Last night I was up late watching MTV's True Life: I'm Dead Broke
which featured three young adults trying to make ends meet in terrible conditions. There was a girl named Alexa living in Missouri who basically dropped out of high school to leave home because she didn't want to burden her mother, who already worked 3 jobs as it was. There was a 22 year-old woman named Sandra living in Oakland, California who was surviving by "hustling" doing people's hair (braiding). Then there was DeMarlon, a 21 year-old young man who lived with his parents and siblings in beyond horrible conditions. The other two I felt sorry for at points, but it was DeMarlon's story that really angered and depressed me.
DeMarlon and his family live in a rural area (Pembroke, Illinois) in this house that I can't even begin to describe to you. It's got no running water (they have to pump their own water), there is raw sewage running out of the side of the house, it's a small 2 bedroom house that can barely fit his two parents and five siblings, and on top of that, there is a cockroach problem they show on the show. The rent is $280/month but DeMarlon and his father stopped paying it because apparently they were trying to put it towards the repairs needed on the house (that is what I understood, anyhow). They are behind $2,800 and only have $100, both DeMarlon and his father go around town looking for odd jobs as his father has a hard time finding steady work. They are served with an eviction notice and DeMarlon starts trying to figure out what to do to help the family avoid being on the streets. He is on probation for having broken into a car to steal stuff (I assume to help his family survive) but he spends his time trying to get ready for a literacy test for the Army, which he plans on enlisting in to help make a better life for his family, as well as attending meetings with his P.O. (Parole Officer), which is 18 miles away from his house. The cameras follow DeMarlon as he starts walking for his 11am appointment at 8am. Luckily, he was able to catch a ride about 3-5 miles into his 18-mile walk.
In the end, the family is evicted but they find another place to live in. It's a run down singlewide trailer but it has running water. DeMarlon states it's not what he would want but he's grateful they have a roof over their heads. In the end, we find out that DeMarlon cannot take the literacy test afterall, because he is on probation. He's got 2 years til he can do so. That ending was so incredibly depressing to me- to knock out someone's dream of trying to make their family's situation better for them just made no sense to me. The update on DeMarlon and his family after this episode was that his father and himself still hadn't found steady work.
So, last night, being curious, I googled DeMarlon and found this- a Hope for Hopkins fund for DeMarlon Martin
. This agency is trying to help assist DeMarlon and there was an update posted on the website stating that despite the airing of the program, his situation has gotten worse. He is still in Pembroke, and became a father. He is living with his girlfriend, and both of them are trying to find steady work so they can give their daughter a better life. I was saddened to read this but also hopeful that an organization is trying to help this family out.
It's so easy to judge the situation and say- but the family said they had a satellite dish that cost them $100, the family had a cell phone, the family ate steaks. First off- does living in poverty mean a person has to suffer and not have something they can enjoy in life- be a satellite dish or steaks? Secondly- it didn't look like they even had a landline, and perhaps that cell phone was one of those "pay-as-you-go" type of phones. Third, the steaks- well how do we know the production crew of MTV didn't pay for those? We don't know. We know nothing and yes, while they allowed their lives to be put on air, it's certainly none of our business either. Are we so petty we begrudge a few things in life that can help ease a struggling family's stress levels? Seriously? I'm all for personal responsiblity too- but someone like DeMarlon didn't get negative about the situation, he accepted what was going on and just tried his best to help his family out. When you live in a rural place it's hard to find work when you're cut off from places that may offer more work, especially when you do not have a vehicle (like in DeMarlon's family's case). There was no public transportation as well, and according to a website
I found, the per capita income of people in Pembroke, Illinois is $9,642/year versus the U.S.'s average of $21,587. Income for specific ethnic groups was disparaging as well- with Caucasians earning $16,242/year versus African Americans earning $9,390/year. Also, on another website (Family-to-Family
), I found out that Pembroke has no police station, no public transportation (as we previously had known) and many houses without running water.
I think it's amazing that we live in this country and whenever we see third-world countries we gasp and say how lucky we are to not live in a situation like that. But it's in our own backyard- Pembroke, Illinois. I'm sure there are many other towns in America who have similar problems. The fact that people living in America don't have running water and have sewage flowing freely from their house?? That is horrific. It's illegal for anyone to live in a situation like that, but the problem is that the people who live in these situations most likely do not know that it's illegal therefore they don't do anything. All I can say is watching this really opened my eyes up. And we've lived in poverty before- we've lived in a place where our roof was leaking and falling apart (but solved by putting a tarp on top of it) in lieu of expensive rent. It had mice problems and many other problems as well, but we dealt with it. However, at least we had running water and working sewage. I just can't even imagine that.