I don’t talk about where I grew up. I filter that tidbit out of conversations because I don’t want to see the looks of pity, or, even worse, the looks of fear and mistrust. So it is with some trepidation that I went into a booth at the International Students For Liberty Conference this year and told a story that I had never told before. But I chose to do so because it’s a story that needs to be told.
You can watch the video and/or read my story below.
Be sure to also check out the rest of the series here.
Nestled in the heart of suburbia are places where people live in the same sort of hopelessness as many of the poor in our country. We are hidden from sight and ostracized because our homes have wheels or sit on cinder blocks. We are poor, yet there is no one to advocate for us because of the two simple words that describe where we live.
This is where I spent my childhood. This is where I met two girls who cemented my belief that the state does far more harm than it could ever do good. These are my memories of them.
Ashley and Britney* lived on my street. They were sisters, a few years apart and both younger than I was. Ashley’s bright yellow hair shone in the sun much like her grin and easy laugh. Britney’s dirty blonde locks matched her quieter demeanor. We were aware of each other, the way that kids who are very different, but don’t actively dislike each other, tend to be. I kept to myself for the most part, my nose in a book more often than not.
I suppose it got around that I was intelligent and talented, because one day when I was ten or eleven, they approached me, looking melancholy.
“Gina, how are you gonna get out of here?” the younger, Britney, asked me. She spoke with a light air in her voice and held her hands to her mouth as if she were afraid words would fall out of it.
I frowned and sat down on the hot pavement, the Georgia sun baking my pale skin. I had just went outside to take out the garbage; I hadn’t planned on being cornered. “What do you mean?”
Britney fell silent under the scrutiny, but Ashley piped up. “Out of everyone in here, you’re gonna get out,” she said. “You’re gonna go do something with your life, make a lot of money, have a big house. How you gonna do that?”
I assured them with what I had been told my whole life: work hard, stay in school, stay out of trouble, go to college, and everything will work out. You can do anything you want to if you try hard enough.
But life doesn’t work that way, particularly a life as a poor person under the War on Drugs.
A few years later, I heard their mother had been arrested for drug possession, which certainly explained the police cars I’d seen outside their house. Not too long after that, a friend of my brother reported that a short blonde girl propositioned him for sex as he came into the neighborhood—and she had wanted money.
In my mind, that’s just the way things were. I was no older than fourteen and trying to get through school with that hard work of mine, even as my father had lost his job (again). I wasn’t sure where my next meal was coming from. It didn’t even occur to me to do something for Britney and Ashley. That’s just the way life was for folks like us.
A few months later, things hadn’t bettered for any of us. Wrapped up in my own problems, I didn’t notice them in their yard when I went out one overcast day to take out the garbage. The soft thump of the bag dropping in the can was followed by another across the street, then by a muffled cry. I glanced over at two blonde heads bent low, bright braced against dirty as the younger reeled back to punch her older sister in the stomach again.
“What the fuck?” I cried out. I ground my bare feet over warmed pavement as I dashed over to them. “What the fuck is going on?”
Both girls looked at me, tears in their eyes. They had paled and thinned considerably in the years since the last time I had been this close to them. “Ashley’s pregnant,” said Britney simply, now the same age that I had been when I had advised them so long ago. “We…have no idea who the father is. She…can’t have a baby.”
I walked away. There was no help for them that I could have possibly given, because no matter how smart I was, I couldn’t escape the way that our lives worked.
That is the last memory I have of the two sisters on my street. Just four years later, their predictions came true: I got out. I went to college, worked hard, stayed out of trouble, and made a better life for myself. I don’t know what happened to them. I don’t know where they are now.
But I do know that had Ashley and Britney’s mother been allowed to stay with them, had she not been taken away for a victimless crime, that they would have had a greater chance for better life. I know that if we lived in a world where they might have been able to find work, they might not have had to sell their bodies unless they wanted to, as adults.
Liberty is hope. It’s a world in which you can be born in a trailer park and not have to be uncommonly smart, motivated, or talented to make a good life for yourself. It’s the power to seize your life and make of it what you want, to have the power to change your circumstances for the better, rather than being anchored into a fate that is decided, in part, by people making laws about things that do not concern them.
End the War on Drugs. End oppression. End government intrusion. Give people hope.
*Names very obviously changed to protect the innocent.