Friday, May 4, 2012

life on welfare

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My Life on Welfare

Welfare is a subject that has had controversy surround it since its creation. Some look at it as a waste of money, while others look at it as the only way for them to survive. I have spent most of my life in the second category. To all those who don’t already know, welfare is when the government sends an poverty stricken person an amount of money each month to allow them to live life with a certain amount of personal “welfare”… hence the title. This isn’t the exact definition of it but it is what I have come to understand due to my own personal experiences. I have been on welfare since I was a newborn. My mother was a widow and a teenage mother. She had me when she was 16 and was widowed one year later when my father was murdered for his drug dealing ties. Then my mother left the house shortly thereafter and got on welfare. It has been about 6 months since we got off. I feel no regrets about being on it for such a long time. My mother did what she had to do to survive. The whole ordeal has taught me many valuable lessons on life, poverty, and being grateful. While some people learned the value of a dollar I learned the value of a food stamp.

I can still remember going to the welfare offices when I was young. They smelled of must, old papers, and perfume. We spent most of the time in the glossy white reception room that reminded me of the crazy house for some reason. We would sit there for around two and a half hours in uncomfortable chairs until the lady got around to us. Usually the lady would give us the usual look that labeled us as worthless trash just trying to get free money. Then after a few minutes of the runaround she would tell us there was nothing she could do about our situation and tell us to leave. My mom would sometimes tell her goodbye in a way that would make the whole room stare in disbelief. Usually it wasn’t like that. Maybe sometimes she was wrong but I can’t judge her. I would probably do the same.

When you’re on welfare you look forward to the beginning of the month. The reason was that it was the time the check would come. For the first couple of days we would get to eat something other than refried beans and tortillas. What I mean by that is when I was on welfare we would usually eat the same inexpensive food until we couldn’t stand it anymore and had to move on to the next cheap food. For me eating out at any restaurant was something I would look forward to all month. I didn’t care if it wasn’t going anywhere but the neighborhood Carl’s Jr. I learned to appreciate everything. The thing I personally looked forward to more than anything was Christmas. You don’t know Christmas until you’ve experienced a welfare Christmas. My mom would save up money for months so we could get presents that were way out of our budget. The thing that made it special to me was sacrifice. My mom would spend her own clothes money to buy my sister and me better clothes. The only thing she wanted in return was our smiles. It seemed as if the less money we had, the more love we shared. From my experience being on welfare has made me the person I am today, and I’m not ashamed.

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One thing I will never forget about welfare was the way it affected me at school. I was in about fourth grade when I realized it was a “bad” thing to be on welfare. It happened when I was talking to one of my friends about their parents work and I silently wondered why my mom didn’t. I was still young and naive and didn’t understand how hard it was to make ends meet. So the conversation continued on and he eventually asked me what my mom did. So I told him she didn’t work. He asked me if I was on welfare. I told him we were and he promptly asked me if I knew what it was. I don’t remember what I said but I do know it was wrong. He went on to tell me it was when poor people got money free money from the government to pay their bills. You know the story from there. I asked my mom, she told me it’s not bad, and I felt angry with her for not being like the other parents. If I only knew what she was going through. I should have never felt that way.

Even people on welfare have the tendency to take it for granted. One day when my family and I were leaving Carl’s Jr when two men with guns stopped us. Then they put a gun to my head and told my mom to give them her purse. I can still remember that day like it was yesterday. My mom gave it to them fearing for my safety. When they ran off, I didn’t realize that our welfare money was in there so we had no money to pay bills or eat for the whole month. We got kicked out of our apartment with no food, money, or shelter. We were fortunate enough to be taken under my godparent’s wing. They took care of us until we could get back on our feet again. This whole experience traumatized me profoundly. I’m not just talking about the gun to the head either. The thing that hit me the hardest was watching my mom cry herself to sleep.

Now even though I’m not on welfare I’m still not well off. I still find myself without the nicest clothes, a car, or money. I’m not disappointed at all. I just find myself sacrificing things like not going to one dance so I can get school clothes. It’s just not that important. The important thing is not how much you spend on a ring or what dance you go to. It’s the experiences you have during the year. I once heard that life sucks and then you die. I don’t believe that. Sometimes life is hard but everything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Some people in life aren’t the richest people, but they have one thing that money can’t buy… a heart. People with hearts are the ones that make life worth living. I just hope and pray that I am one of them.

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