Southern Dallas' Uncounted Workers

The feds say these people aren't in the labor force. That doesn't mean they're not working hard.

The road from high school to the penitentiary was short and swift: "Mamma and Daddy were on drugs. It was all about survival. Either eat or get ate. That was the only thing I knew at the time. Because you know, fresh out of school, I didn't know nothing. You know, book sense don't carry you far in the work world. When I first got arrested, I was 19. I didn't know anything. I was young, dumb, out in the street."

Going to prison and growing up changed him. He says no one could make him commit a crime now. "I'm not going to let nobody force me to do that, because I have kids, I have a granddaughter, I have great nieces, great nephews. I got a lot of kids that look up to me, that rely somewhat and depend on me to be around, so I can't commit any crimes to get myself in trouble to take myself away from them. You tell me to do something wrong, you might as well shoot me, because I'm not going to do it.

"I came up with this phrase and a lot of people find it hard to understand when I say it. I tell them, 'I don't have anything, but I got a lot to lose if I go back to jail.' I ain't got nothing, but if I go back to jail I done lost a lot — my family, my friends, my woman. I done lost my freedom. Ain't nobody can force me to do that. Before you can, I'll make you kill me first."

Dreadlock, aka Nicholas Baleni Lake
Mark Graham
Dreadlock, aka Nicholas Baleni Lake
Mike Gilliland and his wife Paula Jean
Mark Graham
Mike Gilliland and his wife Paula Jean

The Entrepreneurs

Tomekia Jones, 32, and her mother, Wanda Joyce James, 54, are a full-time car washing and detailing team at the coin car wash at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Myrtle Street in South Dallas. They don't work for the car wash owner or pay him rent. They approach people who drive up and also have regular clients who bring cars to the car wash to be detailed by them. Tomekia says she could find work as a security guard but prefers what she's doing.

"I'm actually licensed to be a commissioned security officer. I do have a career. But the type of person I am, I want to be an entrepreneur. I want to get out and have my own business for myself where I don't have to clock in on nobody's job, because I'm just that successful."

This is her second year at the car wash. "When I first moved to Dallas, I worked at Albertson's. After that, that's when I branched off and started working for Walmart distribution center. After that, that's when I branched off and decided to get my security officer license, and I still have it. It's still up to date and everything. I could go to work right now if I want to. And then that's when I started detailing cars."

She prefers detailing cars. "I'm my own boss. I like shining people's cars and making people's cars look good. I just like working for myself. I could make a lot money, however much I want to put my mind to and however much I set my goals to be. If I want to set my goal this month to make $3,000, I got it."

She has her own car and can drive to the homes of customers. "I don't only work on cars here. I have clients out in Duncanville, DeSoto." She is not married. She has two boys, 10 and 4. She works from 8:30 a.m. to as late as midnight. She says her sons live with their fathers, "because they are boys, and a man can raise a boy to be a man."

She says her sons will learn to work for themselves when they grow up. "They're going to be independent entrepreneurs as well, because both of my kids' fathers are contractors. My oldest son's daddy, he's a contractor and he has his own record label, and my baby boy's daddy is a contractor. They're going to have their own business when they grow up and take after their daddy."

She speaks in a hushed voice when discussing illegal activities in the neighborhood around the car wash. "Speaking for myself, and I can speak for some of these others as well, we are out here trying to work and make an honest living. We don't have to steal. We don't have to rob. We are out here working."

Her mother, Wanda, has done lots of work over the years. "I done did housekeeping, laundry." She, too, prefers washing and detailing cars. She says the big SUV she and her daughter are finishing up after two hours of work will bring in $35, their top fee. "The bigger the car is, the bigger the money goes."

She says the money they make is enough. "I got everything to pay, food and everything. But I'm blessed. God blessed me with everything that I need, and I thank God for it. I don't suffer from nothing. I thank God for what he give me, and that's the miracle of being alive."

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I used to work with a "Wanda Joyce James" about 10-12 years ago parking cars. She would be the right age for this person you interviewed to be her and I know she lived in South Dallas. Curious. 


sounds like most of them are doing what they choose to do.  good for them.  


I am trying to figure out what JS has done here.  Supposedly a journalist is someone who reads the news releases of various gov't and private organizations and then paraphrases them in the articles they write.  Sort of glorified sock puppetry.  

In this case, JS has gone out, pounded the pavement and talked to people, asking questions along the way.  Very curious and interesting enough for me to come back for more of this.  Whatever it might be, I would like to see more.

Jim Schutze is a liar.  Ok, maybe in his old age he's just confused.  Either way, he's dead wrong.  The dole is more lucrative than ever.  Welfare spending has increased year over year for as long as I care to remember regardless of the condition of the economy.  Check out this pack of "takers" brawling over a place in line.  Notice the new high end basketball shoes, clothes and expensive cell phones.


I have empathy for these people, having struggled financially all my life, but I've always had a work ethic, instilled in me by my mom and I've worked off and on since I was 12. I've bee fired, laid off, quit; etc. but I've never given up and panhandled. However, there are those with such mental conditions and those who are not willing to give up their addictions in order to work. Then there are the scammers who are so good at conning people that you don't know you've been conned till it's too late. I used to fall for these people. The problem these days is you don't know who's scamming you and who really needs help.


Perhaps these folks should be speaking to students, unless the students want to get into the car detailing/box folding/drinking beers while your girlfriend works business, in that case they should speak to them seems all but one started on this road from is the lesson...Go to prison - Go to car wash??

TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

Interesting peek into that lifestyle. I know a few hustlers that "work" under the radar.

My wife and I often chuckle about how much energy one such friend expends avoiding "real" work and what he could accomplish if he directed that energy in a positive direction. But, hey, he's sticking it to the man, I guess.

JimSX topcommenter


I did. They were not forthcoming on this topic. But you raise a fair point. By the way, if you were washing cars with a rag and bucket, would you report your income? Just asking. 


@JimSX @cantkeepthetruthdown I wouldn't be washing cars with a rag and a bucket. I've done various low paying jobs when I was younger though. I reported. And collected.

So in a sense it's better that they don't file. It's a few bucks less of other people's money being taken.