Hunger all around (Guest post: Camille Landry)

empty pantryCamille Landry is a writer, activist, and social justice advocate who lives in Oklahoma City.  This post is part of our “Neglected Oklahoma” series, which tells the stories of Oklahomans in situations where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by.  These are real people and their stories are true (names have been changed to protect privacy).

Hunger is all around me:

At a pool in a suburban park on a steamy Oklahoma summer afternoon: “I used to love summer,” one mom said, “but I’ll be glad when school starts.” “Tired of having them underfoot already?” I asked. “Not really. It’s just a struggle to feed them when school is out. They get breakfast and lunch at school. In the summer I have to pay for child care while I work, plus the two extra meals each day. I can’t scrimp on daycare so I have to cut back on food.” (more…)

No Exit: The School-to-Prison pipeline (Guest Post: Camille Landry)

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Graphic courtesy of Rethinking Schools (www.rethinkingschools.org)

Camille Landry is a writer, activist, and social justice advocate who lives in Oklahoma City.  This post is part of our “Neglected Oklahoma” series, which tells the stories of Oklahomans in situations where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by.  These are real people and their stories are true (names have been changed to protect privacy).

Kyron Dean perches uncomfortably on a sofa in his grandmother’s home in Del City. “Still trying to get used to being free,” he says. He was released from prison two weeks before we met, after serving 30 months for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.

“He was always a good boy. Polite,” his grandmother says. “He was raised to be respectful.” So how did he end up in prison? “It’s like they greased the chute. Back when he was in the 9th grade, Kyron got into a fight. Boys fight. Always have. No guns, no knives, just two boys tussling. Next thing I know he is locked up. That’s just crazy! It’s wrong.” (more…)

Paying a poverty tax: The high cost of being poor in Oklahoma

 camille_landryCamille Landry is a writer, activist, and social justice advocate who lives in Oklahoma City.  This post is part of our “Neglected Oklahoma” series, which tells the stories of Oklahomans in situations where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by.  These are real people and their stories are true (names have been changed to protect privacy).

“Ordinary things cost more when you’re poor,” Sophia Foreman told me. She has three kids, three jobs and not enough money to pay her bills. Sophia works part time at a big box store in a Tulsa suburb and has a second part-time job at a call center. On Sundays she works in a church nursery – altogether 50 hours most weeks at $9 and change per hour.

Things got rough for Sophia this winter. Heating bills were high and she lost time from work due to bad weather. Facing a cutoff of her gas service, Sophia went to a payday loan company. “I knew it was going to cost a lot but what choice did I have? We couldn’t live without heat.” She borrowed enough to pay the gas bill and buy warm boots for her family. (more…)

I get knocked down (Guest post: Camille Landry)

camille_landryCamille Landry is a writer, activist, and social justice advocate who lives in Oklahoma City.  This post is part of our “Neglected Oklahoma” series, which tells the stories of Oklahomans in situations where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by.  These are real people and their stories are true (names have been changed to protect privacy).

It’s Saturday morning at a free clinic in an Oklahoma City church staffed by student volunteers. Another group of volunteers is serving breakfast. There are over 100 people waiting for medical care. Many of those waiting have chronic diseases – diabetes, hypertension, asthma and/or heart disease. The patients are mostly between 18 and 65 – too old for Medicaid, too young for Medicare – but a few children wait to be seen, too. Most of the adults are employed.  None of them have health insurance.

George Carter sits at the table reading a textbook as he waits his turn. He is clean-cut and polite. George was 22 when he left a job at a big box store to attend college full time. “I was healthy. I was strong,” he says. “I planned to finish my computer science degree and join the Navy.” (more…)

Rip-off U (Guest Post: Camille Landry)

camille_landryCamille Landry is a writer, activist, and social justice advocate who lives in Oklahoma City.  This post is part of our “Neglected Oklahoma” series, which tells the stories of Oklahomans in situations where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by.  These are real people and their stories are true (names have been changed to protect privacy).

“I’m mad. Really mad. I’m stuck with thousands of dollars in debt for training that I didn’t get. The State of Oklahoma pushed me into a training program that was worthless and expensive. I spent 10 months and $15,900 on a stinking pile of nothing. They ripped me off.”

Marsha Bradley’s life started to unravel in 2007. “My mom’s breast cancer returned. She didn’t make it. My brother and sister were still in high school so I moved them in with me. I couldn’t keep all those balls in the air. I lost my job.” (more…)

Tower of Debt (Guest Post: Camille Landry)

camille_landryCamille Landry is a writer, activist, and social justice advocate who lives in Oklahoma City.  This post is part of our “Neglected Oklahoma” series, which tells the stories of Oklahomans in situations where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by.  These are real people and their stories are true (names have been changed to protect privacy).

“I don’t know where it all went wrong,” Shelley says. “I went to college, earned my degree.  So where are all the good jobs?”

Shelley McMurray graduated two years ago from a state university with a degree in psychology. She planned to attend graduate school to become a child & family therapist. Instead Shelley works part-time for a social service agency at $18/hour, plus another 15-20 hours per week at a local mall for $11.50/hour. (more…)

Do you want fries with that? (Guest Post: Camille Landry)

camille_landryCamille Landry is a writer, activist, and social justice advocate who lives in Oklahoma City.  This post is part of our “Neglected Oklahoma” series, which tells the stories of Oklahomans in situations where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by.  These are real people and their stories are true (names have been changed to protect privacy).

We huddled over drinks in the corner of the restaurant, our voices low so the manager or his coworkers couldn’t hear us. He introduced me to coworkers as his cousin. “Talking bad about this place will get you fired quick!”

He talked fast because he gets only 30 minutes for lunch, on days when he works at least 6 hours — and a 15-minute break if he works less than that). He tells me he is 37. He has a 6-year-old son and an 18-month-old daughter. His wife works at a mall and attends school. “People think everybody who works here is a kid, but most of us are grown with kids,” he tells me.  “Several people are retired – just trying to make ends meet.” (more…)

She’s got no ticket to ride (Guest Post: Camille Landry)

camille_landryCamille Landry is a writer, activist, and social justice advocate who lives in Oklahoma City.  This post is part of our “Neglected Oklahoma” series, which tells the stories of Oklahomans in situations where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by.  These are real people and their stories are true (names have been changed to protect privacy).

Shereen Hickman is proud of her independence. She has always believed that there is nothing she can’t do – even if she has to work harder at it than other people. She has had a seizure disorder since infancy. She studied hard, got good grades in school, and left her home in a small town in eastern Oklahoma to attend the University of Oklahoma. She moved to Oklahoma City and found a good job.

People with seizure disorders have to go a full year without a seizure in order to get a driver’s license. Shereen hasn’t been able to meet that criterion. She cannot drive and is totally dependent upon public transportation or getting a ride with someone in order to get around.  Neglected - Bus stop2.png

“I found a job on a bus route that ran near my home,” she reports, “but it is hard to get to other places. I have to ask friends or family for a ride. Bus service is very limited in OKC.”

“I had to change to a doctor who was on a bus route.” “It’s too bad I can’t be the designated driver when I go out,” she jokes, “because I can’t drink …  but then I can’t drive, either!” (more…)

The Hunger Games: Feeding a family with food stamps (Guest Post: Camille Landry)

camille_landryCamille Landry is a writer, activist, and social justice advocate who lives in Oklahoma City.  This post is part of our “Neglected Oklahoma” series, which tells the stories of Oklahomans in situations where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by.  These are real people and their stories are true (names have been changed to protect privacy).

“Come on over and let’s talk,” she said.  

I had asked Marisha Wiggins to talk with me about her experiences with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, so I joined the Wiggins’ for dinner.  I arrive as the family gets home from work and school.  Marisha sweeps through the living room like a whirlwind, picking up toys and whipping up a meal while issuing orders to her two kids (ages 6 and 7).

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“Three hundred and forty-seven dollars. That’s my monthly SNAP benefit,” Marisha reports. “I work full-time, when my job will give me the hours. I make $8 an hour. The way DHS figures the money, I’m supposed to add $120 of my own money to the $347 they give us for groceries.”  

How does that work out, I ask her. “Ha! It doesn’t work out at all. Food isn’t the only thing I have to pay for.”

The family clasps hands to give thanks before the meal. Tonight it’s macaroni and cheese from a box (“store brand” she points out), a drumstick and green beans. I turn down a second helping of macaroni and the kids eagerly spoon it up then wash it down with sweet tea. Tonight’s dinner cost almost $10.00 and there were no leftovers. (more…)

Am I such a danger to the people? (Guest Post: Camille Landry)

camille_landryCamille Landry is a writer, activist, and advocate for social justice who lives in Oklahoma City. This is the fifth in Camille’s series, “Neglected Oklahoma”, focused on Oklahomans who find themselves in a position where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by. For previous installments, click here,  here and here.  The people whose stories we tell are real people and their stories are true. Names have been changed to protect privacy. 

David T. Johnson is incarcerated by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections – one of over 25,000 people in the state to have that distinction.  David grew up in small-town Oklahoma.  He started drinking and smoking pot at the age of 17, then moved on to heavier drugs like meth, cocaine and pills.  After a few juvenile run-ins with the law he decided to clean up his life and quit using drugs.  

He enrolled in college to study mechanical engineering and managed to earn good grades while holding down a full time job.  Things were looking up, but the chance of a relapse is an ever present reality for addicts.  Stress from family problems eventually triggered a relapse of David’s addiction.  Despite the setback in his recovery, he stayed on track to graduate with an associate’s degree in Mechanical Engineering.  Until the day he got into an argument with his girlfriend in a convenience store parking lot. (more…)

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