March 10, 2014 by rebelwithalabelmaker
I was in my early teens, in foster care. My foster mom was a kind woman but facing a lot of her own challenges. We hadn’t had much at all in the way of food for a while, and I had decided I was going to go shoplift us some. I had a lot of justifications planned in my head about society’s obligations to its children and blah blah and a whole speech ready for the judge. For good measure, (both for the judge and for my own conscience) I stole the healthiest thing I could find, which was broccoli. As a side note, not a good Introductory Shoplifting Item. Very bumpy and snags on stuff and hard to fit under your coat. That said, I succeeded, and raced home triumphantly filled with pride and anxiety and guilt, and set it down on the table in front of my two younger foster kids and they said “Eeewwww, I don’t even like broccoli…”.
So I ate the whole thing. Side note, even if you are very hungry, a whole head of broccoli is a lot of broccoli.
Next time I stole chocolate icing.
Then clothes. Then a Vanilla Ice CD, which I have trouble justifying on any level, really.
I was aware at this point that there was no justification for what I was doing… I had a sense of sliding into a certain pre-formed life for people like me.
I remember the day I stopped, too. It was that same store – the one across from Aden Bowman Collegiate, and I had a kind of a waking up moment. I remember thinking two things. The first was that this isn’t who I wanted to be. And the second was that the foster dad of the new home I was in – a really good home – would be so disappointed. I kept picturing what his face would look like if he found out, and I couldn’t live with that image, so I walked out and I never stole again.
In that moment, I thought that the choices I made were solely mine – that I became a thief through my own weakness, and I stopped stealing through my own strength. I know now, that this isn’t true. I was the same person in both stories – what changed was my context and the supports around me. I went on to make it through high school, and then university, and I now live with more than enough in every way.
This is not a story about pulling myself up by my bootstraps. I used to think that’s what happened, but the more I come to understand poverty, the more I realize that luck was a huge part of it. The right foster dad. Free condoms on a counter at the exact right time. The fact that my biological family stayed involved and connected – despite the huge health problems they were wrestling with (which were why I was in foster care in the first place). They stood by me, and acted as a support and advocate.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I know what they mean because I was raised by a village. It took a lot of people pulling on my bootstraps along with me – and we shouldn’t leave it up to chance who gets that kind of support and who doesn’t.
We have more choices than we realize. Poverty is something we know how to address and reduce effectively. We also know that it costs less to make sensible decisions in addressing poverty – providing things like affordable housing and educational resources, for example – than it costs to fix the problems caused by poverty. Time spent in homeless shelters, or hospitals, or prisons or foster care… these things aren’t just human costs, they’re economic costs. It’s a wise investment to do the right thing.
I am who I am because my village stepped up. And now, I’m a part of the village for another kid. For my neighbours.
If you live in Saskatchewan, and you want to join me, visit PovertyCosts.ca to learn more.