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A no-win situation in Baltimore

The issues in this city go beyond one event. People who have never experienced the poverty of Baltimore city don't understand. Outsiders see the tall buildings and pretty harbor and think they know what is going on. What's happening now is the result of a broken system. I was a correctional officer in the worst jail in Baltimore city, and now I work at the Department of Social Services.

The situation in Baltimore didn't just become a problem. It's not like everything was going great and all the sudden people decided to riot. You need to know that the issues in Baltimore have been happening for a while, and not just those that have to do with police.

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It's a no-win situation for people who live in these poverty ridden ghettos in Baltimore. Unemployment rates are over 30 percent, graduation rates are below 70. Lead poisoning is over triple the national average.

If you receive food stamps and don't work, everyone calls you lazy, but if you get a job they take away your benefits to the point where you are no better off than when you didn't have a job. If you do work, then you have to pay day care. The day care assistance list is almost always full and can't help. Let's say you get it, where can you send your kids that you feel safe? If you have no car, need to get to work and need a sitter, who are you going to give your child to? If you get assistance housing (which our Section 8 has over a five year waiting list), it's almost always in a drug and crime infested area, where robbery and murder are common. Now you really don't feel safe leaving your child so you can work. Gas and electric assistance has been cut significantly, many people go without lights or water. Most people in these situations have no family to help them.

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If you get arrested and need a public defender, you won't even see them until the day of court because they are so overworked and understaffed. And while you are waiting for your day in court, the place you sit is filled with roaches, mice, rats and overworked correctional officers. If you were arrested for a petty crime like marijuana or even child support, you're in the same area as the murderers. Many people finish school not knowing how to read. Many times I filled out doctor request slips for inmates who couldn't even write out a slip to see a doctor because they couldn't read or write. Where are they going to get a job? The educational programs in the jails are underfunded and many people sit on a wait list until they get released without ever stepping foot in a classroom; put back out on the street not only no better off, but worse for their jail time.

Children go to school where the steps have dried blood on them. If you walk down the wrong street, you can get shot. If children have one parent if they are lucky and that parent spends their life trying to keep their children alive in a city that doesn't care if they live or die.

Imagine sending your child to school and hoping they don't get shot on the way. Imagine trying to keep your kids warm with no heat or feed them with no stove or water in an area where every other house is condemned. Imagine no trees or parks. Imagine your child getting shot in your front yard or through their bedroom wall.

Imagine being a child living in that world. This is the world they live in. This is the world these people are trying to survive. These children have no one to turn to except the gangs for protection, because they feel like no one else cares. The rest of society pretends it's not going on and tries to brush it away like a dirty secret. If we want to stop event like the Baltimore city riots from happening, we need to fix the broken society that lives there.

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Summer Robinson is a former correctional officer in Baltimore. Her email is summererobinson@gmail.com.

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