Sindram lives in a brick condominium on Georgia Avenue. Discarded mail and newspapers fill the corners of his building’s lobby. A poorly plastered-over hole, which Sindram claims was made by a bullet from a shooting, marks a wall. I visit his third-floor apartment. The door is wide open. Inside, Sindram is only in his running shorts, complaining on the phone to police that he was hassled by a security guard while gathering food donations for the Vietnam Veterans of America. He gestures for me to wait. I stand outside, and he emerges wearing a pink collared, short-sleeved shirt, shorts, and black tennis shoes with tiny white crosses on the heels.
Sindram’s condo is less cluttered than his backpack. There’s a desk with a computer, phone, and printer. A water distiller, a small flat-screen television, and bookshelves made of black milk crates round out the furnishings. He has no bed. He says that he sleeps on the floor and that beds are bad for people’s backs. He runs electricity one circuit at a time to keep his Pepco bill low and unplugs his appliances when he’s not using them. He prefers to talk in Battleground National Cemetery next door.
But first, he wants to give me a tour of the building.
Unsurprisingly, where he lives has been the subject of a certain amount of acrimony between Sindram and the city. In a basement that reeks of sewage, he leads me to a locked plywood door and hands me a 2008 settlement agreement from the D.C. Office of Human Rights that says the condo building has until Feb. 8, 2009 to establish a building office. Sindram says the space behind the locked door is supposed to be that office. (Tenacity Group, whose Cap City Management division manages the complex, declined to comment; Cap City maintains an office for the building elsewhere, which the firm believes puts it in compliance with the settlement.) A D.C. court convicted Sindram of attempted stalking of his building’s manager. Sindram claims he is innocent and says the manager’s testimony against him was retaliation for his numerous complaints about the building. Of course, Sindram is appealing his case.
Under an oak tree in the graveyard, Sindram tells me about himself. Son of a locksmith and a homemaker, Sindram was born in Rochester, N.Y. His parents divorced when he was a teenager. Sindram says he was basically on his own at age 14 and lived with family friends and at the YMCA. He rarely speaks with his two younger sisters. After high school in 1978, he joined the 98th Division of the Army Reserves. He spent about a year in training, first in Fort Dix, N.J., and at jump school at Fort Benning, Ga. He has a scar on his right knee that he says was from a surgery to repair an injury he sustained on his last of five parachute jumps. “It was very windy that day,” he says. “I landed hard.” Sindram still served weekends with the reserves. He was a mortar man with an E-5 pay grade who was honorably discharged in 1985. He did not do any combat duty.
Sindram first came to the D.C. area in 1981. Although he didn’t have a college degree, he had won a scholarship to study government through a summer internship at Georgetown University’s Engalitcheff Institute on Comparative Political and Economic Systems. After the internship, he ditched his studies. “Coming to the Chocolate City, I was like a kid in a candy store,” he says. “A lot of skirts to chase.” He worked as a bouncer and legal researcher for defense lawyers. In 1989, as part of his paupers’ petition with the Supreme Court, he signed an affidavit saying he only earned $2,600 per year and had no assets of any value.
In the mid-1990s, Sindram was convicted of four counts of mail fraud, a conviction he is still trying to appeal. Sindram was convicted of stealing more than $82,000 by ordering goods, mostly books, through the mail under false names without paying the vendors. According to court records, Sindram received more than 100 parcels per week at two post office boxes in Colesville, Md. When postal inspectors searched his apartment and car, they seized stacks of books, unpaid invoices and $15,500 cash in $100 bills. Sindram testified that he ordered heavy books by mail to punish the postal service for closing his first post office box. “I intended to pay for the goods I ordered. It was an act of civil disobedience,” he says. “I felt that I had no rights because I was shut out of the courts. ”
The court sentenced him to 41 months in federal prison; he got out in 36 months on good behavior. “I did more time than [former Councilmember] Harry Thomas will do,” he says, referencing the disgraced ex-councilmember who was recently sentenced to 38 months for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from youth programs.