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Connecting the dots between poverty and crime: You know, there are other ways out

(© W. Scott McGill –

Crime, we’re being told by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “is a symptom of a diseased society that neglects its most marginalized people.”

“Republicans are all upset that I’m connecting the dots between poverty and crime. I know most of them haven’t experienced or seen these issues first hand, but I have.”

Yeah, me, too.

My parents were teens when I was conceived, and they married four months to the day before I came into the world, first living with my father’s parents on their small farm in West Augusta, then moving to the first of two trailer parks on the other side of the county, in Crimora, another not-even town that you will never have had a reason to know anything about.

Their relationship sucked, to the point where they split several times, usually in the middle of the night, my mother packing my sister and me into the Vega to spend a few days with her parents, until they finally split for good when I was 13.

If growing up in the trailer park wasn’t already tough enough, it would get dramatically more so after the divorce.

My father often didn’t pay his child support, and when he did, it was just $40 a week.

Mom got a job at the convenience store up the road.

She made the minimum wage: $3.35 an hour.

Do the math. We had nothing.

School shopping for me meant I got a new pair of pants and a couple shirts.

I wanted to try out for the basketball team, but we couldn’t afford new shoes and the summer camps, so, that was a no-go.

Needless to say, being a teen with nothing doesn’t make you stand out socially.

It never occurred to me that crime – selling drugs, petty theft – would be a way to change my fortunes.

I went out and got jobs.

One spring, it was working at the forestry camp a mile down the road.

Hard work, and I’m allergic to my own nose, so I was sneezing constantly while bundling the trees, but it paid.

Then I worked summers with my grandfather, who built houses for more than 40 years.

Every day it felt like it was 100 degrees, but it paid.

That job helped me save up $400 to buy a used car, which allowed me to get the first of several fast-food jobs, which at least weren’t outside.

I worked two jobs each summer in college, threw myself into the books, earned a degree from the University of Virginia, fell into journalism, started a media business with spit and tape in 2002, and all these many years later, here we are.

I didn’t get when I was growing up why my grandparents always acted like we were a couple of weeks away from another Great Depression, which they guarded against by stockpiling food in the basement, just in case.

I get it now. I’m fortunate now, but I will never not be the kid with the pair of pants, a couple shirts, eating ketchup sandwiches for dinner, able to work whatever crap job I need to make ends meet.

I’m not being overly moralistic here.

Just sayin’, crime isn’t a logical response to poverty.

It’s one way out, to be sure, but it’s far from being the only way.

Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press
augusta free press