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INJUSTICE IN PENNSYLVANIA

This is a story that I hope, in more detailed form, to be a book. It involves three Pennsyvania cities: Reading, PA; Lancaster, PA; and, mostly, Wilkes Barre, PA.

It's a story about a woman who made mistakes and paid for them far beyond anything just or reasonable. It has been six years since she blundered and her life since has been a horror story few would believe.

Like so many in this country she had had a history of alcohol and drug abuse. In the spring of 2007 she had been clean and sober for almost three years. I had befriended her two or so years before this and having had years of experience with alcohol abuse and irrational living, but mostly in breaking away from these and living respectfully and civilly, I was able to reach her and steer her away from a lot of destructive thinking habits. We became close friends -- not romantically; I was finished with all that by then -- just good friends. I introduced her to some mental health methods and techniques unfamiliar to her. She listened and began to practice sound living habits, interacting better with people. It was satisfying to watch her progress.

But she had a thing for the internet. Although she knew intellectually, because we had discussed it, that having a man in her life was not at that point a priority and wouldn't solve her life problems this exploring of the internet and seeing all the people looking for the "right" mate had got her imagination racing. She was going to find a guy, a guy who would make everything "good". She  found one -- in Virginia or Maryland or someplace and started going there to visit him. Not a logical idea to begin with but there were major reasons she shouldn't be doing this.

Her drivers' license was suspended. If she had had a little patience she soon would have been driving legally. She had a 17 year old daughter who was in a good school and was making nice friends. That should have been her priority. Anything that might jeopardize that should have been out of the question. She was destablizing her own life and her daughter's. But when humans begin to obsess over the opposite sex it can be as destructive as any drug ever known.

On one of her trips to see "the man" she made a wrong turn in Lancaster, PA into a one-way street. Flashing lights, pulled over, policeman, she said, began roughing her up, she reflexively gave him a little kick in the shins. It couldn't have hurt. A nothing kick. But he arrested her and charged her with assaulting a police officer. In court the judge and the prosecutor wanted to show leniency but the cop said, "no, I want her to sit in jail for a while."

Six months in Lancaster County Prison, two years probation, fines in the thousands of dollars that will never be paid, probably. But the worst that came out of all this is that the assault charge was a felony. With a felony she'll never be able to work at her main source of employment -- home health care. On top of that two ex-husbands who are quite well off were hounding her through the state for support payments for two other children. Whatever work she was able to get when she got out of prison was spotty, demeaning, and paid little. She never complained about the type of work she did. All the time I've known her she was a hard, willing worker. But she had to go back to jail a few times over the non-support and the fines. Twice she was taken all the way back to Lancaster, nearly three-hundred miles to spend more time in the county prison.    

It gets worse. About two years ago she met a man in a store in Wilkes Barre who'd heard her say she needed work. He told her he owned a cleaning company and could put her to work. Skipping a lot of details he turned out to be stalker with a long history of felonious assaults. Skipping more, he was in tight with the local police, probably a snitch, and when he began stalking and threatening her with violence she took out a PFA on him and when she tried to enforce it the police would walk past him and arrest her. Once he tried to kill her in broad daylight on a city street. He broke her arm in that attack and she got away. But later he found her living in a house with her daughter in a different jurisdiction, broke the door down, threw cleaning solutions all over her which temporarily blinded her and seriously burned her skin, then stabbed her in the  chest. This time, because it was in a different jurisdiction, he was arrested and taken to jail. He's now in prison waiting trial -- which has been dragging on forever. She has to appear against him next month. 

One of her main concerns now is how she's going to look going into court since she's living without proper bathing facilities or heat. In the Pennsylvania coal regions the cold can be almost equal to northern Minnesota or the Dakotas. Today she told me she hasn't showered for two weeks. This was one of the most fastidious women I've known. Poor or well-off she always looked prosperous and stylish. In six years she has descended to a level I never could have imagined. But, then, I've seen worse. But those people didn't survive; they died that way.

I'm next to indigent, living on a social security check that barely gets me though the month. But I thank God that I'm as well off as I am. She is 230 miles north of where I live and if I could I'd be there helping in any way possible. I'd be there. But I can't be there.

She wanted a man in her life. Maybe life's most natural and strongest drive. But there's a limit to the price one should be willing to pay for this comfort. And whenever desire becomes desperation it might take prison bars to bring the afflicted back to reality. I was part of this story for the last eight years and my life will never be the same.  

I still tell her not to ever stop hoping.                                                                                  

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Never stop hoping ~

They're hard words to say in these sorts of situations.  These stories haunt me, although as Jill Jepsen noted, they often become material, material for lives I want to rewrite.

Your friend is fortunate to have you to lean upon.  Let's hope it comes out well for her.

M

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HOPE

I do keep hoping and I can sincerely say that if you or any writer could make a novel or screenplay of this story he/she would be welcome to it. I hope to do it but time is against me (my age, etc.). But I still hope. Actually, the story is worse than what I could depict in a short space. But I really do appreciate your reading it and your feelings about it. And, you know, if the right people hadn't seen these situations as "material" we wouldn't have had Charles Dickens or Emile Zola or any number of writers who tackled life's injustices. When I was young I heard these people sneeringly referred to as "injustice collectors". Being more sure of myself today I can reject all such attitudes. Thank you, Michael. At least I'm assured that there is heart in this world. --------- Charlie