Since my release from prison I have relied heavily on resources outside of school in order to get by. To be honest, I couldn’t imagine how much different and more difficult my path would have been had I not had so much help. Although qualifying for help is more often than not a sign of living in poverty, I was never too ashamed to accept help on behalf of my family.
Gas vouchers, clothing vouchers, food stamps, hygiene vouchers, cash, housing, energy assistance, car repairs, Christmas presents, furniture and more have been made accessible to me through the use of community resources. During times when I had no way to provide things myself I was able to lean on organizations that are out there ready and willing to provide assistance to people. I was very hesitant at first but eventually I realized that having the needs of my family met by far outweighed any negative perceptions I had.
I have come to realize that a lot of people who could receive help don’t ask for it. Some because of pride, others because they are unaware it’s out there. It can feel pretty invasive when you apply to receive benefits through certain organizations. They want to see bank statements, contact employers, and sometimes make you run all around town. One thing that’s for sure, it’s better to go through the hoops that they put you through then to be jumping through the hoops the legal system puts your through.
Although I appreciated the help it was not always the most pleasant experience. I didn’t like having to get signatures from my professors to verify that I attended classes at the end of every week while I was receiving cash benefits and working on my Associate’s degree. To be honest, at times it seemed like D.S.H.S. would have preferred I not been trying to get a degree and instead worked at a dead-end, low-pay, high turnover job. I remember having to complete a certain amount of hours of activities per week and they only wanted to count time spent in school if you were working toward a certificate as opposed to a degree.
One of they key lessons I learned along the way is that we don’t have to simply accept what we hear or accept what we are told. When something doesn’t make sense, challenge it. Take it up the chain of command. When I was told that working toward a degree didn’t count I knew that it didn’t make any sense so I fought back and I was able to continue receiving benefits while pursuing my degree.
During your journey do not be afraid to ask for help. Do not listen to anyone who tries to tell you that you don’t qualify or that you are not eligible due to your conviction history. Go through the process and if you get denied, appeal it. If your appeal is denied, then at least you tried. People will tell you things such as “Pierce County Housing doesn’t accept felons into their low-income public housing program” but those people are not the ones who have the final say. Had I listened to people instead of putting in the time and effort my family would have been much worse off. Put in that extra effort and make the best case for your self as possible and you will get results!