It was a Saturday morning in the mid-1990s. My brother and I, about 5 and 7 years old respectively, were watching television when an infomercial came on. We were amazed, transfixed, as a smiling man dipped stained clothes in a bowl of liquid and pulled them out, white as new snow. “Mom! Mom,” we shouted as we ran to her bedroom, “you have to buy this; it’s magic!” My mom laughed. That’s the exact moment I learned not to trust everything you see on TV.
I grew up surrounded by an invisible safety net. Call it social capital, or an invisible backpack of privilege; call it whatever you want to. It was a safe web of education, of resources, of a lack of desperation. I was able to ignore those “get rich quick” schemes, the “miracle cures.” I was able to ignore them because I was never desperate enough to not to.
I’m not those schemes’ intended audience. No, they prey on those who have no other hope. Who are desperate to better their lives, but have never had the resources, the access to education, the connections, or the opportunities. Those who have taken hit after hit-a lost job, an eviction, a traffic violation, the loss of a driver’s license, an illness. Those who from childhood have never really been given a chance.
I recently heard of a formerly incarcerated woman who, thanks to a stay in one of Georgia’s two transition centers, left prison with $9,000 dollars. She had always wanted to get an education, so she enrolled in one of the for-profit colleges in the area. These institutions have recently come under fire for predatory practices targeting low-income minority students, low graduation rates, and high profits. Several months later this woman was left with no money and no degree.
At Motherhood Beyond Bars we do our best to recreate this invisible safety net for our new mothers. For most, our Healthy New Mothers class is the first time they have heard information on topics such as the Affordable Care Act, financial planning, and where to get low-cost healthcare. We talk through scams like for-profit colleges, weight-loss drugs, and check-cashing institutions and payday loans as well as discriminatory banking practices. While the first half of the class focuses on the “fourth trimester,” more commonly known as the postpartum period, the second half is like a pre-release seminar, a series of interactive classes on what to expect, and to avoid, to have a chance at never coming back to prison. We don’t think of it as teaching, we think of it as leveling the playing field.