"Whether we are incarcerated or not, we still are living marginalized lives. . . . You are taking away access to the American dream. Everybody should be entitled to that – to be able to work hard and see the benefits of their hard work. And not to be penalized for things that maybe happened years ago. Things that happened as a result of a disease. Addiction, alcoholism, or mental health."
Growing up in an abusive and chaotic home, Carmen feared the severity of the next beating. At twelve, she became a ward of the state, in and out of 13 foster homes. She preferred to live on the streets, doing tricks to sustain her drug habit. At 17, Carmen aged out of foster care, pregnant and addicted to heroin. The State gave her a bus ticket back to her childhood home.
After a series of convictions including for shoplifting, prostitution, and check fraud (all to feed her habit), it was the threat of losing parental rights to her five children that motivated Carmen to turn herself in and begin the road to recovery. " I [didn't] want my kids to go through life thinking I didn’t fight for them."
Carmen has now been clean for 16 years, taking pride in watching her children go to college and raise their own children outside the child welfare system. She broke the cycle.
She earns $28,000 per year, working seven days per week. At times, she has had to forego a car payment or paying rent to make an LFO payment. She still owes $8,000 in LFOs, down from $40,000. She is now pursuing a Master's degree.
In CARMEN'S own words. . .
On Legal Financial Obligations . . .
"I struggle financially because there is the burden of legal financial obligations but then there is also daily living expenses. I don’t live extravagantly at all. Anything I get for free, I’ll go to the clothing banks . . . I live in a cheap little apartment that one day I would like to move away from.
When I first started out over 16 years ago, it [LFO debt] was over $40,000. Now I owe approximately $8,000. Most of that is interest. I’d be surprised if $1,500 of it is principal if at all.
And when I couldn’t [make payments] they made sure they got it through taking me back to court. It was very common back in the day [to miss an LFO payment]. It was only a $25 payment but then it was for three months in a row. At that time I was on probation. I got arrested and they considered it a parole violation so I did an additional 30 days. That was more money on top of it.
I’m sure they would like to get more. And they have at times. They demanded $400 a month and I can’t pay that. They would garnish my wages for three months. When they were garnishing my wages, it was 25% of my wages every two weeks. Then I’d have a contract with them and have to make a certain percentage down payment, which was usually $400 or $500. They’d say you know we won’t accept payments until you make that payment. I would have to sacrifice my car payment or rent payment to be able to pay that just to establish payments again.
I’ve always worked two jobs. One part-time, one full-time or three part-time jobs. Whatever to make ends meet. But once I got cancer, I was in treatment for weeks so there was no way. I scaled my full-time job to part-time and quit my second job. Now that I’m starting to feel better, I need to get a second job again. Keeping up with all of the bills so stuff doesn’t go to collections. With that [second job] it adds about $700 a month.
At one point I couldn’t afford shoes, my son’s teacher bought him some snow boots. We used whatever food banks we could because we couldn’t afford food all the time. And if we could, it wasn’t healthy food. That’s hard as a parent when you are working and can’t afford to even buy your children a pair of shoes. There are times when I considered, I’ll just steal it, but then I can’t let my mind go back to that place where that’s ok because that just leads me back into addictive behaviour and addiction.
I make sure I make my payments [now].
My hope is that I can move into a better apartment and not have to worry about people knocking at the door in the middle of night."
On Family . . .