Today I read an article that infuriated me. The New York Times piece, titled “Skip Child Support. Go to Jail. Lose Job. Repeat.” discusses the use of jail time to pressure parents into paying child support. The article uses Walter Scott, the Charleston, SC man who was recently shot and killed by police after fleeing from a traffic stop, as their case in point.
Now before I dive in, let me say this: Walter Scott was murdered. Scott was shot in cold blood and left to die by a police officer who was hasty, lazy, and poorly trained and who should be held accountable for his actions. We will never know why Mr. Scott chose to run that day, but his evasion of police did not warrant his being shot in the back and then left to die in the middle of a vacant dirt lot.
Some have speculated that Mr. Scott ran because he had not made child support payments for two of his four children since 2012, owing the children’s mother more than $18,000. The article, however, suggests the system is to blame for Mr. Scott’s failure to pay – not Mr. Scott – citing a cycle for which the article was titled – “Skip Child Support. Go to Jail. Lose Job. Repeat.”
While the entire article annoyed me, three things irritated me most:
- ““Parents who are truly destitute go to jail over and over again for child support debt simply because they’re poor,” said Sarah Geraghty, a lawyer with the Southern Center for Human Rights…””
- “Mr. Scott eventually spent two weeks in jail — a stint that cost him a $35,000-a-year job at a film making company and sent him into isolation and alcohol abuse, he told The Post and Courier. ““I got mad at everybody in the whole world because I just lost the best job I ever had,”” he said. ““I just stopped doing everything.””
- “He asked the judge, ‘How am I supposed to live?’” Mr. Scott said. “And the judge said something like, ‘That’s your problem. You figure it out.’”
What is it with publications like the New York Times allowing people to shirk all responsibility then play victim? Give me a fucking break.
Parents don’t go to jail because they are poor. They go to jail because they don’t follow a court order to pay child support. Debtor’s prisons are no more.
Mr. Scott lost the best job he ever had and “stopped doing everything” because he was mad. Unfortunately for Mr. Scott, life does not work that way. Bad shit happens. We pick up the pieces and we plug along. That’s opportunity. That’s the American Dream.
Mr. Scott asked the judge “How am I supposed to live?” The judge’s answer to Scott was perfect, “You figure it out.” That’s exactly what I’ve had to do given that I have never received a dime in child support payments from my child’s father. I am her sole provider. I also happen to know exactly what it’s like to be “destitute.”
My daughter and I have eaten many meals at my mother’s home because trips to the grocery store were few and far between at one point in our lives. And we’ve grocery “shopped” from her kitchen cabinets on numerous occasions, filling plastic grocery bags with canned tuna, beans and soup. My step father would often throw in a few Little Debbie Cakes for my daughter for good measure. Toilet tissue and trash bags were always a good get.
I’ve begged the electric company to leave my electricity on “just three more days” until my payroll direct deposit hit my bank account.
I’ve had to rely on family members for winter coats and warm shoes for my child. I’ve worn clothes that are too big, too small, and I’ve gone years without buying any clothes for myself because providing those for my daughter was more important.
I’ve washed my own hair with dish soap because there was only enough shampoo for my daughter’s nightly bath and I’ve bathed in hand soap because the bar soap was gone. I’ve washed clothes in shampoo, conditioner, and Windex.
I’ve emptied remnants from the lawnmower gas can into my car just to get to work and I didn’t see a doctor for at least six years – even when I was sick.
I have my hair cut twice a year, maybe.
My point is this: when we have children, we make a conscious decision that life is not just about us anymore. Parenthood is (or at least should be) the most selfless act any one of us experiences in our lifetime. We place our children’s needs ahead of our own. We do this physically, emotionally, and financially. If one job does not provide we get two. When our children need new shoes, or a warm meal we don’t first ask ourselves “how am I supposed to live if I provide for my child first?” When shit gets rough, we figure out a way to make life work. We don’t get mad and give up. We cry and we fight and we claw and we provide because when we became parents that is what we agreed to do – even if that means begging the electric company to keep our electricity on “just three more days.”
Skip Child Support. Go to Jail. Lose Job. Repeat.
This is not an accidental cycle. This isn’t a cycle perpetuated by an antiquated system. It isn’t a cycle created to keep poor people incarcerated. This is a cycle that begins with three things:
- When we don’t obey a court order to pay child support.
- When we get mad and give up.
- When we don’t put our children first, asking despicable questions like “how am I supposed to live.”
Don’t Skip Child Support. Don’t go to jail. Don’t lose job. Don’t repeat.
You made the choice to be a parent.