One of the most difficult things for me to do was to get off of welfare.
Yes, I did mean to write, “get off of welfare.” Many people think the hardest part was getting on welfare. It was not hard to start receiving the assistance. I was utterly grateful, and a little desperate, for the help. It was the moving off of the system that was the hardest part.
For me, welfare was embarrassing because it told everyone I was not capable of supporting myself and my family. And yet, I also felt a little justified in being found lacking because my husband was in prison. If I felt judged, I would say to myself, “they don’t understand how hard my life is with my husband in prison.” That made me feel better about using my food stamps or Medicaid. I didn’t create this life for myself. It was someone else’s fault that I was in this predicament, so I didn’t feel pressured to change my financial situation at first. I had other problems that were so much bigger that I had to navigate.
Rising to the Challenge
As I began to adjust to life with Ron in prison and then to dream of a better life for myself and my family, I felt challenged to get off of all of the assistance I was receiving. I knew that if I really wanted to ensure that my children had the best chance of being successful, I would have to model being a responsible adult. If I wanted to have a strong family and a new legacy, I would have to work hard on the outside to create it. I was terrified of failing- so I was terrified of trying. What if I tried and I couldn’t do it? I would be proving all of my haters right when they said I would never amount to anything and that my life was ruined. My pride could not bear the thought of trying and failing.
I wrestled day after day with wanting something better and being afraid of trying. But I wasn’t even sure where to start. So many families were making it on their own, but I didn’t know HOW they started that journey. Was there some magic first step I need to get right if I was going to be successful? Finally, I embraced the fact that I could not stay stuck on welfare while I waited for Ron to come home. I had to build a better life for my children, and for Ron to come home to. Nobody was going to do it for me. If I wanted something different, I had to do something different.
I decided to start with making a list of what I wanted to do with my life. Then, I made a list of all of the opportunities to make money that were real options for me right at that moment. I wrote down every factory, store and restaurant that I knew was hiring, babysitting, lawn care, sales (including MLM companies.) After I looked at what I wanted to accomplish and the list of things I could do right now, I added my dream of starting my own business. I really wanted to make a difference somehow, but I also wanted to have the freedom to visit Ron in prison and care for my boys as much as possible. A pretty ambitious goal for a socially single mom!
I decided I wanted to work for myself and I began doing so many odd jobs as I worked on learning about business development. I cleaned houses and apartments, I weeded gardens, I scooped horse poop out of stalls. Whatever I could do, I would do. Soon, I began to make enough money that my food stamps were decreased. I was thrilled! And I was starting to gain independence. Then my best break opened up!
The Big Break
A friend of mine was the general manager at a factory. They had a lot of labor intensive QA work that needed done, but their employees were swamped with filling orders. She wondered if I would be interested in piece work to help them out and help me out. Of course I was! I could pick up the pieces, take them home and work on them according to my own schedule as long as the pieces were back within a week. Amazing!! I founded COB Industries and went to work. I had so much work that I put my friends and kids to work on the parts, too.
The End of Welfare
Once I was earning more each month than my previous income on welfare and food stamps, I decided it was time for me to stop getting food stamps. I knew that if I kept looking at my income through the eyes of “how much in food stamps will I lose if I make this much” that I would never get ahead. So, I had to remove the ceiling above me. I am so grateful that I had the courage to walk in and sign the paper saying that I was refusing to accept any more food stamps! It was an amazing feeling for me.
My case worker was not as excited. Apparently, no one who still qualified for food stamps had ever refused to receive them. I was even more happy to know that I was the first one in that county to REFUSE help because I could make it on my own.
Being able to take care of my own family became more and more important to me. I worked harder, took courses, and earned more. It was so gratifying. Overcoming welfare was such an amazing feeling. I was even more grateful to get off of welfare than I had been to get on it!
So many times, wives of prisoners have asked me if I think they should try to work. The answer is YES! You have an incredible opportunity to recreate your life. You can reinvent yourself and change your family’s legacy. Do not let fear stop you. It is not too late for you.
I am rooting for you!