After he left prison, Sindram moved back to D.C. He says he was homeless for a spell. After he began collecting disability benefits in 2001, he was able to get an apartment. And he decided to get his degree, too. Winning scholarships and grants, he attended Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist University) and Howard University before earning his degree in government and politics from the University of Maryland in 2005. He later studied at Washington Bible College and pursued a law degree at the University of the District of Columbia. He showed me his Howard and UDC transcripts: He earned straight As.
But he also filed Americans with Disabilities Act complaints against every university he has attended. “The closest thing to a communist entity is a college or university,” he says.
What makes Sindram do battle? At one point, after he was banned from UDC’s campus for allegations of threatening faculty members, he says the school sought to have him go to anger management classes. Instead, in 2007, Sindram went to a psychiatrist at the D.C.’s Veterans Affairs medical center to get a letter. The document says Sindram “has no history of violence against self or others” and “there is no pervasive pattern or other inappropriate behavior.” Over the years, he’s shared the letter with D.C. Councilmembers and the Office of Human Rights.
The letter attesting to Sindram’s behavior, though, doesn’t get at a more basic question: Compulsively testifying at every hearing, meeting, forum, and roundtable is not something most citizens do. On that, Sindram is uncharacteristically terse: “It’s my right,” he says.
Cut through the calls for good governance, you’ll find a lot of Sindram’s complaints are personal. He says his greatest victory was when Mayor Vince Gray, then a councilmember, helped him get a $3,442 reimbursement from Medicaid for dental implants following a 1992 bike accident that knocked out his front teeth. But the losses outweigh the wins. For instance, he is still angry that the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking has failed to investigate his 2007 complaint that he lost more than $400 on the untimely sale of five shares of Gannett stock.
After prison, Sindram also found comfort and direction in religion. He attended the Capitol Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church and volunteered at Potomac Gardens. Teenagers at the public-housing complex still refer to Sindram as “Mister Mike” and remember him taking them to the National Zoo and the Smithsonian as kids. He says he now shuns organized religion and worships privately, reading from a camouflaged pocket Bible. He includes Bible verses and prayers in his communications with the council and the courts. For instance, a few verses from the fifth chapter of Amos appeared in one of his recent court filings. “Seek good, not evil, that you may live,” he wrote in a May 5 letter to U.S. Court of Appeals requesting that counsel be appointed to represent him in his numerous cases before the court. “Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.”
Religion has influenced Sindram’s policy views, too. He regularly testifies that the D.C. Council should support a referendum on gay marriage, which he thinks the voters would reject. Not that a legislative win will matter much under Sindram’s logic because he believes we are living in the end times. “The sun is setting and time is drawing nigh. The Lord is soon to return,” he says.
All the same, Sindram reaches out to unlikely allies. He attended the May meeting of ANC 3F to lobby Alexandra Beninda, one of two transgender activists nominated to the human rights commission by Gray, to hear his complaints about the Office of Human Rights. He later testified in Beninda’s favor at a May 23 confirmation hearing chaired by Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry. Sindram missed his initial time to testify, but Barry gave him another opportunity. “I’m feeling generous today, so why don’t you go ahead and testify. Limit it to three minutes,” Barry told Sindram.
He hasn’t always given Sindram leeway. On March 30, 2011, Sindram filed a petition for a temporary restraining order against Barry claiming the councilmember and former D.C. mayor discriminated against him by not letting him speak at Committee on Aging and Community Affairs hearings. A D.C. court dismissed Sindram’s petition.
But Sindram, often the only public witness at D.C. Council meetings and ANC hearings, has his fans among those who listen to testimony. Joseph Vaughan, the ANC 4C chair, echoes what many have told me about D.C.’s most frequent witness: “The city would be a better place if more people were as passionate about the issues as Mr. Sindram.” Vaughan applauds Sindram’s efforts to help local veterans and says that he occasionally brings important topics to the attention of his ANC, such as the D.C. Council’s rejection of Noel. He does say Sindram would accomplish more if he stayed on topic and cut the sarcasm from his testimony. When I raise these issues with Sindram, he demurs. “The sum is the whole of its parts,” he says, chiding me and everyone else to look at the entirety of his testimony.
Sindram seems content to tilt at windmills until he slays his share of giants. He imagines one day he will settle his complaints with UDC and become a lawyer. But it doesn’t sound like that will happen soon. Under the oak tree in Battleground National Cemetery, Sindram tells me a version of a tale you may have come across in self-help books or chain emails. Basically, villagers trap a monkey by putting a coconut in a jar. The hole in the top of the jar is only as big as the coconut, so when the monkey reaches in he can grab the coconut, but can’t remove his hand from the jar because he is holding the coconut. The villagers are able to capture the monkey because he refuses to drop the coconut. Sindram says he relates to the monkey: “I won’t let go of the coconut.”