There’s another side to Cleveland. It doesn’t involve the Cavs or the RNC. There’s no flashy Michael Simon restaurants or yoga studios. It’s a place where people struggle to survive, where engaging in crime is the only employment prospect & where individuals are exploited without consideration for their humanity. It’s a Cleveland away from the popular narrative, a side of a city that few want to acknowledge, let alone be a part of.
Today at the pop-up I was working with a client. He’s been locked up for half his life—lived about 6 blocks from where I do. If we were closer to the same age, we’d probably have been friends growing up. I was helping him get through a resume; he’d never had one. We got to the past employment portion & he looked up at me and said; “the only job I’ve ever had was in prison”— he was a dishwasher inside a federal penitentiary.
I did the best that I could, helping him build a resume & cover letter. I showed him how to apply online for jobs but could tell that our short time together would do very little to keep him out of the prison pipeline in the future. Crime was the only way he knew how to earn a living, the only place that he could earn a living. What business will give a convicted felon with no employment history a chance?
The two sides of Cleveland are always troubling to me. I’ve been in opulent neighborhoods where housekeepers and nannies fawn over trust-fund babies, and homeless encampments where our citizens, our sisters & brothers, are living in makeshift tents. Neither knows that the other exist, even though they’re just miles apart.
It’s easy for the well-educated masses to condemn the socioeconomically disadvantaged holding to the adage that “if they just worked harder, they could get a job”. That’s rarely, if ever, the case. The affluent say that because they’ve never sat in a room with the generationally poor, people without cars to travel to the jobs, people who struggle for their next meal, people who engage in crime to feed their children. The affluent, the well educated don’t understand the privilege that they’ve been given, the advanced initial starting point that they have in order to thrive.
Like I said, the gentleman I was working with today was brought up about 6 blocks from me. Our positions could have easily been reversed; me spending decades in lockup, being a member of a violent street gang, him with the PhD and endless opportunity.
If you’re reading this, and I really hope that you are, don’t hope for a better future. Hope is cheap and wishing is for fairytales; if you want change, it requires actual physical work and long-term dedication. Locking people up doesn’t create a better world but building community does.