By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
By Jeff Balke
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
Kendra Cuyler has lived the better part of the past 15 years immersed in the two professional subcultures that most people, given even half a choice in the matter, spend most of their lives assiduously trying to avoid.
One is the tangled undergrowth of Harris County's civil and criminal court systems, within the confines of which Cuyler has had to become, by financial necessity and dumb bad luck, a reasonably experienced pro se lawyer. She has had attorneys before -- for a variety of insurance and injury claims -- but some have quit on her, and others, she says, have given advice too poor to pay for.
The other is the world of doctors and hospitals and pills, which Cuyler entered 15 years ago through the portal of an automobile accident. Before the accident, she was a student at the University of Houston, holding down two different jobs, as office manager and bookkeeper. Since the accident, she's been diagnosed with severe chronic pain secondary to myofascial pain syndrome, with side orders of fibromyalgia, peripheral neuropathy, CFIDS, multiple sleep disorders, adrenal failure and thyroid problems that, combined, conspire to keep her homebound and dependent upon medicines, machines and up to 22 hours of daily bed rest.
Her medical bills are close to $10,000 a month. For several years she's had to hire help just to get along. Financing this kind of life -- through a cobbled combination of health insurance, social security disability and various legal settlements -- sucks.
There's a lawsuit, still unresolved, over the car accident. She's hoping to get a settlement.
There's another one, also unresolved, over the foreclosure proceedings that have been set in motion against what was her home, which she's hoping to get back.
Cuyler files motions within these suits seeking accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Because she has such trouble getting around, she asks, for instance, that she be allowed to file her legal paperwork by fax, instead of by mail or hand, and that she be served also by fax, that hearings be scheduled no earlier in the day than 2 p.m., and that the length of those hearings be limited to no more than four hours.
She is not, it seems, asking for the world.
She wasn't asking for the world on November 22 of last year, either, when Harris County deputies, in the company of two trucks and four men from a bonded warehouse, arrived at her address to execute a writ of possession, resultant of the foreclosure suit. Arrived, that is, to take all of her stuff out of her dwelling and either move it to a storage facility or leave it lying by the side of the road or both.
According to the Texas Property Code, which defines the rules of this particular engagement, "the tenant may redeem any of the property, without payment of moving or storage charges, on demand during the time the warehouseman is removing the property from the tenant's premises and before the warehouseman permanently leaves the tenant's premises."
That's the demand Kendra Cuyler made on November 22, 2000. She says the constable threatened her with arrest if she didn't leave the premises immediately and "forcibly shoved" her into her car, not even letting her gather her daily meds.
She returned later that day to find a "huge amount" of her property still locked inside. Two days later she returned again to find dozens of large garbage bags filled with her belongings lined up on the curb. Neighbors told Cuyler that some of her furniture had been put out on the curb as well, but all that was long gone, and even the garbage bags had been thoroughly scavenged.
About 50 bags already had been picked up by garbage trucks.
Fifteen years' worth of medical records needed for the car accident trial were who knew where.
Cuyler rifled through what was left, finding some linens, some clothes, some of her medicine, on the curb. When she came back the next day, she says, to try to retrieve more, she was met by what she describes as "a platoon of officers," a dozen squad cars and 20 officers in her estimation, both Harris County and HPD. She was handcuffed in front of her former neighbors, she says. She eventually was unleashed without arrest.
It was only later that she was able to discover that the bulk of her world had been taken, in two large trucks, to Security Storage, operated by one Marc Seymour at 2424 Spring Street. Not that this information helped. She's so far been able to recover only a portion of boxed household items and paperwork, even with a favorable court order in hand.
Cuyler suspects that her most valuable properties -- computer and stereo equipment, antique and handmade furniture, heirloom art, a collection of hundreds of stained-glass windows more than $30,000 worth in total, by her count -- may still be there. She hopes so, at least. As long as her stuff is at Security Storage, there remains some pale hope that she might eventually get some of her life back. But with every passing day, that scenario becomes less and less likely.