[Hpn] Nowhere man: ŒIt is as though I donıt existı

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Mon, 22 Oct 2001 13:44:24 -0700


http://www.courierpress.com:80/cgi-bin/view.cgi?200110/21+exist102101_news.h
tml+20011021

Evansville Courier & Press

Nowhere man: ŒIt is as though I donıt existı
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By HELEN Oı NEILL AP special correspondent
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Once, he had a name. And a birth certificate. And all the other scraps of
paper that made him somebody.

Somebody with the right to live and work and travel. Somebody with the right
to be protected in a country that cherished his very existence because he
could prove it. Somebody with a future because he knew his past.

But that was in another life ‹ a life that ended two years ago when he was
mugged on a Toronto street. He was robbed of his wallet and his memory.

Worse, he was robbed of his identity.

He awoke in a hospital in November 1999, not knowing who he was or where he
came from. He didnıt know where he had learned French, Italian, and Latin,
or where he had cultivated his love of opera, his aversion to meat.

Even today, all he knows is what doctors and linguists have told him: that
he is suffering from global amnesia, that he speaks with a distinctive
British accent, possibly from Yorkshire, that once he was somebody.

But who? 

A photograph taken after the mugging, shows a young man, probably in his
late 20s, with dyed blonde hair, a round face, prominent nose and dark eyes.
He is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds.

The manıs photograph and fingerprints were circulated around the world.
Television programs in Britain documented his plight, although there has
been little coverage in the United States. Interpol and international
missing persons organizations investigated. Still they have no leads.

He wants to go to England to see if he can find himself, or maybe confront
some shadows of his past. Surely, he argued in court, the least a man
deserves is the chance to reclaim his identity.

But society has no place for a man without a name. And it doesnıt make
provisions for a man without a country.

He cannot travel without a passport. He cannot get a passport without a
birth certificate. And he cannot get a birth certificate without knowing
where he was born. 

So, the man the British media dubbed ³Mr. Nobody² lives in limbo, reading
Latin verse in a public library, or holed up in a dingy rooming house on
Vancouverıs east side, growing increasingly paranoid and depressed. He
refuses to talk about his plight anymore. He shuns further media coverage,
saying it portrays him as a freak ‹ fascinating only because he cannot prove
who he is, or who he is not.

³I am stateless. It is as though I donıt exist,² he said in court. ³My life
is senseless. I can hardly sleep at all. As I cannot work and provide for my
material and spiritual needs or leave the country, I consider myself a
prisoner; therefore, I am kindly asking to be set free.²

The freedom he sought was the creation of an identity, complete with a birth
certificate and a name, one that would allow him to leave Canada in search
of himself. The name he asked for was Philip Staufen.

That is the name that appeared on his plastic wristband in Toronto General
Hospital where he was first treated. It had a birth date of June 7, 1975.

He says that after repeatedly telling hospital staff he didnıt know who he
was, he was pressed to give the first name that came into his head. So he
blurted out Philip Staufen ‹ the name of a medieval German king and Holy
Roman Emperor. 

Police have tracked people with similar names all over Europe and found no
connection to the mystery man. No one has been issued with a British
passport in that name.

So Mr. Nobody lives in a vacuum, haunted by a past he cannot remember and a
future he cannot plan.

³My actual situation has left me prey to too many abuses and humiliations,²
he said in court. ³I have found myself having to live on the streets or with
violent and vulgar people.²

The judges were sympathetic, but they denied his ³application for identity,²
declaring that they could not create a legal fiction by giving him a birth
certificate. However, he did eventually win a federal ministerial permit
that allows him to live and work in Canada for 18 months. It was issued in
the name of Philip Staufen.

But, with no passport, Staufen still canıt leave the country. And itıs not
clear what happens after the 18 months are up in December 2002. Under normal
circumstances, people may apply for Canadian citizenship after living in the
country for three years. But the application form requires a name and
birthplace. 

At first Staufen rejected the ministerial permit, saying if the system could
allow him use the name for 18 months, it could grant him a passport in that
name too. He went on hunger strike for a week in protest.

³What I want is to be given an identity,² he said. ³I want to be able to
leave Canada. I want to be anonymous and to live my life in peace.²

No one who has dealt with Staufen doubts his story. Not the police who
investigated his case, doctors who treated him, the people who temporarily
took him into their homes, government workers who tried to help him. All see
no hint of deception or fraud.

³It just seemed mind-boggling that someone could be so alone in the world
and no one seems to be looking for him,² said Stephen Bone, a Toronto
detective who spent days with Staufen trying to find clues to his identity.

Bone brought Staufen to a linguist, drove him to a homeless shelter, helped
him buy groceries, won his trust. The detective watched as the man with no
memory discovered clues about himself: that he took milk and sugar with his
tea, that he didnıt like meat, that he loved to read.

Initially, Bone said, Staufen believed it was a matter of time before
detectives unlocked his identity. With money from supporters, Staufen
traveled to Montreal, and then Vancouver, where he found a lawyer, Manuel
Azevedo, who took up his cause. He was given welfare assistance of $525 a
month. 

But as time dragged on, Staufen became frustrated and withdrawn. He
questioned images in his head: Were they pieces of his past, or something he
had read? 

³I feel very sorry for him,² Bone said. ³The thought of a human being having
no identity and no one to turn to. Itıs almost like if you donıt have a name
you are nothing.² 

Only a handful of cases of total amnesia have ever been documented. With
treatment, most patients eventually recognized, or ³relearned² pieces of
their past. And recovery usually happened within months.

Because Staufen is still suffering after two years, some psychiatrists
suggest he may be suffering from a psychogenic ³fugue² state ‹ a memory
disorder in which he has blocked out an incident too awful to remember.

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