October 9, 1996 in City

Welfare Mom Living A Nightmare

Diana Griego Erwin Mcclatchy Ne
 

A “lazy” welfare mother finds her voice (but not a job):

I was born and raised in the Middle West a little more than 30 years ago.

I come from a hard-working family of farmers who don’t farm anymore. We sell cars; we sell real estate; we sell gas and 79-cent Big Gulps.

I was different.

I went to college and got a job. I transferred to California as a manager in an international company. And I was proud to be a single mother earning $80,000 a year.

In 1992, I married a man who seemed “warm and attentive” - he doted on me so. He liked my money just fine, too, and he spent my money. But then he began to rough me up when things didn’t go his way.

I survived.

A few years ago, just before Easter, he beat me in front of our son, then 6 years old. I called 911, and he tried to beat up the sheriff’s deputies who arrived, too. They arrested him and put him in jail.

The next day, I filed for divorce. I felt relief. I felt stupid for getting myself into that mess.

I felt my son and I could move on. I thought the horrors were behind me.

Since then, however, he has been arrested five more times for attacking me, for stalking me, for taking a sledgehammer to my car. Jail time, restraining orders, programs for violent men - none of it keeps him from threatening my life.

I lost my job because of all the time I was taking off to attend court hearings and also because the people at work were afraid of him.

Then there were the meetings I attended with the school principal to try to keep my son safe. At one point, the principal asked me to take my son out of school because school officials felt my ex could pose a threat to the school and its staff. So, I had to fight that, too.

I tried starting my own business, but this man messed that up, too. This seems impossible to believe if you are not in the middle of it, but how hard is it for someone to steal your outgoing mail, to slash your tires or to cut your phone wires if he really tries?

My son and I are now on AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children).

I have tried to find a job and felt it was only honorable to let would-be employers know about my ex - for their safety and mine. So, no one hired me. I considered not telling prospective employers about my situation, but I could not do that. I felt they had a right to know.

My son sees a therapist twice a week to address the damage done by his exposure to this man. I have gotten him to every appointment; I have never missed one, even after we lost our car.

He sees his father only on heavily supervised visits, but he goes only because the system makes him. Why? Because his father still has his rights.

Our rights?

Well, I’m not quite sure what those would be anymore.

This man lets us know that he sometimes watches us through the windows. He says he has been inside the house and gives details that make us believe it is true.

We want to move out of the state to where my family lives. I will not say where because then this man will only find me sooner. I say “sooner” because I know he will find me. I know he won’t give up.

The alternative is to go underground, which at least one women’s group is encouraging me to do. By the time you read this, I may have disappeared. I don’t know what else to do.

I have petitioned to move to another state, but the California courts will not allow me to do so because that would be denying this man, who threatens and hurts me, his parental rights. The letter of the law says such-and-such, but my situation really doesn’t fit into that. I am living a nightmare - and they really don’t care.

As I prepare to leave and start a new life, I want Californians to know how ashamed I am to have needed their tax dollars. Before, I always thought the same things they do about AFDC moms.

I see people frowning at me at the grocery store when I pay with food stamps. I see they don’t understand - that they have no idea.

But I also want them to know I do need help. I am not lazy. There are many things I am - terrified, hurting, too trusting - but I am not lazy. Mostly, I am angry that nothing seems to stop the nightmare my family is living through.

My only real goal is getting to a place where my child and I can live a normal life.

Is that so bad?

Footnote: I interviewed this woman twice three weeks ago for this column.

Several days ago, her phone number was disconnected and she was gone. There was no forwarding number.

xxxx

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Diana Griego Erwin McClatchy News Service


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