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Run for the Border: Education Outlaws in Oklahoma (Neglected Oklahoma)

by | September 8th, 2016 | Posted in Education, Neglected Oklahoma | Comments (1)

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).

When people think of crossing the border to find a better life, they usually imagine people from foreign countries who are not legally entitled to be in the United States. But there’s another kind of border violation that is very common: parents enrolling their children in higher-performing schools outside their district because their local schools are failing.

Brandon Brown is one such child. “I’ll be 11 in October,” he tells me. In answer to the standard grownup-talking-to-kids question, Brandon reveals, “I’m gonna be in third grade.”

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A perfect storm (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).

“My life sucks.” She says it in such a matter-of-fact way you might think she’s talking about breaking a nail, but Tanya Cochran really means it. A perfect storm of homophobia, poverty, substance abuse, a failing mental health system, a deeply flawed child protective services system and the privatization of public services placed Tanya directly into the path of poverty, with no way out.

The problems started when Tanya was 15 and landed in foster care due to her mother’s drug use. Tanya was placed in the Cleveland County children’s shelter, then moved to a foster home three months later.

“The shelter was pretty awful and I figured a real home would be better.” But it quickly became clear that there would be problems. “I told the social worker I’m a lesbian and I guess she told the foster lady.” LGBT youth are overrepresented in foster care and in juvenile detention, but the foster mother was not okay with it. She left notes with prayers and Bible verses where Tanya could see them, talked about sinfulness, and pressured Tanya to go to church. One day Tanya came home from school and found her case worker waiting to take her away. She moved to a group home, where two older girls immediately started bullying her. Tanya told a staff member and she was moved to a different bedroom, but the threats and slurs continued.

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A few of the Oklahomans who the Legislature is trying to kick off SoonerCare (Neglected Oklahoma)

by | March 28th, 2016 | Posted in Healthcare, Neglected Oklahoma | Comments (2)

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).

The state budget crisis has legislators thinking the unthinkable in an effort to balance the state’s books. One such proposal would eliminate SoonerCare coverage for “able-bodied adults.” Over 111,000 Oklahomans would lose SoonerCare benefits if Rep. Doug Cox’s (R-Grove) HB 2665 succeeds in eliminating Medicaid benefits for non-pregnant able-bodied adults younger than 65. If signed into law, the measure would go before federal regulators, who are unlikely to approve it. However, it’s important to consider the Oklahomans this measure would affect and what it means that a bill that would kick them off their health insurance successfully passed through the state House [UPDATE: HB 2665 was defeated in the Senate Health and Human Services committee on March 29th]

Jannae Coltrane lives outside of Noble. She has a 4-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome and multiple associated medical disorders. Jannae used to take her daughter to a licensed daycare provider who had the training and experience to properly care for medically fragile children. The provider went out of business and there isn’t another daycare center in her town who can adequately care for her child. Jannae had to choose between keeping her job or risking her child’s health and safety. On weekend nights, Jannae leaves her daughter with her mom and earns $8/hour to watch over an elderly gentleman. This nets her $128/week.

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Sayre, OK loses its hospital (Neglected Oklahoma)

by | March 2nd, 2016 | Posted in Healthcare, Neglected Oklahoma | Comments (9)

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).

Mrs. Emma Oliver warns me, “Don’t have a heart attack in Sayre, Oklahoma.” The hospital in Sayre, about 20 miles southwest of Elk City, just closed its doors. “Don’t wreck your car or have a stroke, either. If you live out here, any medical condition where minutes count is much more likely to kill you now than it was a week or so ago.”

Sayre Memorial Hospital, in this town of 4,600 on I-40 near the Texas panhandle border, went broke. The hospital board had taken out millions of dollars in bonds and citizens raised the local sales tax to fund the hospital, but it wasn’t enough to counter the losses. The facility closed in early February.

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What a difference a mile makes (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).

man-person-school-headWilliam is a 7th grader who attends a suburban middle school. His school has well-equipped classrooms staffed by certified teachers. Every child has the appropriate textbooks and school supplies. The majority of the children at this school work at or above grade level; they scored well above the state average on standardized tests. Plenty of extra help is available for those who need it. The school received an 8/10 rating on the education.com site and a B on the OK state school report card. William is hoping for a basketball scholarship to OU or maybe an out of state college. It’s likely that William will graduate high school, like 95 percent of the students who attend his school (10 percent higher than the state’s average).

“Sure I’m going to college. Almost everybody here is planning to go to college,” William reports.

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Song for my father (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).

Head east on I-40. Go past Midwest City and Tinker, out to where the hills roll down to creeks lined with trees and the land is green. Get off at the Prague exit and follow the signs to Boley. Stop by the Dairy Queen. Five miles out of town, turn right down a long gravel road and park near the barn. Give your dad a hug and unload the groceries you brought.

Your dad smiles. You’ve been his lifeline for years now. Social Security barely covers utilities, medicine and doctor visits. Your dad made a good living as an auto mechanic but he has no pension and his savings are about gone, eaten up by your mom’s medical  expenses before she passed. SNAP benefits help but the end of the month, when food stamps are gone, is always lean.

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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.

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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. 

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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.”

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