Doc Stevens on The Cycle of Poverty: Part Six - The Justice System and the Poor

Sunday, March 15, 2009 12:04 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Doc: I ain't no criminal but I have in the past got into trouble for just day to day stuff. Stealin'. Trespassin'. Disorderly. Fightin'. Drivin' while suspended. Just everyday stuff what happens in a man's life when his luck is down.

Tondeleo: That may be day to day things to some people, Doc, but it isn't to me, and is not just "everyday" to most people. How is that "everyday?" I would be devastated if I was in trouble for even ONE of those!

Doc: Well, it's day to day if you're a poor man. Not like each and every day, but meanin' a good person will be put in a situation that it seems like there aint no choice but to take something, to eat or pay a bill. I ain't did it much but have did it before. If you ain't never been poor, you might think you wouldn't ever get into no trouble. But no matter how good you might be, you gonna maybe sleep somewhere you ain't s'posed to be... or fall asleep at the laundromat or something. Poor folks get into more trouble than folks with money.

Tondeleo: Why don't you just go to a Homeless Shelter? I would!

Doc: No, you wouldn't! You ain't never even BEEN to a shelter! Ain't everyplace GOT a men's shelter. This aint England, This is America where a man is s'posed to be able to stand on his own two feet, and if youhave too many shelters, men aint gonna do it.

But even if you are somewhere what's got one, they aint no room in the men's shelter. They's always a waiting list. So where you gonna sleep while you're waitin? You ain't thought about that, had you?

If you could get in, you ain't wanna be there. Who slept in that bed and left crabs [body lice], or scabies or puked in it or took a leak in it 'cause they was drunk? You gonna sleep in that? I aint.

You aint wanna sleep in them places 'cause someone might try to steal your stuff, an' if you wake up and stop it, you're in a fight an' they call the law an you're goin' to jail. Why? Because you is poor an' in that shelter an' someone tried to steal from you an' you was tryin' to protect your property.

See, Tondy here's how it works when you're poor. The courts and law image are all made for folks with money. Poor folks don't get a fair shake. Like, if YOU got in trouble, you could post bond and go to work and make money and call the best lawyer you could. You'd have the money or the credit an' could get a loan. A man with a good lawyer ain't goin to jail most the time. That's anywhere you go, it's like that.

If you got money, you'll get non prossed, PBJ'd or dismissed, or community service or suspended sentence. That's cause you got money an' a good lawyer an' they want you out in society spending money.

A poor man ain't no use to society an' ain't got credit, an' aint posted bond, so he loses his job, which means losin' his place to live an' all his stuff,if he is on his own an' stays at a motel. Then, he gets a public defender who gets paid no matter how dumb he is,so he ain't gonna take no interest in gettin' you off. Mostly, that public defender don't even meet you til your court day an then he just makes up somethin' to tell the judge an' you're gonna do time.

If I came in with a suit an' tie an' a lawyer what the judge knows, I ain't doin' time, not for the kind of stuff I ever done. But when I come in wearin' work clothes an' got a public defender, I will be found guilty and do some time.

Most of the trouble I got in was from bein' poor or from bein' around other poor folks. Got in trouble for breakin' up a fight where a dude was strong arm robbin' another dude what was too drunk to defend himself.

Tondeleo: Strong arm robbing? I'm not familiar with that term...

Doc: Strong arm robbin' is robbin' without a weapon. Like this dude come up behind the other dude an' was chokin' him so he'd pass out and he could go through his pockets. I told him to cut it out, it was right outside my motel room, and he keptcheaphotel at it, and then he dropped that guy he was robbin' and came after me. I did put a hurtin' on him. Didn't cut him, but did push his head against my door frame and we went round and round a couple minutes. Someone called the cops. His head looked like a bowl full of plums when they got there, so since I won, they thought I was the bad guy. It weren't no big deal though, once they heard the story from the guy what was gettin' robbed.

I been in trouble for trespassin, for sleepin' in a boat that was covered up for the winter, in a man's back yard an' he saw me gettin' out of it one morning. He called the law an' pressed charges for trespassin' and vagrancy. Cause I didn't have no money. No! I had SPENT it all on food and my motel room which I was locked out of!

Drivin' while suspended when I couldn't pay insurance because I had spent my money on a used starter and a alternator which cost me $80 at a junkyard an' then I had a flat tire and had to buy a used tire on a rim for $40. I couldn't pay insurance an' keep my truck on the road. And if I didn't fix my truck I woulda lost my job an' then I woulda lost my room.

So what you gonna do? You're gonna drive and be real careful. And on that one, the first time I got that one, I had fixed a lady's car, to try to get money for insurance an' rent, and the cop what had stopped me before for a tag light out or a brake light out, I ain't remember why, saw me behind the wheel of her car, an' thought I had stole it an' he knew I ain't had no license.

Tondeleo: Wasn't there a little bit more to it than that, Doc?

Doc: Yeah, but that ain't what's the important part. It's about what happens when you're poor what you ain't directly choosin'.

Been in trouble another time for fightin'. I was takin' a late night bustedwalk, so I had my cane with me. A crackhead tried to rob me an' I knocked the knife outta his hands with my cane and then I did teach him a lesson - do NOT rob a 200 pound man what carries a cane and already had a bad day! But I didn't start nothin, he did. That was assault and disorderly. Disorderly 'cause the cops let him go and was lockin' ME up. I ain't had no money but maybe $30, an' was stayin' at a motel. To a cop, that means you're no good an' nothin' but trouble. But that ain't true just because a man is poor.

You have to be twice as good if you is poor an' keep your mouth shut twiced as much, cause if you ain't got money, you ain't got no room for mistakes.

Doc Stevens on the Cycle of Poverty: Part 5 - Stress, Kids, Domestic Violence & Good Cops

Thursday, March 5, 2009 5:59 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: During some of my interviews with Doc Stevens on poverty and the lifestyles of the poor and anonymous : ], he tells me stories that are just beyond my scope of life experience. He told me this one about domestic violence, a man hitting his girlfriend, and why it was good that the man did not at least spend the night in jail. Doc's friend Big Dave was there during the interview, and was in agreement. Here is an edited version of this incident. By the way, these pictures are not from the scene. They are some I found online to illustrate the story. If any of them are yours and you don't want them here, tell me and I'll take them down.

Doc: I don't believe in a man hittin' a woman or kids, 'cept spankin' a kid what is askin' for it if you know what I mean. Mostly the mama ought to do that. But sometimes it happens. No doubt. I don't ever approve of it. I ain't never hit a woman, but I been around plenty of women what would push a man to the limit! But I stay away from big mouth women and women what's pushy.

Big Dave: I HAVE hit a woman before. Didn't want to, but she askedimage for it. She been drinkin liquor and gettin' mouthy and was shovin' people around. We was in a bar what I was playin' at over to Tennessee, in Kingsport, and she was gettin' loud and the bouncer came over and told me to get her under control or leave. I couldn't do anything with her. I didn't even like her that well. She was a big gal, sort of a horse type. Maybe 225 - 250 pounds. I tried to get her to leave and she started cussin' me and shovin' and she hit me in the face andd without even thinking, I hit her and restrained her and took her back to the motel and left her there. I'm not proud of it, Tondeleo, but it gets rough out here. American women aren't as respectable acting as English women are.

Tondy: We have English women who can get mouthy after a couple of pints...

Doc: Well, here's somethin' what happened with the guy in the room next to me and' can help someone understand some of what goes on in a person's life.

Like a couple years ago I was stayin' in a motel down south for a couple months. The guy in the room next to me had his old lady, his two boys, his girl and his brother all stayin' in the one room. After work, I'd go over to talk for a couple of minutes, bein' neighborly.

His brother worked at a junkyard [auto breakers - Tondeleo] for about $25 a day, so he aint got no money for rentin' his own place. AJ [the guy who was Doc's neighbor], worked at another junkyard for eight bucks an hour. AJ got a car at least. It aint much but it's a car.

Him and Eddie [the brother] rides to work together every day, and the old lady stays there in the room with the youngest boy. The other two is in school, so they's gone all day til about 3 or 4. Then she got to deal with them, and TV and trying to come up with something to put in the microwave.

She's tired of bein' broke an' never havin' any time to herself and puttin' up with the kids whinin.' When AJ an' Eddie comes home from work, they don't walk to walk in on all that. They tend to stop off and play a video game up the liquor store an' they each get a 20 oz as a break from work an' to rest afore goin' home.

When they get there, Lillian's tired and grouchy and the kids are fussin' and whinin' and Lillian's tired of bein' crowded in one room. All them sharin' one toilet, an' Eddie got bad gas and can sit on a toilet til he's got ring around the rosey. He just does that to get away from AJ, Lillian and the kids. When Lillian's on her time of month, and Eddie's on the toilet, and the kids are fightin, and AJ's yellin' for them all to shut up it gets crazy.

Big Dave: You know, that's when AJ shoulda gone to the carry out or somewhere and calmed down and Lillian had fallen asleep. That woulda done it, and Eddie coulda gone with him.

Doc: Yeah, but he ain't got enough money to do that and still pay the rent.

My room is on one side of them, and in the room on the other side is Clifford and Marquita who both does crack and drink and fight alot. They aint like hearin all the drama over at AJ's every night. AJ and Eddie listens to country music kinda loud and Clifford and Marquita is into rap. Loud rap, so they is all of them sick and tired of each other and everything else. But really they is friends. You got to be when you are living that close and need each other to help out sometime, and you don't want to be fightin' your neighbor.

So, one night, AJ and Eddie walk in, an' he had bought two lotto tickets, and had drank a 20 ounce and bought cigarettes for hisself but he aint bought none for Lillian. She's havin' a nicotine fit, and the kids been worse n' usual, hittin, and bitin' each other an' won't calm down.

Lillian's all over AJ like ants on hard candy about not gettin' her cigarettes. He smokes Camels and she smokes Newports. He tells her he had to have some Camels to keep him calm comin' home to her every night an' dealin' with her, the kids and her mouth. Eddie puts his two cents worth in and tells her to shut her big mouth.

Now she's up in AJ's face waggin' her head and lookin' wild eyed, andimage cussin' at Eddie and tellin' him to shut up an' Eddies tellin' her to make him shut up, the kids are screamin' and cryin' and then Clifford comes over and tells them all to shut up. Lillian tells him to mind his own business, and gets in his face, which gets Marquita out there tellin' Lillian don't talk to her man like that, and comes over to slap Lillian's face and get in a girl fight.

Now all the people is out there watchin' and shoutin' and some wanting to see a fight cause they is bored and others tellin' everyone to be quiet so they can get to sleep.

Clifford don't want the cops around, so he runs over and grabs Marquita's arms and bear hugs her back to the room, She's cussin' and bitin' the air and kickin' and everybody's laughin' and shoutin'. Lillin keeps yellin' and callin Marquita names and cuss words and flickin' her off.

Eddie tells AJ to calm his old lady down like Clifford did HIS old lady. AJ tells Lillian to shut up and go inside. But she won't do that. As he moves in closer she gets in his face and pulls her lips back and is sneering at him and tellin' him he ain't MAN enough to make her be quiet. He ain't MAN enough!

He tells her to shut up, everybody out there is yelling for him to quiet her down and keep his kids quiet and she shoves him! What's he gonna do? Everybody;s laughin' at him, and hollering "Whoooooaaaa!" and he is stressed, broke, embarrased and don't know what to do. You know what he did, Tondy.

He drew back his fist and said "Girl shut your mouth and go inside or I'll bust you in the eye." He was bein' restrained, considering. What did Lillian do? She SPIT on him, and and stuck her tongue out. So, AJ busted in the eye just like he said he would! Made a POP sound! Woulda made you sick to hear it. The whole thing would. The fightin' the arguin, the cussin', the hatred. When people is stressed, there is a lot of that kind of thing. I think the devil hangs out around them situations.

Lillian commenced to screaming at the top of her lungs like she was bein' skinned alive and set on fire, and hollerin' for someone to call the cops, and someone did.

OK. The cops get there and most people was back in they's room, ceptin' me, Eddie, AJ, Lillian and folks standin' far enough away but close enough to listen in. AN ambulance comes too, cause the person what called dialed 911. Three cop cars pull in cause the 911 operator heard all the hollerin' and thought it was a riot.

cops2I tell the one cop what happened best I could over Lillian's screamin' how it happened and how she was wrong, AJ was wrong, everybody was wrong. The cops ask AJ, and ask Eddie, and Lillian is just screamin' that she is going to need a makeover. The rescue folks take her in the ambulance to deal with her black eye and to give her time to cool off, which Lillian just don't do, Tondy. They release her after maybe 20 minutes. The kids is screamin bloody murder and everybody's tired an' don't feel like hearin' it.

The cops cuffed AJ and was gonna charge him with assault and battery. They threaten Lillian to shut up or they will lock her up for disturbin' the peace. She spits on AJ there in the cop car.

A lady cop gets Lillian and sits her down on the curb and talks sense to her. If they gotta take AJ to jail, he'll be there til a trial date because he cain't afford to post bail. She asks Lillian if she has anywhere for her and the kids to go and Lillian says no. AJ is all they got for real money. The lady cop asks about Eddie who's been keepin' quiet. He says he don't care, he can sleep on the streets. He ain't wanna live there in the first place. he was just helpin' AJ out.

The cops know that Lillian'll drop charges. They know she is a big mouth trouble maker an' they have also seen her drunk which is worse. She drinks Peach Shnapps and acts like a alligator with a big mouth when she is drink. They know those kids ain't gonna be easy to place in foster care, not around here. They know that if AJ is locked up for more than the weekend he's gonna lose his job and then the whole bunch of them'll be homeless.

So these cops gotta be cops an' they gotta be human, too. They send the ambulance back, and the other cop pulls out leavin' the lady cop and the cop with AJ cuffed in the back of the car. He gives AJ a talk about bein' calm, walkin' away and smokin' a cigarette when Lillian's mouthin' off and the lady cop talks to Lillian about how it's hard for a man to feel like he cain't please his old lady and that he ain't makin' enough money to treat her or the kids good enough. She tells Lillian to lighten up and asks if she can go say she loves AJ and that he can come in and they won't bring it up no more.

The lady cop walks over to the car where AJ is, and tells him she loves him and to come on back in. AJ now ain't got so much drenalin in his blood and he is just tired an' wants to go to bed so he tells the cop he'll be alright. The cop uncuffs him and tells them both to go get some sleep and be good to each other.

Them cops was good human beings, Tondy. They know their peopledrunk1 and they know the pressures on poor folk and they know that sometimes people ain't really bad, they just get pushed to the limit and cain't take no more. The cops give Lillian, AJ and Eddie their cards and give me one, too, in case anything starts up again. They tell Lillian that they can lock her up if she acts up again and tell AJ they'll lock him up for aggravated assault if he does it again and everyone goes inside an' tries to sleep. Poor folks have a harder time than folks with money. It's tough out there.