I've started volunteering to tutor adults who are studying to get their GED. It's only been a few sessions and already I think I might be learning as much from them as they are from me.
I spent all morning working with Dorothy on a language arts packet - excruciatingly dull worksheets on dangling modifiers and parallel statements etc. At the end of the packet it asked her to write a story about something that happened to her. She thought for a while and then she wrote her story:
She had her son when she was 17 years old. They lived on the streets like "gypsies" for eight years. She wrote about how her every waking minute was spent on trying to meet his basic needs. She did that by "hustling" and dancing in bars. She would leave him with a friend or acquaintance and buy food for that family with part of her pay. She worked hard for her son.
Then one day her sister came and took him from the babysitter and said she wanted him to play with her son - and Dorothy never saw him again - for 16 years.
When she realized he had been taken she wrote; "I no longer had my reason for living."
I asked her why she was in the GED program and she said because she had to make a new life - stop going to prison. An agency sent her to a halfway house in Akron and then in Cleveland to help her get back on her feet. She is done "hustling" and is getting an education with that support. She has a place to live and best of all her son found her.
Her son was adopted by a minister and his wife. They sent him to college and now he is a minister and gospel artist. Dorothy beamed with pride when she spoke of him. She said he calls her mom and she has two grandchildren that she sees regularly.
I marveled at Dorothy's sweet nature and positive outlook after all she had been through. I felt thankful for the social programs that gave her this second chance at life. I realize her story isn't that uncommon. What was uncommon was sitting next to the person telling it.
So the next time you hear some wealthy politician saying poor people just need to get a job and take care of themselves ask yourself exactly how a 17 year old with a baby and no family support, no home and no education would do that on her own.
This country needs to get real about poverty. We can pay to help people out of poverty and horrific situations now or we can pay by keeping them in prisons and dealing with unwanted uneducated angry children. We pay one way or the other. Just imagining that everyone has an equal playing field doesn't make it so.