Not infrequently through the years, I have been asked to bring a program participant with me when I have talked with groups about poverty. People want to hear from someone who lives what I teach about. Usually I did not carry anyone with me because that rarely accomplished what the group hoped for. The program participant might have been so intimidated by speaking before a group that he/she could speak barely above a whisper or the comments had no flow to them, no matter how many times we had practiced the talk. Sometimes trying to assure that the program participant would remember AND be where he/she was supposed to be for a ride to the speaking engagement was challenging. And even when all those pieces came together and the program participant gave a stellar talk, he/she may have fallen off the wagon, gotten arrested, or simply disappeared within days of the “performance.” We began to believe that asking people to tell their story, especially while still living in the midst of their struggles, was to set up them up for failure.
Nevertheless, I understand the desire of people with resources to know what living in poverty is really like. For those who are serious about moving beyond their prejudices and misperceptions, and ready for a gritty, raw, and brutally honest description of living in poverty, I recommend the book by Linda Tirado, Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 2014. The book came about after Tirado responded to an online question after a rough work day. Her answer to the question, “Why do poor people do things that seem so self-destructive?” went viral after being picked up by The Huffington Post. A sampling of chapter titles is: You Can’t Pay a Doctor in Chickens; I’ve Got Way Bigger Problems Than a Spinach Salad Can Solve; Being Poor Isn’t a Crime—It Just Feels Like It. This book is not for people who find offense in rough language. However, it is a book for people who want to hear about poverty straight from someone who is willing to help us learn about the lives of some of our neighbors.