Juvenile Justice By Debra Kornbluh
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By Debra Kornbluh
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©2005 Debra Kornbluh
Helen was a large woman. She stood five foot five and weighed close to two hundred pounds. Every once in awhile she sort of got concerned about her weight but it seemed like such a burden to go on one of those diets her doctor always prescribed for her. It was just one more thing to worry about. She knew her blood pressure was high and, with her past bout with cocaine and alcohol abuse, it was particularly dangerous to carry around so much extra weight. She just didn’t have the energy to worry about every morsel that went into her mouth. Besides, how could she possibly afford to buy fresh vegetables, fruit, fish and meat every week?
Her family received government assistance ever since she could remember. The food stamps barely covered the basic necessities for her and her family. Maybe she got to be so large from all the children she had because after all, she was only twenty nine and she had had her first child when she was fifteen years old. It seemed like eons ago.
That was the year she was in the tenth grade and was doing really bad in school. Now she had so many other things on her mind. Her family seemed to be in a constant state of chaos. Henrietta, her mother, seemed to be so preoccupied with her new boyfriend that she never had time for any of her children. So Helen became involved with the kid down the street and in no time at all they were "doing the nasty" as everyone called it. The kid’s nickname was Slick. No one knew his real name and Helen never bothered to ask him what it was. What did she care? It wasn’t like she’d need his full name for anything. Many of the people in her neighborhood had nicknames, so not knowing the real name of the boy who eventually became her baby’s daddy wasn’t unusual.
Slick told Helen that he loved her. He used to take her behind Piggy’s market stall where they would have sex. He would buy her a soda and go on home. There was little passion during these sessions; in fact, Helen knew how to have intercourse before she even knew how to kiss. And it seemed no one had time to explain what birth control was available or how to properly use it. So before she knew it, her periods stopped and her belly began to swell on which sight she tried to discuss her pregnancy with Slick. Slick, I think I’m gonna have a baby", she said. "So, whatcha want me to do ‘bout it?" Slick replied.
"Well Slick, I’m like real scared and don’t have no one to talk to. I thought since you and I was tight that you would kinda help me out with this. I’d feel real nice if you would talk to me about what’s gonna happ’n." Helen realized Slick was barely listening. In fact, he was puckering his lips, getting ready to whistle at the girl in "short shorts" who was walking down the street. Helen hung her head and walked away. Slick walked in the opposite direction, not cognizant of the fact that anything was wrong.
So Helen had her baby at the local public hospital. She named her baby girl "Laquasha", since that was the popular name for girls in her neighborhood at the time. Her family barely noticed and this made her feel so lonely all the time. Sometimes, she just held her baby girl and sang to her for hours. Helen’s whole world was Laquasha.
Sometimes Slick would come by to see her and the baby. He’d bring diapers and formula – sometimes. But most of the time he only wanted to have sex and leave real quick. Helen tried her best to get the three of them to act like a family but Slick was more interested in heading to the video games down the street; he’d play them for hours. Helen soon realized that Slick was really still a kid at heart and didn’t understand that he was a daddy now. She wondered if he’d ever understand.
Within a year, Laquasha had a baby sister named "Kiara". By this time, Slick was nowhere to be found and Helen was real worried. It was no secret that everybody’s welfare was going be cut real soon and Helen had no clue as to how she’d support her babies. So she went to Slick’s mama for some help. "Hey Miss Ellie." Helen approached Miss Ellie with caution since she knew she would cover for her son in a heartbeat. "Hi there Helen? Lemme see those li'l ones real quick. I ain’t seen ‘em in so long."
Helen handed the babies to Slick’s ma and watched how the older lady smiled as she talked and sang with them. Helen knew that Miss Ellie was remembering when her own children were little. That was ages ago. It seemed Ellie only saw her kids now when they needed something or when they were in trouble, which was too often. What happened to small children who grew up in the inner city? To Helen, it seemed as though everyone had five years of childhood and then, were suddenly adults. It was certainly like that for her anyway. Helen decided to be direct about why she was here; "Miss Ellie, do you have any idea where I can find Slick?"
"Why daya ask, Helen?"
"I’d really like to talk to him ‘bout helping me with these babies. Things are so tight. My check just dun’t seem to cover all they need. And you know, the checks are gonna stop coming soon enough. Everyone’s talkin’ ‘bout it."
"Ya know, Helen, I ain’t really sure where Slick’s stayin’ now. Some of his friends say he stays with a girl on the other side of the city. But I don’t really know."
"Please, Miss Ellie, if you see him, tell him I need some help and to call me right quick."
"Sure, Sugar. Now don't be a stranger. Bring those babies 'round ag'in real soon."
Feeling dejected, Helen took the babies and left, not really sure where she was going.
Helen and her babies lived smack in the middle of the worst part of town. Her apartment was barely big enough to put a sofa and chair in, let alone a bed, two cribs and a table to eat on. It sort of reminded her of one of those enormous walk-in closets she saw when she did day work for the people on the other side of town. It was one of thirty units in a run down, two[-]story building that sat right off the main avenue that ran through town. As soon as you stepped out of her unit, you saw the drug dealers and prostitutes that were always hanging around the parking lot. Helen and some of the others had called the police to try to keep these undesirables away. But it seemed that as long as no one was being shot at or raped, the cops weren't interested.
The house where she grew up was only three blocks away. When she actually thought about where she'd been in her life, she realized that it wasn't much farther than a five[-]mile radius outside this dismal, depressing area. She desperately wanted her children to have more. She wanted her kids to look back on their childhood and say that they lived in a clean, pleasant neighborhood, where they could feel safe playing on the street with the other kids. The big question was, "How?" She knew other women that used government day care so they could go to school for a license or certificate that would land them a job. In her heart, Helen knew that the only way to get a decent paying job with decent hours and benefits was through a good education.
Right there and then, Helen made the biggest promise of her life - to herself. Tomorrow would be the first day of the rest of her life. And she was going to pay a visit to the local vocational school to sign up for some of those classes they offered. They offered all kinds of financial aid to poor, single mothers trying desperately to get off the welfare rolls. She wanted to do something to help other people. Maybe she'd work in a hospital or a doctor's office and learn to take pictures of pregnant women's bellies. Lord knew she had enough of those pictures taken of her own belly. Helen felt great. Tomorrow would definitely be the first day of the rest of her life. She would make the absolute most of it that she could. She owed this much to herself and her children.