison system. For Isaac, it meant being repeatedly raped.

“When you walk in effeminate, and [inmates] see a piece of meat," he said. "They demand oral copulation from you in showers, or they gang up on you in a mop closet—you know… you have to learn how to defend yourself. At a young age. I would cut up my wrists, I would say that I was suicidal, just to be moved out of those threatening situations.”

For the better part of his young adult life, he’d find himself in and out of detention centers, prisons, jails. In total, he spent 24 years behind bars: he was raped by inmates, and says he was beaten by guards. He did time for vandalism, shoplifting, assault. His last offense, Isaac was caught impersonating Ru Paul.

"I went around town, limousines, hotels, best food, best outfits, all on Ru Paul’s name," said Troy. "And we had a public trial, and Ru Paul showed up, and Ru Paul wanted me to get 15 years. The judge gave me eight. And eight years was enough time to get my life together to figure out who I was, and the rest is history. “

The trauma he went through in prison eventually put him in touch with more people on the outside. He started mailing back and forth with a group called Just Detention International—or JDI—one of the few organizations devoted to stopping prison rape. Lovisa Stanow, the organization’s executive director, remembers when she first encountered Isaac:

“I have really, at a more personal level, been so gratified just seeing Troy evolve in a way, from the first time he unannounced came by the office and introduced himself. And we realized that this is, in fact, Troy, who we had corresponded with for years, while he was incarcerated. He had now been released and he basically showed up at JDI’s offices, saying, “Now I’d like to help you. What can I do?”

Isaac is now a member of the organization’s survivor council, and he’s travelled to Washington DC to speak with members of Congress on the topic. Here he is in a video for the organization:

As of today, it’s been 11 years since he’s been arrested—that’s a record for him. And now, as a field advocate for the homeless, he works closely with LAPD. His work with JDI gave him a place to go when he got out of prison. But possibly more than anything he credits his new direction to one person.

“I’ve always been a fan of Oprah. Because she was my mother in prison," said Isaac. "I would watch her everyday, if I got a TV. And she’s so inspirational and she got me into journal writing. And there are things that she said that did NOT work out for me. Like pilates, yoga, it did not work out for me, but I tried them. And there are times that I channel myself ever since I’ve been out---there are times that I sound like Oprah, when I’m giving things away.”

And unlike Oprah, he can’t give away new cars, but thanks to the support of a Mid-Wilshire philanthropist, he can give meals, cigarettes and even a home to people in need.