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The Crooks Get Cash While the Poor Get Screwed
Posted on Jul 6, 2009
By Chris Hedges
Brown found that life had changed when he got out. He had lost his job as a fork lift operator. And there were no new jobs to be found. He had faithfully paid child support until his arrest but, with no income, he could not pay from jail and now he was being hauled into court by the state every few weeks for being in arrears for $13,000. The mother of his three youngest boys goes to court with him. She explains that he paid regularly while he had work. She explains that when she works on the weekends Brown takes the kids. She asks that he be forgiven until he can get a job and begin paying again. But there are no jobs.
“I would not be in arrears in child support if I had not been incarcerated for something I didn’t do,” he says. “I will never get above ground owing $13,000. How can I pay $120 a week when I don’t have a job?”
Brown lives on $200 a month in food stamps and $40 in cash. Welfare will pay his apartment for another four months. He is barely making it. I ask him what he will do when he loses the rent subsidy.
“I’ll be homeless,” he says.
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Brown works out every day. He does calisthenics. He is a vegetarian. He volunteers at a food pantry. He attends the Jerusalem Baptist Church with his little boys. “They are church kids,” he tells me proudly. “They are pretty much raised by the church.”
He is trying to keep himself together. But he lives in a world that is falling apart. The gangs on the streets of Trenton carry Glock 9-millimeter pistols and AK-47 assault rifles. When the Trenton police stop a car or raid a house filled with suspected gang members, they approach with loaded M-16s. A local newspaper, The Trentonian, reports the daily chronicle of crime, decay and neglect. The lead story in the day’s paper, which Brown has with him, is about a young man named James Deonte James, whose street name is “Lurch.” James was charged in the death of a 13-year-old girl during a gang shooting. He is reputed to be a “five star general in the Sex Money Murder set of the Bloods street gang.”
In another story, an ex-con and reputed mobster, Michael “Mickey Rome” Dimattia, was arrested in his car after a woman behind the wheel was seen driving erratically. “Mickey Rome,” dressed in a black bathrobe with a red scarf around his neck, was found to be wearing a bulletproof vest, with three guns stuck in his waistband, and had a crack pipe, crack cocaine and prescription pills in his pockets. He had been convicted in 1990 of killing a 17-year-old boy with a shotgun blast to the head. He served less than three years for the murder.
A feature story on Page 4 of the paper is about a man with AIDS who raped his girlfriend’s son 55 times and infected the boy with the virus. The boy was 9 when the rapes took place.
“There are thousands more guns out there than when I was on the street,” Brown says. “It is easier to buy a gun than get liquor from a liquor store.”
He says he rarely goes out at night, even to the corner store. It is too dangerous.
The desperation is palpable. People don’t know where to turn. Benefits are running out. More and more people are out of work.
“You see things getting worse and worse,” he says. “You see people who wonder how they are going to eat and take care of themselves and their kids. You see people starting to do anything to get food, to hustle or rob, to go back to doing things they do not want to do. Good people start doin’ bad things. People are getting eviler.”
“All things are better with God,” he says softly, looking down at the tabletop.
He is reading a book about the Bible. It is about Jesus and God. It is about learning to trust in God’s help. In America that is about all the poor have left. And when God fails them, they are on their own.
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