There was a time that I lived in government housing, the housing was nice but a little spartan. We had recently lost our second home in ten years, due to an illness in the family. While it was good to have a nice place to live, there was no way to nurse any dreams, even one of having a back yard garden. In other words moving to the “projects” was for me and my kids an elevator ride to the bottom floor. I can’t really gauge how my wife took it, because she left us after a couple of months. I had gone from an income of $1500 dollars a week, a homeowner, and two new cars, to a part-time job between surgeries and food stamps. A cousin loaned me a beat-up 1989 Dodge Caravan with a door that we had to kept closed with a bungee cord. We lived in the middle of what I called the “demilitarized zone” and for all the background screening that we went through, the police were on our block every day and all night.
I have been reading about the Japanese Americans in the internment camps during World War Two and made some comparisons. Because of fear and ignorance American citizens were force into these “camps” for their protection, supposedly sparing them from the hordes of other Americans who saw them as a threat to national security. The detainees were provided with food, shelter, and basic medical care, much like me. They had jobs working inside the containment area, but the one thing they lacked was freedom. Did I have a big fence around my government house? Yes, an eight foot fence with a run of barbed wire on the top, just like the one in the picture. Was it built to keep people out? Again I say yes. But I also surmised it was also to keep me in. In fact, the only real difference between the projects and the internment camps was in the projects you couldn’t see the containment fence that kept you in.
I have worked in jails and prisons and know what it feel like to be locked in. In either place, your dreams will be unfulfilled. While thankfully my stay there was a short one, but I think about the others who will never leave the projects. They will never know the joy of living in a home of their own, and watching their best dreams die on the concrete sidewalks. The truly sad thing is, that some will never know what they missed.