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To Begin Again

Facing Poverty in McPherson, Kansas

This story of how I ended up living in poverty in McPherson, Kansas. This is also the story of how I found Circles at my lowest point, when I was living in a friend’s apartment, facing the possibility of life in a wheelchair, and considering suicide.

I was born and raised in Southern California, the third of four siblings in an upper middle class family. Financially, we were upper middle class. Otherwise, we were not. My older siblings have a different father than my younger brother and me. My father was shot and killed in a police raid when I was 2 years old, so I can only assume that he was doing some kind of drugs. I don’t remember him; I have only seen photos.

My mother, from what I can remember, was verbally and physically abusive — and usually drunk or high. During elementary school we had a live-in nanny, because Mother was mostly gone from early morning until late at night. I had to watch out for my younger brother, because he was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. I got him ready for school and protected him from cruel kids.

On my 14th birthday, out of the blue, my grandfather — my dad’s father — came to the house, told my brother and I to leave everything, get into his truck, and go. That was the first best day of my life.

My grandfather put me to work with him. I carried his tools, watched, and learned. I attended night school, and at age 18, I got a journeyman’s license in sheet metal work. After my grandfather passed away, I earned my CDL and went to work for trucking company in McPherson, where my brother was also working.

Driving was easy money but very boring, because I didn’t like being alone. I was planning to move back to California, but I met a woman and, to my surprise, fell in love and got married.

We bought a trailer, and for the first time in my life, I worried about money. My wife had been raised in different economic conditions than I was. I couldn’t understand why she would settle for poverty, and she couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t settle for poverty. At the time, I had no knowledge of the “hidden rules of class.” I was itching to go somewhere where the wages were better, so in 2000 we moved to the St. Louis area. The first year we were there, we were able to afford a nice house and new cars. I felt like I could finally relax.

My wife, on the other hand, had never wanted to move, so we separated and she returned to McPherson with our son. I missed him and eventually moved back to McPherson, too. My plan was to see my son graduate from high school and then be on my way back to a normal life.

In the meantime, degenerative disk disease in my lower spine forced me to give up manual labor, the only type of work I had ever known. March 3, 2012, was my last day of work. I couldn’t even finish out the day. I had saved $3,000, which I knew wouldn’t last very long. Thankfully I had a good friend who let me stay in her apartment for free. She was on disability, so she was always broke, too. I applied for disability and was refused three times. I fell into a depression. I felt totally useless, just taking up space. I tried two times to overdose, because I didn’t see a future.

One day my friend told me about a class she had learned about on Facebook, something about getting out of poverty. If I finished the class, I would get $200. I thought “$200 — I’m in!”

The first half of the class was like “bla, bla, bla” to me, but when they started talking about the “hidden rules of class,” I started paying attention. When they talked about marriage problems, I felt like they were talking about my marriage. That was my “a-ha” moment. I thought that if I had known the hidden rules earlier, my marriage might have lasted. Anyway, I started learning how to set and meet goals. My attitude changed. Rebecca Lewis was the first person in my 48 years who actually cared about me. I don’t mean just me. It’s just that she cared and didn’t have to. That was the first time I felt that emotion.

Since completing the Getting Ahead Class and becoming a Circle Leader, I really am on top of the world. Circles has changed my life for the better. Instead of just saying “One day I am going back to school to better my life,” I am actually doing it. I just finished my first semester toward my associate’s degree in business through Hutchinson Community College. Circles is pretty much all about education. You get an education, you get a better job, and you get out of poverty.

I no longer want to move back to California. I want to stay and get involved in Circles as much as I can, so that someday I might help someone in their struggle to improve their life.

I recently had surgery to remove the bone spur that was pressing on my sciatic nerve. While I will never be able to return to manual labor, I am no longer bed-ridden. I have applied for a part-time job in a local hardware store, and my ex-wife and I are in couples counseling. We have become good friends again!

If it weren’t for Rebecca, Brenda, Chad, my Allies, and everyone in Circles, I probably wouldn’t be here right now. For that, I am very thankful.

A Circle Leader’s Story as told to Janette Hess

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