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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On the life and lifestyle of the ghetto

Once upon a time, I lived in a neighborhood surrounded by ghetto in Chicago.  Why does this matter? I think that attitudes regarding welfare would change to favor reform if people knew how these programs were abused, and the general state of affairs for the people who live in this culture. I had an inside picture I wouldn't have otherwise had because of my husband's medical training there. I say nothing here to be inflammatory, merely to share my personal experience and perhaps open your eyes to a reality truly beyond imagination, at least mine. You find below a series of posts written some time ago while I lived in South Side.

South Side Chicago (originally posted February 5, 2010 in my private blog)
When he was on his rotation in psychiatry, [he] would tell me every day when he came home that he thought the world was a more messed up place than the day before. EVERY day. He saw victims of shocking abuse of all kinds, neglect, drug use that messes with the mind, criminal types avoiding punishment, and people fearing for their own lives at the hands of their families - women in particular. Of course he can't tell me specific stories, but it happened enough he could tell me that 'baby-daddies' (that's really what they call themselves, and thus what the medical community refers to them as) often try to kill the pregnant woman/teen or new baby to get out of child support, or because they've moved on. Spouses or boyfriends sometimes harm their wives and children out of jealosy or rage. And it's cyclical too - because abused children frequently grow into abusing teens and adults. Another thing [he] told me sticks out in my mind: he had overestimated the number of bad people in Chicago but underestimated the depth of their depravity. The bad ones are really bad. His words, not mine.

Now he's on a rotation in obstetrics. And he is even sadder. The difference between then and now is he sees babies born into a life in which they have no chance. Their very young mothers don't necessarily want them, they often grow up without knowing who their fathers are, they often have several half-siblings in the home, most likely they're raised by a 30-40 year old grandparent, their minds may be messed up from the pregnant mom using drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, these poor children may be neglected or abused. And this cycle is perpetuated by the strong avoidance of birth control in almost any form, excepting the occasional abortion. Many of these people die much younger than the national average, have rampant obesity and the myriad of health problems that accompany it. By the time a girl or woman delivers a baby, there are good odds the baby daddy is not still with her in a relationship. Sometimes the women come into the hospital badly battered and bleeding at the hands of the baby daddy. It is frequent enough that the obstetricians are unfazed and look on it as a normal part of their working life.

I am not referring to normal working families here, nor families that teach any kind of morals. Those kids, who I hope are the majority of the children in South Chicago, do OK - they seek jobs, health, and education. They have a sense of right and wrong. Rather, I speak here of the undereducated in South Chicago. Sure, they go to inner city schools, but many drop out as pregnant teens or to join gangs. Many finish school without basic life skills. Some go through life without ever holding a job, ever having a steady companion, ever feeling loved. These people excel at getting something without paying for it - housing, food, health care, etc. Some would rather get evicted and live in a shelter than bother to look for alternative housing. It's a handout mentality. And the attitude is what kills me - they are proud of it. They are PROUD that they're on disability because of morbid obesity or whatever so long as they don't have to work! These same people will buy use the money they do have (after spending for drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and fast food) in ridiculous ways - like $100 Air Jordan's for a toddler that will outgrow them in 2 months, or designer clothing. Or lottery tickets. Meaningless bling.

There are people here, and of this impoverished culture all over the country, who traveled to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to get in on the government handouts - and they succeeded. Surely you remember the rampant fraud. This attitude explains it all! Some people succeeded in getting multiple checks at the time of Katrina, just to spend it on jewelry, sound systems, and other flashy non-essential items. I remember crime went up 200% in Houston in the aftermath of Katrina. My brother-in-law was serving a mission in Houston at the time, and he and the other missionaries protected some young women from rape while volunteering in a temporary shelter. It's just disgusting how little some people care for the lives and well-being of each of God's children.

Consider another example: a young woman comes into the hospital and declares she wants to have her baby. She is not in labor, not dilated, not effaced, and has never received medical care at this hospital before. Of course, she is denied, and is told to go to the hospital at which she has received her prenatal care once her labor begins, which is likely in more than a week's time. She throws an enormous tantrum and has to be dragged out of the hospital by security, kicking and screaming, essentially to shame the hospital by seeming as if she has been refused adequate treatment. The type of story the media would love but be completely wrong about.

Isn't all this sad? Saddest of all, I think, is the hopelessness of the situation. These people truly think that government can and should solve all their problems. That society owes them something. That they should be able to get whatever they want without having to work for their goals. It seems to me that reliance on the government is what causes some of their problems - if they had to work, maybe they could at least teach their children how to provide for themselves. Maybe they would understand that you can't expect something for nothing. A society cannot sustain itself without the work of its constituents. Neither can a society stand without the honesty of its constituents.

Only teaching morals can enact change, and of course that succeeds only if they accept them and live by them. I am so grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ that teaches chastity and fidelity, and avoidance of addictive substances. The gospel teaches honesty, work, self-reliance, love, kindness, gentleness. It is in feeling the love that Christ has for us that we can learn to love and serve others as He does. Through Christ there is hope for all.

South Side Chicago II (originally posted March 7, 2010)
This isn't actually Chicago-specific but relevant to my earlier post. I have learned more about the nature of the food-stamps program. I had been wondering how on earth the non-working, 'poor' South Siders could eat fast food all the time and be so ridiculously overweight. It turns out that the food stamps program is quite generous - about $650 a month for a family our size, which is about twice our monthly budget! Most foods are approved, but not every store accepts the cards. You have to use all the money or you forfeit your acceptance in the program - what this means is that people buy and eat more than they need, buy expensive treats, or pawn off their food stamps money by offering to buy strangers' food with the card, in return for the strangers giving them some fraction of the cost in cash. Legal? I'm sure not. The food stamps program is a popular one, as is WIC (which I don't mind so much), subsidized housing, Medicaid/disability, and extra cash accounts, also through the government. I'm not sure what those last are called. So from the looks of it, a person need never work a lick in his life and be completely and amply supported by the feds in his ease!

I have noticed another strange thing about the South Side: housing situations. It seems that whole extended families complete with current boyfriends/girlfriends (or at least large parts of them) will live together in a small house with only one of the older ones working and paying the bills. This leaves the younger ones free to play around with their relationships, generally not work and generally get in trouble. It seems to me that even many of the better-off working-class South Siders have many relatives in the other situation, who live off of others. And this is normal to them, and perhaps even as it should be. They are tolerant of each other. As a whole. I certainly have heard of more violent cases where all the women in a family are murdered by their jealous husbands/boyfriends or the like. As my husband noted: coming to Chicago has allowed us to understand the [black ghetto] culture, which would not have happened otherwise.

I Can't Believe This World I Live In (originally published July 12, 2010)
I have to tell you what I saw tonight. I went to a high-end grocery store in the neighborhood for an item where convenience was more expedient than time investment and cost effectiveness. The lady in front of me in the check-out line was wearing a nice dress, with fancy hair and purse. Then she pulls out a LINK card. Do you know what that is? Apparently, anyone who hasn't worked in 3 months (i.e. much of South Side Chicago) qualifies for about $300 a month on the taxpayer's dime. Accepted at most stores. Nice. She was parked close to me too, as it turned out. Sporty car with a sunroof.

I am tired of seeing handouts! Especially when our children and grandchildren will be stuck with the ridiculous debt with which we've let our government swamp us!

Yes, there are people with real, legitimate needs. But there are many who would be much better off if they got off their lazy hind ends and did something productive with their lives. And let the rest of us working people be better off too.

You say, maybe this lady lost her job and didn't have savings. Maybe. But maybe Americans should figure out that saving for a rainy day is an important part of life. Instead of relying on the government (ahem, taxpayers) to bail them out.

I know, I know. Judge not that ye be not judged. I try, people.

Da Hood (originally posted November 2, 2010)

What with [his] recent Cook County hospital rotation (including night shifts) and a  rotation nearby at Schwab Rehabilitation Center, we've become all the more aware of the norm around here. Maybe I should say 'da norm.'

For instance, did you know that places that are quite safe in broad daylight become drug-dealing centers at night? Did you know you can see pimps wearing bright red suits on busy streets at night? Or see several gang members sitting in front of fast food joints with police officers at night? And that there are several neighborhoods in South and West Chicago where having a gunshot scar or two or maybe a knife wound is the norm? No big deal? I'm sure the early sexual activity and pregnancies are not news. There is a large percentage of the welfare population that stays up all hours, since getting to work in the morning isn't something they'd consider doing.

It is really sad, though, to hear the grandmas of the community talk about how little way out there is for the young men. If they don't do well in school, as most don't, they really are stuck without prospects. Even if they try to move elsewhere for work or job training, gangs will still solicit them for membership and rival gangs will always cause trouble on the job, and it's not like these types of young men have references to land themselves a job out of 'da hood.' And gangs have infiltrated the police force to some degree. So basically they don't have a chance unless they're taught early that school matters. And even then, there is enough gang and drug violence on the streets to kill many innocent and uninvolved. Sad. But problems of their own making - they're products of the welfare culture. Or I suppose you could blame the well-intentioned Democrats who started welfare in the first place.

Don't get me wrong, I live in this neighborhood and I've got good friends I care deeply for who are part of this community. And while welfare has a place, especially with the elderly, infirm and veterans, it is literally ruining the lives of millions of young people born into a life without good examples of work ethic, a lack of moral values, no respect of life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness, respect for others' property, opportunity or love. There is rampant physical and sexual abuse, rampant child abuse and neglect, rampant petty and serious crime, rampant violence, rampant drug abuse and prostitution. Think about it, if you don't have a job, you've got a lot of time to kill on your hands, time to get into trouble and make trouble for others. The older and wiser in their community know full well the problems that dependence on the government has thrust upon them because they've watched it develop over the course of their lives in their own descendants. Plus, they themselves were taught a different and happier way of life from independent, unselfish, hard-working parents.

The answer? I'm sure I don't know. But the [LDS] Church welfare system seems preserve human dignity by allowing them to work for their food. No handouts there. In fact, they offer job training, educational opportunities, financial advice, etc to boost the standard of living for millions of members. After all, they genuinely care for individuals, a stark contrast from the government seeking for continued votes by continued dependence. Dependence does not equal compassion.


  1. Sigh. I wasn't going to take the bait and respond to this post, but sometimes I just can't help myself.

    This post saddens and offends me. I don’t think you mean to be offensive, as I don’t think you’re coming from a place of meanness or hate. But frankly, I do feel as though you’re coming from a place of ignorance. You seem to be applying your specific experience for a specific period of time, in a specific place to an entire group of people. What if someone wrote a post that only described white people based on their experience of a period of time living rural trailer park full of white trashy, single moms on welfare? Would you feel that was representative of white people as a whole?

    What gives me the impression that you’re applying this experience to black people as whole is your statement, “As my husband noted: coming to Chicago has allowed us to understand the [black ghetto] culture, which would not have happened otherwise.” You think you understand black culture b/c you lived on the South Side of Chicago for a while? Do you really think that black culture is all ghetto? I can’t imagine that someone would really believe that, yet, that’s the impression I’m left with after reading your post.

    I think the point of your post is really about your frustration with abuse of our welfare system and the systemic cycle of poverty and dependence. I share this frustration. My black family has more frustration over this cycle of poverty, lack of education and dependence in the black community than you can ever possibly imagine or try to write about based on your small, sliver of experience on the South Side of Chicago. But unless you are going do more to understand black history and culture than live in a ghetto for a few years, then you have no business slapping these labels on that group of people alone. It saddens me that it doesn’t seem to occur to you to view the frustration that we both share, through all groups abusing the welfare system, not just the black population. It also saddens me that you don’t seem to offer any other solutions or efforts to stop the cycle that seems to frustrate you most. Maybe you did while you lived there, and you just haven’t written about those efforts. My sense is that maybe you feel that effort should come from within the community, but I’m here to tell you that as Americans, I think we all have a responsibility to our fellow citizens to stop this cycle for the sake of the generations to come.

  2. You're right, I mean nothing offensive. And you're right, I'm specifically describing the [black ghetto] culture of South Side Chicago, which I am quite familiar with. Had friends there through the LDS church that were part of it and doing the best they could to beat the odds and get out of it. Had other friends there whose children and grandchildren were part of it and they desperately wanted something better for their families, and we did try to help as we could by education, etc. The LDS Church in the area is very supportive and concerned and active in trying to help people improve their circumstances and quality of life. But to do that, the people need to be able to recognize that certain things in their lives are not as good as they could be - that they could live without relying entirely on other people, for example. To accept the help they need to recognize the need for help, the need for education, the need to search for opportunities. In South Chicago, that attitude was hard to find deep in the ghettos of Chicago. They didn't want the independence offered them! My husband is familiar with the 'white trash' kind of ghetto already, he grew up in an area full of it, and we know of the welfare abuse there too, and some of it is pretty bad but I'm afraid it doesn't compare to what we saw in South Chicago. If you can think of other ways to stop this cycle for generations to come in a way that the people of the ghetto will accept, I'm all ears! In my opinion, the public role in creating dependence is going to have to reform so that these people will be forced to look for other ways of life before they're going to be willing to accept that help.