Up Against The Wall, or how I pay the state to lock up my brother (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).

“My brother is doing 11 years in the state penitentiary.” There’s more bitterness than grief in Caryn Louis’s voice. “It’s not just losing somebody you love. The prison system punishes the entire family in lots of ways. Every little thing that my brother needs to make it through his sentence costs money and most of this money comes out of the pockets of inmates’ families and friends,” Ms. Louis said. “The state is punishing the families of the people it locks up.”

It is a not-so-well-kept secret that corporations that service prisons and corrections agencies profit by shifting considerable expenses to inmates’ families.  Inmates cannot pay these costs themselves. People who enter the criminal justice system are overwhelmingly poor. Two-thirds of the people detained in prisons report annual incomes under $12,000 prior to arrest. Prison jobs pay $14.45 per month. Portions of that sum are deducted for such things as child support payments and court costs.

jail-visit-1Research shows that family involvement helps combat recidivism and aids reintegration of offenders upon their release. It also results in calmer inmates — but the high costs associated with visits and phone calls puts them out of reach for many Inmates’ families. “My brother is a 3-hour drive away. I can only afford to see him a few times a year.” Most Oklahoma inmates come from Oklahoma and Tulsa counties and most of the correctional facilities are far away from those cities. “If you don’t have a good car and the money for a road trip, you just don’t get to visit,” she said. (more…)

A tale of two states (Neglected Oklahoma)

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).

Photo by Jessica Lucia.

Photo by Jessica Lucia.

It was the best of times. Two days before Christmas last year, Juan Carlos Jackson’s foster mom helped him pack his things, strapped him into his car seat and drove him to the offices of the Missouri Department of Social Services where his birth mom waited to take him home.

“It was one of the best days of my life,” foster mom and mentor Jackie Lorenzo said. “The Intensive Family Preservation Service (IFPS) in Missouri manages to help the majority of foster children to be successfully reunited with their families.” Jackie had no small part in this success story. In addition to fostering Juan, Jackie acted as a mentor to Jalinda, helping her through the process of treating her drug addiction, finding a job, passing her GED exam and generally being a supportive presence in the young mother’s life.

It was the worst of times. Kim Arnold could barely get her story out between sobs. She had just signed the documents that terminated her parental rights regarding her two youngest children.

It had been more than three years since OKDHS and the police had come to her door and took Denisha, then 8 months and Nathan, 2 years old, into the foster care system. Her teenaged daughter was sent to Ohio to live with her dad. DHS claims that the children were neglected due to Kim’s addiction to prescription drugs. Of note, Oklahoma ranks #1 nationally for the nonmedical use of pain relievers for all age categories. Oklahoma saw a 67.5 percent increase in the misuse of prescription medication between 2005 and 2010.  (more…)

Homeless in a heartbeat (Guest Post: Camille Landry)

Camille Landry

Camille Landry

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).

Melinda Rogers is excited about her upcoming graduation from Oklahoma City Community College. She’s jumped a lot of hurdles to get there. Melinda and her sisters spent most of their childhood in foster care. “One of the hardest things about being in foster care is that when you turn 18, you really don’t have anybody. I’m on my own.” For someone who grew up in DHS custody, Melinda is considered a success. Unlike most foster kids, Melinda finished high school and went to college. She’s never been to jail. She isn’t an addict. But the simple task of finding and maintaining a home is one of the toughest challenges Melinda has faced.
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Hunger all around (Neglected Oklahoma)

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 (Neglected Oklahoma)

schooltoprison

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…)

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