The grinding details of being poor — my Poverty Simulation experience

a story of facing barriers in real life scenarios by an anonymous staff member


The Diary of Lynn Nelson

I got pregnant in my sophomore year. I had taken all the sex ed classes; my boyfriend, Richard, and I are in love though. The condom broke. We were both surprised, but we decided to make it work. I couldn’t bear the thought of giving it up, and by the time I found out it was too late for an abortion (though I’m not sure I would have been able to do that either).

Richard had already graduated, had made plans to go to community college; but instead he started working full time. I was taking night classes in school to still be able to graduate. I had to take two classes over again when April came; and finally got my diploma last fall — right before my 19th birthday.

Richard moved in with me and April in my parents’ house. My dad died in a car accident shortly after my sister, Jordan, was born. Mom was a mess after that. She buried herself in work to keep it off her mind; otherwise, she probably would have completely fallen apart. She finally went part time when she married Paul. He’s a veteran and spends about half of his pension at the bar every month. He’s been ordered to AA meetings as part of his parole. I guess he was arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct about 3 years ago — clearly AA’s workin’ out real great for him!

Honestly, I don’t know what mom saw in this guy, but he’s here now and mom has two young kids to worry about between him and Jordan. Paul acts more like a kid than Jordan half the time, and she’s a handful on her own because she has ADD and is constantly getting in trouble at school — not because she’s bad, but she just can’t ever be still.

Mom doesn’t sleep much; she tries so hard to help me with the baby. I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have her or Richard. Everyone was so nervous that Richard would have run off once April was born, but he stood by me.


A friend of mine in a grade above me had gotten pregnant too. Her parents kicked her out. She wasn’t able to finish school; I think she’s actually living in a home for young mothers now. At least she’s not out on the streets. I can’t imagine being told I couldn’t live at home anymore just for having a baby. Mom wasn’t too much older than I am now when she had me… I knew she was a little disappointed, but she would have been more so if I had had an abortion. “That’s not how we do things. We take care of our own,” she’d say. Maybe that’s why she was with Paul; because she felt so broken, and he was clearly broken too — maybe she just wanted help someone else to feel alive again? To feel needed again?

About a month after I finally graduated, Richard started working full time. We don’t have a car so he and mom usually either have to walk or take the bus. He’s been in trouble a few times for being late — his boss always just assumes he’s making excuses when he explains the bus was late. He gets really nervous when he gets in trouble– he works so hard, it would awful if he were fired for something that wasn’t his fault.

I’ve applied to a bunch of jobs. Nothing ever works out though, I either can’t get a babysitter when I have an interview or I have no way of getting there. Even if I did get a job, the amount of money daycare costs and the jobs I’m actually qualified for — I’d be working just to pay for daycare. I want to work, but it just doesn’t make sense. I feel useless because I can’t do anything to not be stuck… I try to help out with Jordan and around the house as much as I can. I do apply for food stamps and WIC so I can at least buy milk and formula.


Sometimes I wonder how much different things would be if Richard and I hadn’t gotten pregnant. I only start to think like that when I’m lonely, though. Lately that’s often, since Richard picked up more hours at work. It feels like I hardly see him now. I’m worried about him, but I know he’s going through a lot.

His mother just died of lung cancer a few months ago. His father lives in Texas and was never a real part of his life… I know he’s just having a hard time trying to deal with that and still balance everything else. I try to be there for him, but he doesn’t like to talk about it though. I think it makes him too emotional, and he wants to be strong for me and April. He’s said a few times that we’ll get a babysitter and get out for bit just the two of us — we’ve actually made all the plans a couple times but then something always comes up making us have to cancel.


Mom gave me a little bit of cash to take a bus and bring Richard a bagged lunch at work. We try to be sweet with each other when we can because we know how rare it is. When I got there though his boss told me Richard was “let go” the week before last. He was fired for being late?! I thought I was going to drop the baby when I heard that. So many things were rushing through my mind all at once. Where was he going every day when he said he was going to work? He told me he was picking up more hours… How was he still making money? He actually surprised me with flowers when he brought home diapers last night. How did he afford to get those extra?

When I got back home no one was there. I started getting nervous when Jordan didn’t come home right after school. I figured, “Oh great, she got in trouble again.”

It was almost 9 o’clock when mom got home. I had just put the baby down. She asked me where Jordan was and I had to tell her that I didn’t know. I was right in the middle of telling her that Richard was fired when he and Jordan walked through the door. We all stood there starring at each other for a second when I couldn’t help it anymore — I finally asked Richard what was going on. Jordan tried to buzz right passed me to go to her room when I grabbed her arm — her hands fell from her hoodie pockets and all the contents fell out. They were little baggies of pills. I looked over at Richard and it all finally made sense. He got fired, and as a desperate act to stay afloat he recruited my little sister to help him sell drugs.

“This is what you’ve been hiding?!”


Mom took Jordan into the next room, “I’m coming back for you” she scolded at Richard. I thought smoke might actually come out of her ears — it was definitely coming out of mine.

Richard tried to walk passed me to our room, but I got in his way demanding for answers.

After a few yells between us, he suddenly grabbed me; and when I tried to break free, he pinned me to the wall by my neck.

While I felt his fingers squeezing more tightly, his forearm crushing my sternum, and a painful stillness in my lungs — I’ll never forget the look in his eyes. Black.


Later it came out that not only was he selling drugs, but he had also been experimenting with a few on his own — bath salts.

When I woke up in the hospital, my mom was right by my side. She sent Jordan and April to stay with my Aunt for a while, “at least April’s safe” I thought. As I lay there, tears started swelling in my eyes:

“What’s happening to my life?!

I thought we were making it by and doing ok… How could I not have seen?

Did I not try hard enough?”

…to be continued

Read on: Part 2 , the story continues…


Poverty is a reality for many individuals and families. But unless you’ve experienced poverty, it’s difficult to truly understand. The Community Action Poverty Simulation (CAPS) bridges that gap from misconception to understanding. CAPS is an interactive immersion experience. It sensitizes community participants to the realities of poverty.

CAPS is not a game. It is based on real Community Action clients and their lives.

Catholic Family Center is the largest provider of family services in #ROC, addressing issues of need across all stages of life. See more:

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