The story is that Janet grew up the poorest of the poor in rural Maine. Her mom’s an alcoholic, her dad was killed in a car accident. Her stepdad, also an alcoholic, beats her mom and walks around in cowboy boots, shirtless. She grew up in a trailer park a half mile from a convenience store and about 100 feet away from drug users and child molesters on either side. One summer, while her mother and stepdad were on the lam from the law (fleeing domestic abuse charges), Janet lived on dollar store ravioli her mother dropped at the trailer, surreptitiously.
That’s when she took refuge with her older sister, living in the city. The city was a resettlement area for Somali refugees. Janet and her sister, and her sister’s girlfriend – me – lived in a rotting old building in an “up and coming area.” I remember Janet telling us how one of the Somali girls looked at her incredulously when she told them this was her street, as she walked home from school. This was “their” part of town. The cheap rent, the crumbling, but spacious buildings and proximity to public transport. Where the poorest of the poor lived and cop cars made regular rounds, yet didn’t make anyone feel safer. Eventually, these refugee kids became Janet’s community, her closest friends.
We lived on Americorps budgets, used food stamps and SSI to get by. The downstairs neighbors stored their puke buckets, presumably the outcome of drug binges, on the landing between floors. The maggots could be smelled at our doorstep. The apartment was large, but empty. The only furniture were mattresses, and an old couch hauled in from the sidewalk. A couple old, inherited dressers and side tables. And a cat, named Amos; also a refugee, in his way.
But the couple, me and Anne, we had educations. From a public university. We tried to raise Janet with awareness, empathy, and a hope for the future.
There is so much more to this story: a love story, an addiction story, a coming of age story, a generational poverty story. It’s a lot, but it’s true. These are the facts. Even a creative writing major, like me, can’t embellish it, won’t embellish it.
And Janet overcame so many odds. She won a full scholarship to a private college in California.
And now my girl, Janet, is under prosecution from a District Attorney in a southern California desert town. Janet, who primally understands the plight of lost children, children of poverty and violence and dead ends – Janet put herself out there in a reactive protest to the anti-immigrant citizens who blocked the buses of kids seeking refuge in the US. And she was put down, handcuffed, and charged with a felony crime by this fearful, and hatefilled community…
I can hardly express the pervasive discouragement I feel, the hopelessness. I like to keep this blog fairly light, for my family. But this is a time I feel I need to describe what I’ve seen and what is happening in the larger American community. If this has at all moved you, I implore you to write or call the local leadership in Murietta, California and make your intelligent argument for the young people, including Janet, who were brave enough, and compassionate enough, to make their voices heard.
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